Jan 28 2014 - 12:12 am

Inside the $100k gamble to bring more eyes to 'StarCraft'

One of the biggest esports tournaments in the world has a plan to get your attention
Patrick Howell O'Neill
Dot Esports

One of the biggest esports tournaments in the world has a plan to get your attention. Earlier today, Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) announced a StarCraft 2 championship tournament with a prize pool of $100,000. The tournament, which will take place at their Katowice, Poland event in March, comes with one catch: The winner takes home everything. The losers get nothing.

The decision has been the subject of much controversy and attention already—exactly as planned.

“We got together the IEM team very early on last year and decided that we needed to be different to stand out from the crowd of tournaments now in play,” said Paul Chaloner, head of media at Electronic Sports League (ESL), the company behind IEM, and the man behind the winner-take-all idea. “Thats how we started brainstorming. This was one of many we discussed and finally settled on.”

James “Kennigit” Lampkin, a product manager at IEM’s parent company, Turtle Entertainment, called the move a “risk,” but said that, with the increasing competition StarCraft faces in the esports landscape, such risks are necessary.

The gamble will pay off if it gets more people to watch.

Will a $100,000 prize make many headlines at a time when League of Legends and Dota 2 teams compete for prizes of $1 million and more? It’s important to remember that those prizes are distributed among teams and are provided by game publishers, the richest players in the esports industry.

However, even in StarCraft, publisher Blizzard gave out a $100,000 first place prize to the winner of last year’s World Championship Series. This IEM prize pool isn’t a record-breaking number. But it is clearly an attention-grabbing one.

At this year’s IEM championship, StarCraft 2’s prize pool is beaten by League of Legends, Dota 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Chaloner and his colleagues believe they have to be creative to get the attention the tournament needs to succeed.

This new format is in striking contrast to the usual structure of IEM, which pays out 16 players, almost all of whom have flown in from around the world to compete. For every other event this year, and for much of its recent history, IEM has boasted one of the most equitable prize distributions of all esports tournaments. At last year’s IEM championship, every single player got paid something in prizes.

Now, it’s getting a lot more top heavy.

Reaction from the esports community has been mixed.

Some wonder if players will secretly split the prize money. Moreover, there's no way for IEM to track the money once the tournament ends.

For many IEM staff, prize splitting is just another risk worth taking.

“I don't think it's as likely to happen as some people suggest,” Chaloner told the Daily Dot.

“I can't see MC sharing a prize with Naniwa, for example. But what the winner does with his $100,000 winnings is up to him really.”

“Is it a bit nuts?,” Lampkin asked. “Yes. Have we put a lot of thought into what could happen and expect we will still be surprised after the final is over? Yes. And that is exactly why we are doing it.”

Chaloner and Lampkin seem to agree that while prize splitting is a possibility, collusion is hardly a given.

But critics also worry that the move move will cut off an important source of financial support for player development at a time when StarCraft 2 needs it badly. Many professional StarCraft 2 players aren't salaried, and couldn’t afford rent if not housed by their teams. By paying only the winner, every other player not of championship caliber has that much less support going forward.

For some critics, a top-heavy prize structure is a recipe to lower the overall quality of play in StarCraft.

In the wake of the announcement, fans have widely shared a two-year-old blog by IEM's own manager, Michal “Carmac” Blicharz, which voices a similar concern. In the 2012 post, Blicharz claims that the StarCraft middle class is “dying” because they can’t afford to play.

“But the middle class are the most important group of players,” he wrote. A champion “won’t play any better than he does already if you pay him twenty times more than he earns. He will play many times better if the number of players that challenge him on an everyday basis (in tournaments and in training) gets multiplied.”

Blicharz continues by imploring industry figures to to find ways to better pay the StarCraft middle-class. And he specifically mentions splitting up prize pools in a more equitable fashion as one such solution.

Of course, the situation from 2012 has changed. Today, Blizzard’s World Championship Series (WCS), the biggest tournament in StarCraft 2, provides prize pools that simply didn’t exist two years ago. The WCS allows IEM to be “bolder,” says Chaloner, “without fear that it would harm the community.”

