The ESI Podcast on esports tournaments: publishers vs organisers

Posted on 18 April 2019

Esports

Esport Tournaments: publishers vs. organisers

 

Voice over
Welcome to the Esports Insider podcast in partnership with Mishcon de Reya

[Music]

Ollie
Welcome to the ESI podcast for the second episode in partnership with Mishcon de Reya.  Today we are going to be talking about running tournaments from a tournament operator perspective and I am joined by three esteemed guests today; first I have Max. 

 

Max
Hi there.

 

Ollie
How are you?

 

Max
I am good, I am good.

 

Ollie
Tell us a bit, what’s your job title, what do you do, where are you from?

 

Max
Um, I'm a paralegal at Mishcon de Reya. I am part of their Esports group so I am the general conduit between anyone that understands the law and anyone that wants to learn about Esports.

 

Ollie 
Sounds good. And on my right I have Mason. Mr Grove…

 

Mason
Good morning.

 

Ollie
…tell us a bit about yourself?

 

Mason 
Yes, I am the publisher relations manager at ESL. Um my general role is facilitating a conversation between ESL and game publishers and figuring out what kind of competitive eco system they would like to build for their games.

 

Ollie
Oh I like that. I like competitive eco system.  And across from me we have Mike. Tell us a bit about yourself?

 

Mike   
I am Mike Bembenek. I am the director of content at FACEIT. We put on Esport events from various scales from small activations to arena events around the world.

 

Ollie
Sounds good, I mean barring the kind of dating show intro that we just did there, which was good. [laughter from Mike] You all sold yourselves, I’d date all of you. [Laughter]  We will launch straight in at the kind of grass roots level, so Mike just mentioned you run, I mean obviously FACEIT, you have your platform on line and you have millions playing in kind of small tournaments, games organised. Working with a publisher from that perspective how does it work um at at a very grass roots level? Is it a lot easier to work with publishers or does it pose the same challenges as going upwards?

 

Mike
It depends on the publisher [laughter from Ollie], I’ll throw that out there right away. You know what, Esports has changed a lot in the last five years, especially from a publisher perspective because obviously we’ve seen every publisher now realise the importance of having a sort of competitive gaming eco system within either their own game built in or you know, through a platform like ESL player, FACEIT.com. And… those publishers now you know, they have a choice, they can either go all in you know; finance, bank role, hire all the staff themselves a la Overwatch League and how that was operated through Blizzard um and how RIOT now runs their events you know obviously when RIOT started doing League of Legends ESL were the producers of those events and then they decided to take it you know, all internally. Then obviously there is the other side so PUBG, CS:GO, Blue Hole you know, a company like that they actually approach it from the opposite side where you know, most of the resources come from a third party like FACEIT and you know they will pay for certain aspects of the event and other aspects are our responsibility so it is kind of a mixed bag in terms of that fact. And then there is obviously White Label where you know, you come in put on an event for a company but you don’t really advertise your involvement.

 

Ollie
Yeah do you do the same from a kind of ESL side, you guys obviously have your kind of UK focussed, you’re small, kind of smaller premier leagues and then it feeds in to this massive global event ESL 1 Series, IEMs.

 

Mason
Er, yeah no, I think Mike is spot on actually with, with the publisher approach obviously they all have their own IPs and they approach it in their own way which of course they have the right to do.  Um some I would say are easier to work with than others.

[Laughter]

 

Ollie
Not naming names.

[Laughter]

 

Mason
But yeah, the thing we always… the message we always try to drive with the publishers is that one of the or the most important part of the competitive eco system is foundation, the grass roots scene kind of creating the low barrier to entry for people who like to play that game and then trying to transfer them into a competitive player who compete in cups regularly and it is building the foundation of a pyramid which at the very top are these mega events that you see and trying to build that pathway basically from casual player to regular competitive player to joining a team to then you know, going to the big mega events.

 

Ollie
Yeah and I guess kind of from a legal perspective Max when you look at Esports there must be quite like a fascinating, a fascinating industry from an IP perspective because when you talk to big sports teams you tend to be whatever, there’s no one that theoretically has the IP of let’s go and play football, me and mates can go and play football outside, it may not be great quality but [laughter] we can do it. Theoretically RIOT can go yeah I am shutting down League of Legends and then we can never play it again…

 

Mike
Oh they do it, you know publishers do do that so.

