The recently announced War Chest Team League is a controversial topic. The debate highlights several issues with the planning and execution of the tournament.
Just like how previous War Chests work, players can buy the War Chest for skins and other perks, and the money would be used to support the StarCraft esports scene. The key difference of War Chest 6 is that the first USD $150,000 of the proceeds (less taxes) goes to prizing and tournament operations for a special team league. Blizzard have yet disclose full information of the tournament, but format involves “nine prominent StarCraft II commentators to draft teams of four players each, who will then duke it out in an action-packed clan wars-style format.”
While the controversy around the previous War Chests is mainly about the pay-and-unlock set up, the current debate involves the StarCraft II team ecosystem and support. Many existing StarCraft teams came together and penned an open letter to Blizzard regarding their disagreement with the War Chest Team League. Their main concern can be summarised in the following paragraph (emphasis mine):
As you can see, this format excludes existing professional teams. This team league format reduces our motivation to keep our teams running, as representation from players is a major part of running our teams in the first place. Moreover, it may make actual teams less appealing to existing and prospective sponsors… we are wondering if there is another way to get casters involved along with providing more support for existing professional teams.
Proponents vs. opponents
The opponents of the War Chest Team League believe the money could be better spent to support the team ecosystem. Their main concerns are:
- The War Chest Team League disregards current teams that would really benefit from this sort of event.
- It is a missed opportunity to support the existing StarCraft II teams.
On the other hand, the proponents of the War Chest Team League believe hosting a team league with the existing teams is not a feasible option, or at least not a better option than the existing one. The main reasons are:
- Teams that do not have enough players cannot participate, and that could result in some top players not featured in the tournament (e.g., Serral of ENCE).
- The games would be one-sided – Look at JinAir Green Wings.
- The goal of the War Chest is not to produce a team ecosystem.
There are two underlying problems with the controversy. First, the two sides have very different views of what the War Chest Team League really is. It is after all a tournament of individual players drafted to play in a team format. The problem stems from Blizzard’s label of the tournament. It is named the War Chest Team League, so it is inevitable that people evaluate the tournament from the lens of a conventional StarCraft team league. Humans do not learn new information in a blank state, but they adopt a schematic approach by organising new information into familiar categories. In this case, people apply their knowledge of previously known team league formats (e.g., Proleague and GSTL) to the current tournament. These team leagues had actual teams competing in them, so that affects our expectation of participation criteria. Then, when you adopt the perspectives of team operators and owners, it is not hard to understand why they are disappointed and feel excluded.
In contrast, the proponents do not perceive the War Chest Team League as a special team league, but they actually see it as a special tournament using a team format. With this in mind, the criteria of having actual teams competing seems unnecessary. This highlights the information asymmetry of those who are involved in the planning process and those who aren’t, and this is reflected in the tweet below:
The second underlying problem is the message Blizzard is sending to the teams. This tournament teaches us that StarCraft teams benefit from putting most of their money on one or two star players. It is not like team owners and operators do not know that there is little incentive in having a StarCraft II team with a roster, but this tournament is making the message clear. Why would teams spend the resource, which would otherwise be spent on recruiting top talents, on providing up-and-coming players opportunities? The result doesn’t seem to align with Blizzard’s statement for this tournament to provide “tons of opportunities for everyone to shine.”
Fundamentally, it comes down to the poor marketing of the tournament. The use of “team league” in the tournament name builds up expectation that cannot be fulfilled. The tournament could be marketed as a caster fantasy league instead. This then shifts the schema from conventional StarCraft team leagues where actual teams compete to a fantasy league where players from different teams get picked. Once you position it as a fantasy league with casters being the “fantasy league players”, you give opportunity and incentive for existing teams to promote their own players saying “please pick my player!” This is exactly what NBA teams do when they want their star players to be picked for the annual All-Star game. Existing teams would not have felt excluded, and they are likely to appreciate the initiative. Teams can post promotional clips and artworks on social media in the process. This provides a platform for teams, players, and fans to interact on social media. This resolves the conflict between worrying about quality of games (e.g., overly one-sided) and feeling excluded from participation. The hashtag could have been #PickMyPlayer instead of the #LetTeamsPlay that the open letter is advocating.
This simple shift in marketing focus could have turned the opponents to proponents. This could have prevented the current push back and keep the existing format. Of course, it is too late to re-brand the tournament now. I may insert this as a case study for my marketing lectures.
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