“We've supported the ecosystem for years with IEM and other ESL tournaments giving away millions of dollars to help support the pro circuit,” Chaloner said. “We also gave away $125k in 5 stops this season and paid for dozens of flights and hotels. Out of all Western tournament organisers ESL is the one with the largest number of unique players that received prize money from us. IEM paid out to places one through 24 in Season Seven and one through 16 in Season Eight.”

Chaloner, who said that this prize structure is a “one-off decision,” staunchly defended the move.

“For me that means seeing the bigger picture,” he said, “reaching eyeballs we haven’t previously reached and having a $100k winner takes all tournament in front of a huge live audience in the Spodek arena is something the mainstream press will be excited about.”

If just one person is turned on to StarCraft to see “what the fuss is about,” Chaloner said, then the plan has worked.

But what if the plan that turns one person on to the game also turns another off in turn? Sure, $100,000 is a life-changing amount for the winner, but is losing out of $10,000 for third place a similarly life-changing moment for the loser?

With the $100,000 announcement made, all eyes turn to the mainstream press, which doesn’t normally bat an eye at esports. Will non-gaming outlets talk about IEM and StarCraft now? When the tournament finally kicks off on March 14, will the eyeballs justify the gamble?

For the conjecture and guesses we have at this point, the numbers will tell the tale in March.

Photo via IEM

Today - 3:29 pm

Our predictions for the Evo 2017 lineup

These are the ten games we think will make it to Las Vegas... and the four that won't
Steve Jurek
Dot Esports

Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to officially enter Evo season.

Organizers for Evo, the largest fighting game event in the world, will reveal the event's 2017 lineup on Tuesday at 9pm ET. Thousands of fans will be watching intently to see if their favorite game will be played on the fighting game world's biggest stage. There is a bit of uncertainty about this year's lineup, as several new games—including King of Fighters XIV, BlazBlue: Central Fiction, and Injustice 2—all have strong cases to be part of the Evo 2017 lineup, and the nine games that were part of Evo 2016 all have strong arguments to return to the event.

Earlier this month, lead Evo organizer Joey Cuellar asked which seven games fans would like to see at Evo 2017. This led many to believe that only seven games will be featured at this year's event. While that's certainly a possibility, Evo staff have a tendency to try and do things bigger than they did the year before. I feel that this year will be no different, as I believe a record-setting ten games will make the final list.

Here are the 10 games I believe will make the cut for the Evo 2017 lineup, along with a few that won't.

Will make the cut

Street Fighter V

After a launch year that included poor reviews, missed sales targets, and an embarrassing rootkit fiasco, it is safe to say that 2016 was not a great year for Street Fighter V. However, there was one area in which the game was unquestionably successful: tournament turnout. A record-setting 5,100 players took part in last year's Evo tournament, which is more than the number of players who participated in the second- and third-largest tournaments in the event's history combined. Despite its freshman struggles, Street Fighter V's status as an Evo game is as safe as can be.

Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. for WiiU

The increasing prominence of Smash games at traditional fighting game events has not been without controversy, but it's a trend that isn't going away anytime soon. Last year's two Smash games were the second- and third-largest events in Evo history. Over 2,600 players entered last year's WiiU tournament, while over 2,300 entered the Melee event. With support like that, it's impossible to imagine a 2017 lineup without either game.

Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3

To steal a line from a popular fighting game talk show: Marvel lives! The Marvel community did everything they could over the past two years to reignite interest in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, and Capcom's December announcement of Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite poured gasoline on that spark. There's no doubt that we'll see at least one more Evo with the insanity that is Marvel 3.

Injustice 2

Injustice 2's May 16 release date will surely make Evo organizers a bit nervous. With just two months between the game's release and Evo 2017, the game's entertainment value will hinge largely how well-balanced the game's cast is at launch. A poor initial balance could lead to a repeat of the original Injustice's Evo debut in 2013, an event in which three of the top six finishers played Superman. Still, those fears won't be enough to dissuade Evo organizers from including the game in the 2017 lineup.

Tekken 7: Fated Retribution

It's strange to think that Tekken 7, a game that hasn't seen an official North American release, can be making a third straight Evo appearance. Yet here we are. Bandai Namco, the Tekken series' publisher, has done well to drum up interest in the game with its regional King of the Iron Fist tours. That effort will pay dividends on Tuesday, and they'll pay dividends once players can finally get their hands on the game. Speaking of...