 

Max
And that’s one of the really amazing things especially for me from an IP point of view as well is what you are essentially doing is, the publishers are creating… their basic er business model is we make and we sell video games but suddenly these video games either through a community driven approach or an audience er demand suddenly turn into Esports and now suddenly you’ve created more than just video games, you are creating an international sport that is possibly successful at a global level all of a sudden and you need to find a way of being able to regulate that in such a way that, or control that in such a way that you want to… in perimeter’s that you define. That’s fascinating because what you are essentially doing is creating sports out of nothing you know, when was the last time someone created a massive new sport that we started seeing televised on the internet oh er and terrestrial television, it just doesn’t happen but that’s what we see with Esports all the time. It was only three weeks ago I was given a seminar on the Mishcon Sports Law Academy about what are Esports, the ultimate IP holders and how that works and then the week later Apex Legends came out suddenly everyone [laughter from Ollie] you see all the major, all the major er Esports organisation suddenly looking for you know, signing teams, signing players, you suddenly see new twitch personalities come out of nowhere, this is something that is part of the rapidly evolving nature of Esports and this is where the likes of ESL and FACEIT have a really fantastic opportunity because not all publishers are going to have the resources and the capacity to hire all of the necessary staff, building infrastructure needed to run these events at a national level, a global level, do all of the local activations. To have that expertise what you need are people who are driven in broadcasting, able to deliver from that point of view.  It is an events management business like no other, the challenges that you face you know, it is not something that you can just bring anyone on board with and again even from just an international sporting point of view, how do you manage online qualifiers? You don’t have online qualifiers in any other sport but suddenly in Esports how do you manage that you know, there’s things that until you are actually involved with it you can be a bit naïve. And then from the other side of things you know, if you are a traditional sporting organisation you want to get involved in Esports, approaching the likes of a third party operator is a much easier way in rather than going straight to the publishers looking for collab at that level, trying to invest in an Esports team. Which game do you pick? These are all questions that it is a lot to deal with on the face of it but somebody being able to offer you a venue or to be able to do an activation at an existing sporting, you know, sporting venue is a more realistic approach.

 

Ollie
Yeah I kind of find it very interesting and the eco system obviously we have your FACEITs, we have your ESLs, you guys exist in the space and you continue to exist in the space and do very well. Do you not find it a little bit crazy that kind of when I look at these companies ultimately the risk, I don’t think there is a very high risk, but there’s a fundamental risk that is saying everyone-

 

Mike
It is insane. It’s insane. The risk for this stuff is just through the roof and no one realises it which is what...

 

Ollie
Yeah right, so-

 

Mike
It is interesting because especially you know, over the last ten years that I’ve done this you know, as kind of a hobby, so only you know, doing it just on the weekends, helping out with online tournaments and things like that and then now working full-time in it, the you know, the risk went down but that’s only because you know, joining a company like FACEIT where you know, there’s VC money behind it, um you know like we came up with a real, like a well-defined plan before I even joined the company because I was doing bits you know with them, so risk for myself was you know I tried to minimise that as much as possible but for people who are inexperienced, they come in to this and they think that anyone can do it better right. That’s a huge, huge issue. You guys probably hear all the time right, like we can do that right, like, 'Oh FACEIT we could do that'. The reality is-

 

Ollie
One upmanship in Esports is...

 

Mike
No 100%.  

 

Ollie
…it continues to be an issue right.

 

Mike
But you see the people who are like you know, the people who have been in this a long time, you know, we all have a respect for each other and you know, we talk at you know things like Esports Insider events, you know and privately about you know, what ESL is doing, um what you know other organisers within the UK eco system are doing, er Insomnia you with Game and their festival. They do a lot of you know, a lot of I Series Esports and it I think we are at a case now where it is starting to, like we are all starting to become protective again which is good for the industry, like you know we are trying to stop cowboys from getting into this. You’ve seen on Twitter like whenever someone internationally comes up, like I’m going to do an event like you know, people research the stuff right away because it’s very you know, savvy audience and cynical audience which is like a blessing and a curse but you know, there’s a lot of people that just come into this now and they don’t really appreciate the risk and especially like from a venue and insurance perspective, you know, venues are expensive, really expensive. London is very fortunate, the UK is very fortunate in terms that we don’t have a lot of really good used sports venues necessarily but the ones that we do, like that they are fairly cost effective and you know, producing an event in the UK is actually you know, I would say less risky than say the US.

 

Ollie
Yeah I kind of wanted to touch on if we look at now how the IP works and if we talk a little bit about sort of from your side on the publishing relation side how the discussion kind of gets started and kind of, I guess like for those that are listing that are completely outside of Esports, what, what do you need to do? Who- How does it go about sort of somebody going right well we’ve got a 500k dota tournament coming to Birmingham, like obviously a discussion needs to be had, actually there’s some licensing around Valve um that you need to talk about and yeah, kind of how does that process work and how do ESL go about right this is a title we want to run etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

 

Mason
Sure. So, so the process is different with every publisher. Um, of course there are… it depends on, on the er on which game it is as well right. So with Valve they are very kind of open is the best way to explain them. They are very… they  listen to what we want to do and if we propose an event they will seriously consider it every time um which is great news obviously and er of course the same with FACEIT and they work with all the tournament organisers which is great and I think they spread the CS action very well.  Other publishers, um, smaller publishers for example are very keen to just try and get their game into the space, so that’s a much easier conversation to have, there’s not going to be an issue where we are trying to get a license from them or confirmation that we can use the game because they are on the reverse side where they want their game out there, a lot of mobile developers are in this kind of mind frame at the moment where they just want their game out there to be played. Obviously one of the, one of the most fastest growing segments of Esports is mobile and then yeah, it depends on the publisher really.  Um the process is basically we would open a discussion with them about an upcoming title or a new season for an existing title and um we we would discuss how that format looks, is it going to be like weekly broadcast which culminates in a final, would they rather have online qualifiers which then leads into like a regional final which builds into an international thing um so it is really hard to give a kind of copy and paste answer for that because literally every single project is different. Even sometimes between seasons the, the product might change with the same publisher, same game just because at the stage we are in in the industry at the moment, still relatively early days um but we are still figuring out the best path to work with different games and different publishers and you know, it’s a constantly adapting thing, like for example, the major for IM coming up, the format has changed, it’s format has never been done right…

