There are issues with a league adopting a model similar to the one laid out above beyond. Below are some of the issues that were brought up from the community, and I have to say that I was impressed with the level of discussion.
As mentioned before, the economics may not work out for even small-scale events to occur once a month; and issues with non-league-exclusive players.
With the number of tournaments held today, there is a large potential for overlap, especially considering it’s likely that lower division matches will be held on a free stream in the weeks leading up to the premiere division event. But this is an inevitability for everyone as the scene continues to grow more crowded. Toes will be stepped on more and more, and the league that establishes themselves today as the premiere (and the highest-paying) league will be at the advantage.
It’s possible some hardcore fans may reject the model either because they don’t feel that it’s the most accurate way to determine the best player, or simply because it’s different. Inevitably, the best player will win the championship because a player better than everyone else is the player that wins matches. A slowed-down model is meant to reward players who consistently win over a long period of time, not the player who is best one weekend a year; and the player who is most skillful and strategic, not the player with the stamina to play a gauntlet over a two or three day period. The most successful basketball tournament in the United States, the Men’s NCAA Division I tournament, bucks the accepted norm for a basketball playoff in using a one game single elimination format.
A premiere division player may skip an event, throwing the ladder/pyramid out of whack. If the occurrences are rare enough, a few play-in matches can find their replacement in the weeks leading up to that event (coupled with the skipping player being demoted, providing present and future financial disincentive). If it occurs often enough, fans may start doubting the legitimacy of the league’s format. But my impression from interviews and discussion is that pro players would prefer a guaranteed payout as opposed to the feast-or-famine approach of most tournaments, and wouldn’t flippantly skip events.
E-sports fans simply may not be willing to buy PPV events. There is a common chorus amongst some MMA, boxing, and pro wrestling analysts that PPV is a dying industry. And that internet PPVs in particular are at risk for piracy. While their audiences aren’t as tech-savvy as e-sports fans, there is a large enough contingent of young fans of MMA, pro wrestling, and (to a lesser extent) boxing that piracy would prevent large PPV buyrates. But in the past year all three have held PPVs that have topped one million buys. For e-sports, PPV experiences are extremely customizable (switching between multiple streams), which serves as a deterrent to piracy. But the question still remains if e-sports fans will be willing to pay for content on a regular basis. Part of solving that problem may simply be reeducation.
A pretty bow
This is what we come out with on the other side:
Players playing in important matches in a league with a competitive format that allows for the formation of a cohesive and easily-followable narrative, the great players playing in that premiere division over a series of events long enough for fans to emotionally invest in them. The league contains an ultimate goal in its reigning championships, giving purpose and importance to every single match. The league doesn’t just allow players to turn themselves into stars via game performance and display of personality, but actively rewards them via viewer bonuses for doing so. The league identifies marketable characteristics, and the format allows enough time between important matches to promote them and convince potential viewers that this is a can’t-miss event.
E-sports fans, whether it’s competitive StarCraft, League of Legends, DOTA2, Street Fighter, Counter-Strike, etc., often search for an existing sport in their quest to find a competitive format that will make e-sports successful. There isn’t one. There is nothing like e-sports. E-sports doesn’t have the established history that other sports do in our culture. ESPN will not run wall-to-wall promotional coverage of e-sports like they do Wimbledon no matter how large e-sports becomes. ESPN makes money in promoting Wimbledon because they air Wimbledon on their network. The same holds true for golf on CBS. The same holds true for the Olympics on NBC. There will be no help from the outside media. The leagues holding events will be the sole promoters of their events, and if there isn’t a model in place that fosters that promotion while at the same time keeping intact what makes e-sports “e-sports”, there will not be the growth necessary to sustain this thing.
The NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL are all bolstered and promoted by national media conglomerates who make money off them, two or more radio stations in every major market that spend twenty four hours a day talking about them, newspapers, magazines, websites; an entire secondary industry helping to promote them. As stated at the beginning, it’s likely that e-sports will always be a niche product. But UFC made a fortune as a niche product.
The UFC drug itself up from the doldrums of a failing business into a company valued at over one billion dollars even before their most recent deal with Fox. They did it in the midst of droves of people actively trying to get them shut down. They did it when many in society saw their sport as nothing more than “human cockfighting”. They did it with limited coverage on a b-list cable television network. They were able to do it because they understood how to promote. Most important, they were able to do it as a niche product without pulling monster, NFL-level television ratings. It took convincing several thousand people consistently paying to watch their content.
I’m not saying that MLG and IPL have to adopt the example model I laid out earlier. What I am saying is that the fundamentals of promotion need to be understood and embraced by these leagues because, despite recent deals with media conglomerates or who their corporate backers may be, they will get no meaningful help from anyone other than themselves in making this thing work.