 BONUS PREDICTION: Tekken 7 console release date will be revealed

Tekken publisher Bandai Namco has promised to announce a console release date for its much-anticipated fighter some time this week. The company has been coy about exactly when that announcement will come, but Tuesday's Evo lineup reveal show seems to be the most likely choice. With popular figure Mark "Markman" Julio - who has appeared on the reveal show in each of the past two years - now working with both Evo and Tekken in official capacities, this appears to be a no-brainer.

King of Fighters XIV

The King of Fighters series is always a favorite among international Evo viewers, so it would be incredibly shocking to see the recently-released King of Fighters XIV left out of the 2017 lineup. 

Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator- and BlazBlue: Central Fiction

Evo has historically had one unwritten rule for "anime" games: they only get one spot in the lineup. That rule was broken in 2015 when both Guilty Gear Xrd and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax were included in the event, but only Xrd returned last year. I feel that this year will see that rule broken again, as the BlazBlue series has a strong new entrant in Central Fiction to join Guilty Gear Xrd's still-strong -Revelator- update.

Killer Instinct

This may be the toughest call on the list. With the amount of developer and community support shown for the game four years after release, Killer Instinct is the type of game you want to see succeed. Microsoft is now backing the competitive scene in a big way as evidenced by the upcoming $30,000 Killer Instinct World Cup in March. I feel that momentum should be enough to see the game make the cut again despite being the game that had the fewest entrants at Evo 2016.

Will not make the cut

Pokken Tournament

It's tough to imagine a game going from over 1,100 entrants at Evo 2016 to not even in the 2017 lineup, but that's the fate that I believe Pokken Tournament will face on Tuesday. The game's community has shown up to events in force, but so have many other communities. Pokken felt like an odd choice last year, but with so many other games in contention,this year it feels like the odd one out. 

Mortal Kombat XL

There is precedence for Evo including two different NetherRealm Studio games at one Evo - both Mortal Kombat 9 and the original Injustice were a part of Evo 2013. But with so much crossover between players from the two series, along with the abundance of potential choices at Evo's disposal, I think that we've seen the last of Mortal Kombat XL at Evo.

Ultra Street Fighter II and ARMS

The Nintendo Switch will likely have at least two fighting games available by the time Evo rolls around, but don't expect to hear the name of either game on Tuesday. Many tournament players love Super Street Fighter II Turbo, but its re-release as an "HD Remix" was not particularly well-received by most of that group. It's doubtful they would be more receptive to Ultra Street Fighter II, a game that appears to be an HD remix of HD Remix. And as fun as it would be to see players like Justin Wong and Daigo duke it out with motion controls, there are far too many 'legit' fighting games in the running for a spot in the lineup to take a flyer on ARMS.

Jan 22 2017 - 9:12 pm

Hearthstone's NA vs CN event ends in controversy

The Chinese players were coasting to victory, but their final win provoked minor outrage.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

China's best Hearthstone players turned back a team of the best North America had to offer—but the event did not end without controversy.

In the final game of the event series, China's "Lvge" made a play that seemed to defy logic. He played Dirty Rat on turn two, risking pulling a hugely advantageous early Tomb Pillager or Gadgetzan Auctioneer for his opponent Keaton "Chakki" Gill.

However, according to the American players the Chinese casters and Lvge's teammates were screaming to play the Rat when he picked the card up, and with no white noise in the player headsets Lvge could likely hear the noise and take the cue.

The play promoted a furious series of tweets from Tempo Storm founder and Team NA player Andrey "Reynad" Yanyuk—though the tweets were later deleted.

Chakki and other players have also commented on the controversy, claiming that they raised the issue of players being able to hear the casters. The other members of each team were also watching the stream of the game, meaning they could see the hands of the opposing player.

There was little that could be done to address the controversy unless the admins immediately halted the game in progress, as the game was tournament point for the Chinese side.

Despite the controversial finish, team China had run away with the tournament to get into that position. Thanks to two wins by "OmegaZero" and "Lovelychook" over the two day event, Lvge was left with only Chakki left to beat.

China had also won the first of the three showpiece events, before Canada's Julien “Cydonia” Perrault had single-handedly won the second for team North America.