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah, yeah

 

Mason
…where every team will end up playing the best of three before they get eliminated. 

 

Ollie
I mean you could never with esports formats, I mean you guys know probably better than me, but you can never somehow please everyone, there’s always pitfalls.

 

Mike
Oh yeah.

 

Mason
Yes, of course

 

Mike
Valve are actually the easiest ones to work with.

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah.

 

Mike
They are very open and as Mason was saying, they you know, they take on ideas, they don’t always give a blessing, like they are very er if you just kind of do it they don’t really care but if you start asking questions they’re kind of like go yes or no. The quickest thing that Valve responds to is like developer stuff. Like we email them about an event, they’ll take like a couple of weeks for them to respond back. If we email them a question about their API, they’ll like thirty minutes or less.

 

Ollie
Yeah it’s the old, you know the old rumour of Valve like you just have your wheelie chair and…

 

Mike
But the thing is for them is that, the most important thing for them is the title and what’s going on in that game right so when, you know between ESL and what they are doing with the API stuff where they are Major at the moment versus what we do with FACEIT, all that stuff is you know built by us not third parties and Valve is very supportive of developing that stuff. But on the other side of this RFPs. So like requests for proposals, so like those big events like Valve Major, you know the PUBG, er the global summit that we are doing in the ICC auditorium in April, um like NHL is really big right now. I'm trying to think of the RFPs we’ve been doing…

 

Ollie
Yes, there’s a big demand everywhere.

 

Mike
Yeah, of course. You know and it’s not even necessarily like RPs, it’s like a phone call and they go like oh we want like we want to do something with you but we don’t know what that is and then you come in like you do a deck, you send it to them and they go like nah we don’t really like that.

 

Ollie
It’s the wonderful world of…

 

Mike
And then you re-do the deck and send the new deck and you know you go through that process three or four times but ultimately its RFPs so not every company is getting the opportunity to pitch for all these events like let’s put that out there. Because the barrier of entry you need to meet that so Valve, they won’t consider you if you’ve never put on an event with like than less than you know, a few thousand people in the audience for example.  They won’t touch you if you have no experience with like pyro and you know, technics of you know doing an event that’s engaging you know, that kind of stuff. Um yeah RPs that’s where you get to. Like you look at Gfinity, what they’re doing, they’ve got Formula 1, they’ve got the E Premier League, they got this huge sports thing which obviously is like…

 

Ollie
Yeah yeah so Call of Duty…

 

Mike
...oh God… why do we keep doing this. Formula 1 is okay right. Formula 1 I get it because it’s really dangerous but FIFA right? 

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah. I mean we could do a whole another discussion on that.

 

Max
And like FIFA is a whole episode in itself you know, the first conversation that anyone from any sort of premier league team is like, oh so do we just sign a FIFA player and we’re done with Esports, is that it? And this is exactly it and so it is also about educating the people about the wider space as well because they state Esports but you start having this conversation about Esports without defining what Esports actually is because for different people it means different things. When you are talking to smaller mobile publishers for example, Esports is how do we build a competitive scene amongst our players and build it into something that they are going to keep on playing so that they keep on spending money on micro transactions and the game grows and we can build it into something that the players really love which is different from hosting a Valve Major for CS:GO you know, where you’ve got it being broadcast on Twitch, where you’ve got thousands of people in the audience live and you are playing for really big money which again is different from steamers because suddenly you know, you take the likes of Dele Alli and you know him streaming Fortnite through the FIFA world cup is like that for me is a, is a better use of everyone’s time... 

 

Ollie
Yes.

 

Max
…in sports it is like, we take advantage of you know, the now Instagram stars. Why not make them Twitch stars, YouTube stars...

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

Max
…you know the chance for you to be playing Fortnite with your favourite premier league player is just another way of building on existing...

 

Ollie
Great isn’t it.

 

Max
…image rights. You know that’s another episode in sports, sports is another episode in itself.

 

Mike
Do you know NFL? There’s an NFL player who is a big Twitch streamer.

 

Ollie
Yeah JuJu, I mean… MLB, one of Ninja’s stack is an MLB player, I mean we are deviating slightly but…

 

Mike
But that’s like it’s a much more clever use of…

 

Ollie
Influencers.

