MLG, ESL and DH partnership

This is not exactly ‘new news’. Two weeks ago, the partnership of Major League Gaming (MLG), Electronic Sports League (ESL) and Dreamhack (DH) was announced. It was well received by  the community overall. There is a consensus that this will help eSports development and the Starcraft 2 community will benefit from it. However, there are always tradeoffs when something as big as this happens.

MLG, ESL and DH are arguably the biggest non-Korean tournaments in the world in every sense, and perhaps IPL should be considered as “one of the big fours”. As highlighted in their website, the partnership is the first step to a single central system to organize and promote eSports:

The partnership includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • Universal Ranking: A universal ranking system across organizations for all major game titles directly impacting seeding and event qualification.
  • Master Tournament Calendar: One event calendar ensuring a minimum or no conflicts to ease players’ schedules and enables fans across the globe to easily spectate.
  • Unified Competition Structure: Development of a unified competition structure for all major titles at all tournaments.
  • Talent and Marketing Efforts: Cross promotion and support for all leagues to drive further awareness for eSports and league activities, as well as a shared roster of commentators and broadcast talent.

Although the merits are obvious, there are potential problems with the partnership. First of all, it is a monopoly. In general, monopoly is never a good thing in business from a consumer perspective. The monopoly gives power to the companies over the consumers, which includes but not limited to things like, charging a high price. This does not only influence the consumers, but the players as well. If there is any conflict between the two parties, the players will always be in a disadvantage position. The companies could simply put forth “if you don’t play by my rules, you will not be able to join any of the tournaments.” Given that almost all major tournaments are organised by them, the players who do not converge to the monopoly might just have to retire.

Another potential problem with the partnership is the Master Tournament Calendar. From the companies’ perspective, their investments in each tournament will be maximized as the audience and players are not split among more than one event at the same time. On the other hand, the players can attend each of these events, and the audience would not be overloaded with more than one tournament at the same time. However, this is a problem for mid to low tier players. These players would always face top players in each tournament, and hence their chances to make decent runs in the tournaments are not as optimistic compared to the current system. Now, the players can choose which tournament they want to join. For example, you have all the big names in MLG this weekend, then the mid and low tier players may want to spend their weekends on another tournament which offers a better chance to earn prize money. The bottom line is that every individual reacts to incentives. A mid tier player cannot earn enough money to support his career if he joins the big tournaments and sacrifice the opportunity to win decent prize money in a less celebrated tournament. He may eventually get forced to retire as it is not self-sustainable. Surely, it is important to have exposure to big tournaments and play against top players. The current system also offers the mid to low tier players an opportunity to earn their living before they become big names themselves. Therefore, the partnership might drive these players away.

Other current eSports workers should benefit from the partnership. For example, the casters would have a more reliable source of income. However, at the same time, those less established casters might just go out of job as the same few casters are likely to be invited in each event. With that being said, such competitions happen in every industry. From another perspective, this shows that eSports is moving toward a more mature stage of development. More importantly, I am interested to see how KeSPA and eSF react accordingly. It is no secret that there is a migration trend for the Korean players to move to the foreign teams, thus the Korean organizations would certainly have to make some decisions to upkeep their competitiveness and survival.

A new age is here in 2013.

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