Overwatch Esports Star’s Move To Full-Time Streaming Highlights Financial Incentives of Industry
One of Overwatch’s most celebrated pro players, Brandon “Seagull” Larned, is taking a step back from organized competitive play and moving to streaming full time. In a public statement Seagull confessed that he “struggle[s] to maintain a balance between professional play and streaming” particularly given that the competitive scene for Overwatch is in limbo until Blizzard releases more detailed about its plans for the game’s flagship esports league, Overwatch League.
The financial incentives for successful streamers are huge, while professional players are regularly grinding for 10+ hours a day in scrims and solo training time, leaving little time for committed pro players to build their stream audience and engage with fans as they would be able to if they were full time streamers. Some of the most successful streamers on Twitch are ex-pros like Twitch megastar Michael “Imaqtpie” Santana who built a solid fanbase while a pro player but has since grown his audience massively by committing to streaming full time and deepening engagement with his fans. By contrast it is unusual for professional sports players to make more money on media deals after retirement than while they’re competing in a professional league.
Unlike most major traditional sports, there are no limits on practice time in esports and salaries commanded by the top professional players are often less than their full time influencer and personality peers. This has fascinating potential implications for matters like career longevity, player leverage in a lockout, teams’ incentives as MCNs vs. their incentives as organizations built to win, and many more– but we’ll keep the focus here just on career focus for players.
Some (though not most) of the world’s top professional players would stand to make far more money as full time streamer personalities than they do as players, but hold off on doing so because of their competitive spirit. While this is a noble sentiment, an incentive structure that has top players leaving money on the table in order to compete in esports tournaments is probably not stable long term. As the industry continues to develop and investments in esports infrastructure rise, publishers and esports teams will need to make sure that the incentives for players to compete full-time in leagues can match those of full-time streaming.
Live Competitions: Are they Good for Esports?
Overwatch League (OWL) is planning on hosting live matches in large, indoor, NBA-type arenas for regular and post-season games this fall. Ownership groups with access to these arenas have been targeted as the groups to own the first batch of OWL teams. Esports has seen success in these large venues for many championship events including League of Legends Worlds (Staples Center, Madison Square Garden, among others) Call of Duty World Championships (The Great Western Forum), and Dota 2’s The International (Seattle’s KeyArena). However, these events and others like it are not weekly occurances, rather one off season culminations and celebrations of the game’s culture for fans to enjoy. What will be the response to regularly scheduled, in-person events to a fan base with a digital-first consumption preference?
Attending sports games in-person (not just esports) is an experience unlike watching on TV or a computer. The energy of the fans roaring together with excitement for a big play can’t be replicated when viewing from home. Anyone that’s been to a tense playoff basketball that comes down to the buzzer can understand this feeling. When I attended the League of Legends World Championship at the Staples Center last fall, this same energy and emotion could be felt throughout the arena. Simply put: it was overwhelming.
However, live esports competitions are viewed on large screens hanging from the Jumbotron in the arenas. Other than being in a room with other fans, the visual experience of the game is not much different than watching on Twitch. League of Legends hosts weekly matchups at the LCS Arena in Los Angeles. Still, a regular season LCS matchup does not reach the championship level of enthusiasm each week. Sure, the arena will be packed for a Cloud9 vs TSM matchup but for lower ranked teams, the league sometimes struggles to fill all 400 seats. So what will this mean for OWL that intends to fill 18,000+ seat arenas on a regular basis? How will OWL’s live events differ from at home viewing in order to entice fans to come to arenas? Are esports competitions ready for regular live events at all? If this model proves unsuccessful, it could have unexpected consequences for the next esports league that intends to host regular live events. OWL must develop innovative ways to engage fans attending live events if the league wants to make this a significant revenue stream but more importantly, to grow Overwatch and esports fandom at large.
ESL Pro League bans CS:GO Negev use ‘until further notice’
Esports organization ESL has announced it is banning the recently tweaked Negev gun in its CS:GO ESL Pro League. According to ESL’s post on Twitter, the decision was made in consultation with the WESA Players Council. It brought the price of the Negev gun down from $5,700 to $2,000 and re-introduced it to Competitive Matchmaking.
This isn’t the first time that ESL has banned a gun from tournament use. In December 2015, ESL banned use of the recently released R8 Revolver. The strength of the revolver made most other guns irrelevant. In a similar fashion, the Negev’s extreme price drop is shifting the meta of the game drastically.
Valve states that the price drop is to be “temporary” but has no clear date on when new changes will occur. It is clear that the developers want to make the Negev more viable in competitive play, but such a drastic change has made it too strong. This is especially problematic for CS:GO because unlike a MOBA game such as League of Legends, there is no in-game ban system. LoL teams can choose to ban characters which they think are too strong without much effect on gameplay. Making such extreme adjustments to weapons is problematic for the professional environment in several way since it takes time for the players and tournament organizers to discuss whether it should be used. Hopefully, Valve will realize their mistake and release changes soon.