 

Mike
…a sports brand and the players and to do stuff that’s not anything to do with your sport and I say this as someone who is like we are pitching ten NHL teams and we’re doing activations on a fairly regular basis right now and we pitch NHL my team because they don’t know anything about Esports.

 

Ollie
No exactly.

 

Mike
So going and saying like well you guys should be doing a Fortnite or Apex Legend’s tournament because that’s where you‘ll get new fans from right.

 

Ollie
Yeah exactly.

 

Max
And that’s exactly what… sorry to cut in there, but that’s exactly what one of our clients is doing you know, they are hosting Fortnite competitions, massive activations at existing sporting venues so they are doing them at football stadiums all-round the country and that’s a way to bring people on to, on to the venue to meet their favourite players of that particular club to get involved in video games with them and it’s note strictly an Esports thing, you know, Esports competition sure there’s prize money to be had and certain aspects of it might be broadcasted but we are not talking about you know, there’s a difference between mass participation, player engagement, traditional audience engagement, building your brand at an international level because especially when national teams and national clubs, how do you build that international profile. Everybody wants to be like Manchester United you know, who are massive all over the world…

 

Ollie
Yeah.

 

Max
…How do you do that? Not strictly speaking Esports but streaming is one way to do it but bringing on board the likes of ESL, FACEIT, other third party organisers and operators who actually know how to manage and run these events whether it be some sort of online format or whether it be an actual physical event you know, that’s a really valuable way to get into Esports I think.

 

Mike
Yeah. And interesting side of this too is that in the US in particular, actually in Europe now as well, is that a lot of you know Esports organisations are being brought up but by traditional sports teams so probably the biggest UK example is Dignitas, founded in the UK…

 

Ollie
Yep.

 

Mike
…no longer with us, now based in Philadelphia.

 

Mason
If you are listening Oze you are still part of them, you’re still part [laughter]

 

Mike
No it’s good but they, so like they you know, Dignitas was brought up, they hired a guy, Mike Prenderbill from MBC Universal, who I’ve actually worked with a lot because of Universal Open, and that guy is very good. He’s one of these people who gets it from this perspective where it’s you know, how can we develop not just Dignitas but also like the wider culture of the sporting organisation. Now there is some ways issues with that because some of these teams actually do have the resources to do their own executions online and so on so someone like the Dallas Stars or the Dallas Cowboys they’ve got two organisations locally right, you’ve got NV which is I think more connected to the Dallas Stars um and then…

 

Ollie
Complexity.

 

Mike
…Complexity in the Cowboys, you know, they’ve got state of the art facilities at the Cowboy’s training complex in Frisco.

 

Ollie
Yeah.

 

Mike
Dallas.

 

Ollie
Frisco is probably this weird little hub for Esports

 

Mike
No, exactly but you are seeing these hubs grow like in London obviously. I think people don’t really give London the respect that it deserves.

 

Ollie
No definitely not.

 

Mason
No

 

Ollie
Like our last event a hundred and forty people which was…

 

Mike
No of course.

 

Ollie
…compared to a couple of years ago where we struggled to get eighty down and this time we had a long waiting list so…

 

Mike
No of course.

 

Mason
I remember the first event in the fanatic bunker, so pizza and beer and there as little over thirty of us I think.

 

Ollie
No exactly that was, those were the days eh, those were the days.  But I kind of…

 

Mike
But here’s like the ESI thing, because I’ll throw this to you, something we should discuss for talking of events and kind of the order, so you get, you know you do your RFP and kind of the first, the first big part in RFP is where are you going to host this right? That’s the difficult bit. So you’ve got to find a venue in like London right. So FACEIT we host London based events...

 

Ollie
Yep.

 

Mike
…that’s you know, what we’ve become known for and we’ve got three choices right.  Three indoor arenas. You’ve got the O2 right, which is you know, 25,000 / 35,000 thousand capacity, beautiful, state of the art, best venue in the country right.

 

Ollie
Yep.

 

Mike
Liverpool has the Echo Arena which is fairly new which can also be you know considered.  You’ve got the two Arena’s that are around the NEC um which are you know, 10… 15,000 capacity?

 

Ollie
Yep.

 

Mike
And then you’ve got Wembley which is err about 15 or 13,000.  Everything else is about you know, maybe 3,000 max capacity.

 

Ollie
Yep.

 

Mike
So you know in terms of big, big Arena’s you’ve got a very small choice in London so for your first point is can I actually book it on the weekends that we need because usually in the RFP there’s dates of when this event needs to happen er so, I mean you just saw with Star Ladder and their announcement of their major and how they are pushing it into the August you know…

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Player break.

 

Mike
… player holidays for counterstrike they get a month off in August. This has been established for several years now and you know, like DreamHack, ESL, ourselves you know, Star Ladder for the most part which is quite surprising that they’ve announced it this way but you know Valve signed it off so.

 

Ollie
Yeah, I mean do you think, do you think that’s a challenge from the kind of Esports famously have been, I mean we are getting better, but scheduling events and dates it’s not surprising sometimes to have an event announced three months before whereas in traditional sports you have a fixture list at the start of the season, everyone knows what they are doing. Do you think we, it is an area that Esports still needs to massively improve on? And do you think that’s because of relationships with publishers.

