Staying True to Our Roots
The International 2017 is underway and much of the attention will naturally be focused on the elite level of competition and the $20+ million dollar prize pool. But each year when I watch the International, I’m also reminded of something else great that many people overlook – the broadcast itself is full of memes, banter, and embraces a generally laid-back production style that was the hallmark of esports events for the past decade and is slowly losing favor among current esports competition organizers. For a quick example, look no further the opening ceremony.
Esports will follow in the footsteps of traditional sports in many ways; in fact, we already are. From franchising and league infrastructure to media rights and sponsorships, we certainly have a lot to learn. With that said, we need to make sure we don’t lose our core identity along the way.
Esports wasn’t born of high-budget production or overly buttoned-up professionalism. Some of the best esports events in history were grass roots competitions with shoe-string budgets that were authentic and resonated with the our audience demographics in a way that many traditional sports broadcasts fail to grasp. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace the advantages that come with bigger budgets and more experienced production staff. Quite the contrary, competitions such as ELEAGUE prove that esports can have its cake and eat it too – bringing together the best of old world esports and modern-day production capabilities. But as more and more competitions go in a different direction, I think it’s important to recognize what makes esports unique. And at this moment, with millions of people watching and the largest prize pool in esports at stake, I can’t help but admire the fact that the event doesn’t take itself too seriously. TI continues to stay true to its roots.
I’m not saying we should never change. But we will continue to grow, and the pressure to become more “mainstream” will only intensify from here. I hope we never lose sight of where we came from.
Moving Past Prize Pools
The International, the premiere Dota 2 major, has increased their prize pool by $4M this year to over $24M. This is a significant jump from the $1.6M prize pool in 2012. Valve, the publisher for Dota 2, sells Battle Passes to fans for The International, with 25% of all sales going directly into the prize pool. Comparatively, the LoL 2016 World Championship had a prize pool of about $5M.
The International consistently has the largest esports prize pool and, by now, esports fans and outsiders have gotten used to these eye-popping numbers that have done an excellent job drawing attention to this burgeoning industry.
However, I believe we are reaching an inflection point where these large prize pools are less indicative of the growth and future of the industry as compared to league franchising. While multimillion dollar prize pools do grab headlines, the NA LCS and the Overwatch League offering guaranteed player salaries, revenue sharing, and health benefits reveals much more about the future of this industry.
These large prize pools did their job of alerting the mainstream of the esports phenomenon and drawing attention to it, but now I believe esports will follow traditional sports where championships and player success is discussed and debated more frequently than who has won the most money.
Team Liquid Becomes Latest To Drop Overwatch Team
According to a report by ESPN, Team Liquid will become the latest major North American esports organization to drop its Overwatch team.
Team Liquid is not interested in participating in Blizzard’s upcoming Overwatch League and will disband its Overwatch roster in a few weeks, the report said. The organization is also looking to sell its Overwatch Contenders slot, which starts its second season on Aug. 14.
The inaugural Overwatch League isn’t exactly off to the blazing start that Blizzard had hoped for. In the subsequent months following the league’s announcement, major esports organizations have expressed serious doubt towards the foundation and profitability of the OWL. Team Liquid becomes the sixth major esports organization to either drop their Overwatch team or pull their name from OWL contention; they join CompLexity Gaming, Splyce, Red Reserve, TSM, and Denial Esports
It’s a pretty alarming signal when five well-respected organizations all exit prior to your inaugural season, especially for such a highly anticipated league. What’s even more worrisome is that it isn’t some logistical issue; team spokespeople have explicitly come out and stated that lack of communication and uncertainty over the investment opportunity are leading causes. These are major red flags for potential teams and they are becoming impossible to ignore.
Blizzard has kept their plans for the OWL close to their chest, but its nearing time for them to share these ideas with their constituents. Uncertainty is the bane of any investment, and this one comes with quite the price tag. For $20 million, teams deserve greater transparency from Blizzard and its tough to blame them for diverting their money elsewhere. The OWL still has the potential to become a great success, but it has to make some serious reconsiderations after this rocky start.