In competitive gaming, anyone can become a professional player. From the comfort of your living room, you can climb the ranks and grow into a star-player of any game you desire. Provided that you have the hardware and internet connection, there is virtually nothing stopping you on your path to esports stardom. It has always been this way. That is, until a few years ago.
Why Amateur Esports Players Have a Hard Time
When leagues starting making the conscious switch to esports franchising, they effectively cut off the organic growing process of esports. Before, players could compete in amateur leagues, advance to semi-professional events and then high-profile tournaments. This is commonly referred to as the player development pipeline. For esports with open circuits, this pipeline is open to anybody willing to commit the required time.
With franchising, the player transfer between the highest and the lower divisions was severely impacted. Now, it falls to the organizers to create enough opportunities for amateur players. Not only do they have to provide a starting point, they also have to ensure that talent can flow between the different levels of play. Otherwise, the highest divisions will die off due to a lack of fresh talent.
This doesn’t hold true for every esport out there. Some, like CSGO and Dota 2, still provide (largely) open tournament structures. In Counter Strike, players can get their first taste of league play through the ESL Open system. External tournament organizers provide additional opportunities for enthusiasts to probe the competitive scene. There is a natural pathway to the top. Through the Open, Main, Intermediate Advanced, and Premier Leagues, the teams will eventually advance to ESL Pro League.
This is quite a long way, of course. But with all the professional teams competing in CSGO, it is no wonder that new teams might have to eliminate a lot of competition before they become noteworthy. Most importantly, these leagues in between provide exposure for aspiring talent. Without ESEA Premier, players like Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut would never have been discovered. To describe what happens when a developer disregards these structures, there is no better example than the Overwatch competitive circuit.
The Death of the Overwatch Amateur Scene
When a developer decides to basically take control of the game’ entire tournament circuit, they need to provide a development pathway for the lower end of the scene. Blizzard have done so quite literally with the Overwatch ‘Path to Pro’, but rather poorly. The system features an open league, which feeds into Overwatch Contenders, the second division. There is no relegation at all between Contenders and Overwatch League. Teams are allowed to field academy teams, which could basically become farming grounds for new players.
Right now, only six of the OWL teams feature academy rosters. This has to do with the limited exposure that Contenders receives from Blizzard. Fielding a secondary roster is just not financially viable when the league barely goes beyond 1000 concurrent viewers. Because the teams refrain from taking up additional players, the new talent is basically left in limbo. There is also very little reason for other professional organizations to invest into Contenders, for the same reasons. With OWL being a franchise, they will never have the chance of making it into the highest ranks of Overwatch anyways.
The prize pool for Contenders is relatively high, but not enough to provide full-time salaries for the players. This means that the talent outside of the Top 20 teams is not even given enough resources to really commit to the game. This marks a shocking disregard for the player development pipeline – even more so when you consider the crazy amount of money that OWL has made through league slots. Contrast this with CSGO, where even teams outside of the second division are able to make a living off of esports.
CSGO: A Positive Example for Player Development
So how does Counter Strike manage to deliver where Overwatch has failed? It’s quite simple. The open tournament system allows for third-party organizers to create their own competitions. Entire national league circuits have come into existence because of this. So if you’re a new and talented player, you have the ESL Open division and (depending on your country of origin) multiple domestic entry points.
In Germany, for instance, there are ESL Meisterschaft and 99Damage League. Recently, Merkur Masters have entered the tournament realm as well, giving yet another opportunity for teams to gain exposure. The German Esports Federation (ESBD) has built an amateur league system, which directly feeds into the highest national competition.
These tournaments give exposure, which in turn promotes investment from sponsors. More sponsors means higher salaries, higher salaries means more players dedicating to the game, more players means… you get the point. So many international star players have made their way to the top through these structures. Who knows how many of them would have succeeded if they hadn’t been able to get a salary for most of their careers?
But franchising doesn’t have to be bad. Take League of Legends as an example. In Europe, RIOT have set up an extensive structure of open tournaments feeding into national competitions. These events are professionally broadcast and well-promoted. This gives plenty of organizations a reason to invest into LoL talent beyond just the highest European league. More and more star players are being discovered through these events, which stabilizes the League of Legends ecosystem as a whole.
Bitspawn: Helping Amateur Esports Players Grow
So where does that leave us? The player development pipeline certainly has to start at the amateur end. Providing opportunities for amateur players is a key responsibility of any serious esport.
But that work doesn’t always have to fall to the game developers themselves. In recent years, tournament organizing platforms have spawned left and right. These give players the opportunity to participate in amateur- and semi-professional esports competitions. Bitspawn is one of those providers. We aim to reinforce the esports ecosystem by handing aspiring talent the means to create their own events and participate them. Here, you’ll exclusively meet players with high aspirations, who want to elevate their game to the next level. Not only can you learn and grow out of this experience, you’ll also have the opportunity to win some prize money along the way. So many players have been discovered through platforms like Bitspawn. So why not be the next one?