 

Mike
It’s impossible. It’s impossible. 

 

Ollie
Too many stakeholders?

 

Mike
I will say that there is like organisers talk, anyone who says, especially in the UK that organisers don’t talk is ridiculous. Um but we are not usually competing in the same titles or at the same thing at the same time right like it’s not you know, the UK premiership 3SL you know is all the UK you know community focus grass roots thing pushing teams up and trying to find the next Mourier or Depth you know FACEIT is doing everything more from… like our UK stuff is the UK circuit, it is all online it is not televised, it’s just a hub for people to compete in. Um you know so there’s not really your competition in that sense right. It’s all the international people you need to worry about like the new guys who just crop up every week.

 

Mason
And offer a massive prize and then they basically force themselves into the calendar because the players will want to play.

 

Mike
Exactly. The players always say we want an easier calendar and then companies like ESL and FACEIT will work together to make that happen and then another organiser goes, oh that dates free now.

 

Mason
Yeah let’s take that one.

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

Mike
Let’s take that date so then all of a sudden… so you’ve got like DreamHack doing six events like let’s look at Counterstrike because that’s what I know best. So you’ve got like DreamHack doing six events. You’ve got ESL doing six events right so right away that’s like almost quarter of the year take up by one company. Then you’ve got… we only do two events a year but we also have the qualifier part right so that takes up the player’s time. Um so we appreciate that but so we are asking for so sixty days I think for the year. So FACEIT as a company are saying we need, we need your guys’ time for about sixty days and… we will reorganise things and then the next like last pro series, they pop up now they are doing six events.

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah.

 

Mike
And they go but our events are only one day and it’s like no but it is still the travel schedule so like FACEIT and ESL need to do their league so therefore now like we can’t do it until the Tuesday because of the travel schedules. It’s a mess right.

 

Ollie
I guess that’s kind of why the pro league got condensed right?

 

Mason
Yeah exactly. I think when you are trying to compare it to like traditional sports as well, there’s a couple of factors. The first one being is obviously stuff like football has been around for like over a hundred years right, they’ve had over a hundred years to build a format and a structure and set the dates, like it is the same thing every year and there’s a body, one body who is organising all that right. When its Esports there isn’t a body to do it. To be like these are the regular dates that we will do every year, each year and they will not change unless extreme circumstances right. Um because and I’ve heard this analogy a few times Esports is a bit like the wild west, like there are so many players in the game who are very good at what they do er from a tournament organisation perspective and there are so many excellent tournaments on offer but there is not one umbrella and body and we are saying, right we need to calm down.

 

Max
No, you know to take it back to existing sports and the way that is regulated.

 

Ollie
FIFA.

 

Max
Yeah there’s no international regulatory body for all Esports you know. One because that just would be inconceivable in that one you have so many different publishers, publishers that take different approaches.

 

Mike
People are trying it obviously…

 

Max
I mean people-

 

Mike
Like IESF or whatever which is like KeSPA

 

Ollie
I mean right very relevant this morning, the Chairman of KeSPA has just been sentenced to five years in jail for four hundred thousand dollars of swindling in Korea so that’s the like, one Federation that’s been longstanding in Esports and it’s been shown to be kind of as riské as some of the more traditional sports...

 

Mike
Like FIFA.

 

Ollie
...which have been doctored and corruption so…the Federations is like again, we can talk for hours about Federation.

 

Mike
But it’s the Federations in traditional sport are also corrupt. 

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah.

 

Mike
The NFL is a private corporation right that is like a registered attorney. Like none of this, these are all businesses. Anyone who thinks that like the FIFA Governing Body is like something official, they’ve got the most money and they’ve managed to have a monopoly on the market.

 

Mason
Exactly.

 

Mike
It is interesting because the NFL, this week has a competitor now right. So there is a new American football league that’s just been launched.

 

Ollie
Right.

 

Mike
No one really knows this, I am surprised in the UK.

 

Ollie
Okay.

 

Mason
Yeah..

 

Mike
The All American Alliance I think or something along those lines.

 

Mason
Triple A. The All American Alliance.

 

Mike
Yeah.

 

Mason
Would they have the same teams playing or?

 

Mike
It works in the off season.

 

Mason
Right.

 

Mike
Um and it just start… like the Superbowl happened, it’s just started now and they… you know, who knows how successful they will be but you know if someone has taken the mantle, they are trying to compete with um the NFL. But in the US there’s arena football, that’s another perimeter of football that exists. This stuff exists it is just that no one knows about it right, la crosse league.

 

Max
The added complication is when you bring it back to Esports there is always an ultimate IP owner being a publisher but also those publishers will have different rights and obligations beholden to them as well. Everything from the music they are licensed to use in the video games to distribution agreements they have with different er organisations and different territories in the world so you take for example, every publisher wants to have their game to be a massive success in China now, what you’ve got to have that license through in appropriate body through China as well you know, everyone once Ten Cents seemed to it the only people able to distribute your game in China but that’s going to have certain, that’s going to have certain restrictions on them on what they are then able to then do with their games for example, so… and that’s going to feed back down into all the different bodies using the game for their own purposes so it just becomes this really complicated mess where ultimately the publisher is going to want to have that final say on something so what happens when you have a situation where the publisher are saying one thing but some international regulatory body that’s managing some aspect of the Esports calendar says another thing. It’s like well ultimately what the publisher says goes and that is a risk for if you are not the publisher in this situation that is something that you’ve always got to be aware of you know, it is something that we make our client’s aware of as well when they get involved in Esports, whether it be at, even from like a player level, team level, sponsor level, just be aware of, realise there is an IP holder at the very top of all of this and you are beholden to what they say. Sure you know, you are going to have everything put together in contracts and whatever it might be but it is not like you know, that’s the major difference and that’s something you’ve got to appreciate and that just makes it more complicated for everyone involved which has its pros and cons you know, you can take Valves approach where you’ve got they are very open with letting different organisations host their events…

 

Mike
They don’t care it’s a free for all.

 

Max
…they are just like go for it but that’s also, it’s fantastic in one aspect, it’s fantastic if you are doing well out of it, it’s not fantastic in another aspect. Like you said, you know, you guys ESL and FACEIT between themselves agreed this is the calendar that we are going to make so that improves the players lifestyles, their quality of life, so we can host better events and really push Esports to where it wants to be and then someone else comes in and it’s like boom, massive prize pot, come compete in this, is really difficult.

 

Ollie
Yeah.

 

Mike
Or it’s, it’s, like you know, a new organiser comes in and you know the way marketing budgets work is that usually they are nationalised which is why you know, ESL UK is very successful in terms of the premiership stuff. Um those are the budgets you are competing for right, like global budgets and trying to get those big marketing dollars and so, that’s, you know, you are only really going to get them for a big international event just because of how viewership is so spread out, get 10% from the UK, 10% from the States, 10% from Canada right.

 

Ollie
Yeah.

 

Mike
No sponsors are really interested in that.

 

Ollie
Yeah exactly.

 

Mason
That’s the risk right.

 

Mike
Obviously the risk side of it is, that’s what brings it out.

 

Ollie
Truly global, truly global look just come and give us all your money and this area and this area...

 

Mike
No, exactly.

 

Ollie
…and it is like well actually no we are the UK arm and we don’t really want to target SEA at the moment.

 

Max
But that, that’s one of the issues is that you know, Esports became a global success before it learned how to be a national success is the opposite of what happens in most other aspects is you know, it becomes a national success and when you export it to the rest of the world so when, you know, when you are pitching for sponsorship, when you are pitching for certain things and you know whoever is in charge of that marketing budget goes that’s great show us your statistics, you know what are your KPIs, what are we going to be able to see and you throw these massive numbers and then you go, okay let’s take the Chinese audience out of it and its gets smaller and it’s like…

 

Mike
Yeah you have to be really honest about numbers. You have to be.

 

Max
…now we are looking at…

 

Mike
There’s companies out there that are not though at the moment in the UK, like one company in particular which terrifies me, honestly. The unnamed company, which I think anyone in the industry can figure out who I am talking, about blowing money, a beautiful product but no one is watching it and they are getting these huge sponsors in and those huge sponsors are going to basically wake up in about six months and go wait, like how many people watch this. 

 

Mason
Yeah, how much did we spend?

 

Mike
How much money did we spend? And then that’s them out of the business for five years or whatever until that marketing person leaves and the next marketing person comes in and goes like mmm Esports I wonder what this is.

 

Ollie
That’s just caution I think. I just in general, just because of interest and time, I really wanted to touch on really it obviously like fairly, it’s not contentious, but something very relevant and kind of very recent, I’ll say there’s two. The first one being Heroes Of The Storm right, this is kind of for me when we were going to talk about IP and kind of running a tournament, literally shows that overnight you can kind of demolish and destroy a scene right just by saying oh yeah we are not going to really support the game anymore. Another like not really similar but kind of was Heroes Of New Earth is releasing its last update so that’s kind of signalling the end of publisher support. Um I am just keen to hear thoughts on kind of the way that Blizzard approached Heroes Of The Storm, they kind of went very much, as they did with a lot of their titles, we are going to remove the potential for third parties to get involved, we are going to manage everything and then through them consuming and taking all the IP they then can then single handedly I mean, effectively by removing the scene right, they made every single player in that Esport redundant. Most teams have now said a fond goodbye to their Heroes teams but…

 

Mike
It’s sad.

 

Ollie
Yeah.

 

Mike
It is sad, like in this, I mean most people when they see publisher led things, you know, understand that risk right. You’ve got to, especially the talent. So like when it is really sad that that happened but at the same time for like anyone working on Heroes Of The Storm, like come on… you know.

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah.  It was just kind of the abruptness right, there was no like oh yeah let’s wind this up. Especially at Blizzcon they kind of said yeah we are going to support this, we are going to have HGC again, you are like okay, okay cool.

 

Mason
I think that it simply was just a frugal business decision from Blizzard from X Vision right just because you know, they’ve probably looked at the numbers and saw it decrease over the years, it probably cost a lot, well it does cost a lot of money to execute this kind of stuff in-house. Um they are probably shifting those resources and revenue and the money that they put into HOTS into Overwatch League right, they’ve got to try and put their eggs into that basket.

 

Ollie
So like when you guys make a decision from your stand point and also kind of when you talk to potential clients that are coming in, like do you look at title… like is it purely based on metrics and these titles are growing and say like, say you were still running Heroes Of The Storm but you saw the viewership declining, declining, declining. When does the decision come to go you know what actually enough is enough, the investment has been this but we’re not making a return anymore and do you like… how do you deal with that kind of…?

 

Mason
Yeah um good question. It has not happened that often where it’s been like we’ve had an established product and it has just like decreased, decreased over time and just died completely. Um I think that directly correlates with the lifecycle of a game right. There is no game, well PUBG Counterstrike apparently [laughter], no game just lasts forever.

 

Mike
The audiences went up like hugely in the last year. Yeah Yeah.

 

Mason
It’s crazy. 

 

Mike
Mind blowing

 

Mason
It’s awesome.

 

Ollie.
Like Siege is doing really well, they are all doing very well. It’s an overall growth which is great right.

 

Max
But this is again one of those things you know, you talk about the lifecycle of the game and that’s completely it, you’ve got to remember at the top of all of this are people making and selling video games, they are making and selling video games for a reason and you know, those will have certain lifecycles you know. Counterstrike I think is fantastic in that you’ve got established IP, is generational iterations of it that help it evolve, help it grow for the next generation become involved and interested in it but that might only last for so long you know, I was a massive Medal of Honour fan and that franchise is now no longer a thing and you’ve got to be aware of it.

 

Mike
I was too.

 

Ollie
I won’t comment on your game choice. [Laughter]

 

Mike
Medal of Honour was cool, the first one was amazing.

 

Mason
Rising Sun was a gem mate.

 

Max
But it is just one of those things to be aware of and I mean again it is one of those things that if you are getting involved in Esports you need to have someone on board that understands the eco system so that they can make you aware of certain things that if you are not aware of the industry, you haven’t grown up in the industry you might not pick up on, so for example, you know, if you are looking at being involved in an event or you are looking at investing in a team, you’ve got to look at also what they are not involved in together with what they are involved in because you might realise there are some pretty significant titles missing or that they’ve got all their eggs in one basket you know if all that team has to offer is a Counterstrike team and then they no longer qualify for majors or they no… you know, or the viewership in Counterstrike falls significantly or they can’t get sponsors on Counterstrike for whatever reason it might be or for example, different publishers will have restrictions on what they will allow to be sponsored alongside their games. It’s all things like that that you need to be aware of, and I don’t know if for you guys if it’s the same, FACEIT and ESL you know, they don’t just pitch all of their eggs in one basket you know, they are involved in multiple different games because they realise you know, you don’t know what’s going to be next.  I mean…

 

Mike
Well we are terrible at being like [laughter] in a lot of games let’s be honest like we're known for Counterstrike.

 

Ollie
But I mean at the same time-

 

Mike
We are very, very self-aware of the fact that FACEIT is not very well known outside of Counterstrike

 

Ollie
But equally you diversify through the platform.

 

Mike
We try to. Like if you know, Universal open Rocket League right, like we’re co-partner we own that IP with MBC.

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

Mike
No one talks about FACEIT’s involvement, it’s an MBC thing right.

 

Ollie
Yeah its Two v Two right. The kind of…

 

Mike
I don’t… it changes. Well it’s not like based around Rocket League, it’s like the Universal opens the IP.

 

Ollie
Right, because I remember when they first-

 

Mike
The game can change right and that’s the whole thing is that you create brands where it’s a game changer.

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah but I mean as long as you guys are making money from it, it’s good.

 

Mike
No of course.  I am trying to do Halo at the moment like Halo 3 for me is like how I got into this.

 

Ollie
Bring it back yeah, yeah.

 

Mike
I am like-

 

Ollie
I mean Halo classic I think as a game, I mean again we are kind of deviating but-

 

Mike

We're not deviating, this is an event so I am trying… the problem I am having is trying to find a venue, I need a venue that can fit two hundred people in that’s got decent hotels.

 

Ollie
What about this room?

 

Mike
I’ve got a few like there’s London the spaces are getting better but-

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah definitely.

 

Mike
You know Halo 3 is not a title that anyone is trying to put events on for really at the moment right like even the classic traditional land organisers in the UK probably are like, oh are you really doing a Halo thing. I am like NO, we need a Halo thing. Halo Infinite is coming out let’s rebuild that community you know, the UK is not doing tremendously well in other Esports but has been really good at Halo in the past, between the Bucks Baxter like power gaming, like there is some history there and I want to like…

 

Ollie
Make UK Esports great again.

 

Mike
…well you speak about the grass roots stuff right.

 

Mason
Yeah, yeah the community is there, it’s just dormant at the moment.

 

Mike
Yeah.

 

Mason
The community is there, we have a few.

 

Ollie
Well that’s that’s kind of interesting because that’s like another discussion on it’s almost like a dormant IP and it’s just gone…

 

Mason
We could have another episode… sleeping beast

 

Max
Dormant communities and grass roots initiatives, how do you get involve… you know because the UK has a massive amount of potential when you look at it as a games market it is the sixth largest games market in the world, we’ve got loads of fantastic people in the UK, behind the scenes in Esports doing all the production, putting on these events, fantastic casters, analysts and then you get to the pro scenes in the game so you are like well where are all these gamers going because every parent in the country is looking at their kids going well all they do is play video  games, why aren’t they making loads of money from this like why aren’t they at the very top and you know, it is one of those things about well is it just that we are not supporting the grass roots initiatives here in the UK. But that’s, that's a whole other episode, that…

 

Mike
Because there is not enough money in it. That’s all it is in the UK. I think most of the UK youth are smart enough to realise how competitive and hard it is to get a job now and they tend to focus on that.

 

Ollie
Yeah and I mean I think equally it is the same if you are having a talk, a careers talk with someone, I would never say to them yeah you know what, don’t go to University. I would always say get your education and then decide what you want to do. It is not… now in Esports it is not so much oh I am passionate about Esports, I know who plays Counterstrike for Fanatic, it’s right but have you got a marketing degree because I want you to work in marketing and Esports is an industry that works the same way as other industries… not the same way actually, I am not going to say Esports works the same way as anything but…

 

Mike
You watch any sort of like the you know, player films and the player stories that come before matches and so on, there’s like almost always a beat in there which is you know, I dropped out of high school or…

 

Ollie
Right.

 

Mike
…I struggled through University you know and got my…

 

Ollie
As a pro player-

 

Mike
Characters like in Counterstrike there are two example, Kerrigan who you know went through University while being with one of the best Counterstrike or being on one of the best Counterstrike teams in the world and then like Jake, like Stuwie2K?

 

Ollie
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

Mike
He was like sixteen, he was like I am going to join Cloud 9, like that was his goal and…

 

Ollie
He smashed it.

 

Mike
…within like a year had joined Cloud 9.

 

Ollie
And like you said, and he dropped out, he like ran away from his parents because he was so… I mean look, I think also this is completely not what we are meant to be talking about but because we have to wrap up in a second anyway, I mean I think the kind of point now is if you want, generally if you want to reach that level, it’s like with football right, if you become part of a football academy when you are young, generally those people don’t go through.  Now football clubs are having to take the conscious decision to build academies where they force people that they sign to their academies to do their GCSEs and to do their A levels because it is very much still a tiny percentage of people that will make it to the level where they can make a living from it, even more so it is very fragile in Esports because of tier 2 and tier 3 seasons so I think that people just need to be educated.

 

Mike
Tonnes of events though. Like there is tonnes of events happening for UK teams and so on.

 

Ollie
Yeah exactly.

 

Mike
From premiership and you know, trying to find leagues and grass roots initiatives it all exists, it is just you know trying to find them.

 

Ollie
Yeah. It’s the running and finding isn’t and making it sustainable right.

 

Mike
Great players, that’s where.

 

Mason
It’s a time thing, I think we are moving in the right direction to start building out that grass roots support that… if we are growing so fast you know, let’s keep the pace but let’s not try and grow too fast.

 

Ollie
Global first before national right...

 

Mason
Yeah

 

Ollie
...That’s the bizarre way is in if you, like Smyrna right, he went around trundling at some UK lands, mouthing off, being Smyrna and then suddenly we see him on a global stage…

 

Mason
That’s right.

 

Ollie
…in a major top six or whatever.

 

Mason
And had the whole crowd chanting his name.  He has a very chantable name.

 

[Chanting Smyrna]

 

Ollie
I went to an event in Malta and there’s a crowd of about a hundred and they are just all chanting Smyrna. It’s very, very, very chantable that’s what I’ll put but anyway that is pretty much all we have time for. I am sure we could go on for absolutely hours but we can carry on afterwards but I would like to say thank you again to our partners Mishcon de Reya that is the second episode of the Esport Inside podcast. We will be back very soon with more great content for you.

 

[Music].

In the second episode of the esports podcast series in collaboration with Esports Insider, we explore how esports tournament organisers and games publishers can work together to create franchised leagues, and how the ultimate holder of the intellectual property can create numerous challenges to navigate.

Featured in this episode are:

Metaxas Nicolaides, Paralegal, Mishcon de Reya
Ollie Ring, Head of Media, Esports Insider (Host)
Mason Grove, Global Publisher and Developer Relationship Manager, ESL
Mike Bembenek, Director of Content / Executive Producer, FACEIT

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