How to organize a successful esports Tournament. Case WePlay! Esports
Esports tournaments are no longer just some events for enthusiasts. These are events with high-end production, a wide audience, attracting even automotive brands and venture capital.
Ukrainian tournament operator WePlay! Esports organized a professional Dota Pro Circuit series tournament in Bukovel, that the international media called the gold standard of events in its category. A custom approach and original thematic competitions allowed the organizer to become one of the most outstanding players in the business.
Esports is the new black
2020 Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo. Two days before that, the esports world championship will be held there, organized by the technology giant Intel together with the International Olympic Committee. Yet there is no background for any computer game to be included in the Olympic program, and the IOC itself has ambiguously expressed on this subject. Nevertheless, the growing popularity of esports among a young audience leaves no doubt that very soon the championships in esports-disciplines will become the main sports events in the world. Regardless of whether this happens in conjunction with existing institutions or without them.
The Dota 2 World Cup finals at The International 2019 at peak times was viewed by two million people. And these are official figures only (the Chinese audience, which is tens of millions viewer, was not counted). Of course, these figures are far from the one hundred millionth Super Bowl audience or the final of the World Cup with its half a billion viewers, but the most important indicator for investors, the growth rates, esports will cover in the nearest future. The audience growth between The International 2018 and 2019 was 63%, but even the two-time growth that occurred in previous years is not uncommon for nascent sports.
Business Insider estimates the global esports audience at 450 million people, half of which is the regular game-viewers, and the rest watch games from time to time. Compared to traditional sports, according to the Washington Post, the Dota 2 World Cup in 2018 was viewed by more people than Wimbledon, Daytona 500, Tour de France and U.S. Open, and the last three where lower in terms of the prize pool. Income generated by the industry exceeded the milestone of one billion US dollars, and the volume of investments in just one year from 2017 to 2018, according to Deloitte, grew by a whopping 837%: from half a billion to $4.5 billion.
Obstacles to Success
At the dawn of esports, the average viewer accustomed to a clear streamlining of national and international leagues in traditional sports, was not always clear which of the many tournaments to watch. Tournament operators experimented with formats, and esports organizations often took part in the competitions based on internal rather than sports logistics.
A notable breakthrough in the last decade has been facilitated by several factors, like the development and popularity of MOBA games (primarily Dota 2 and LoL), and an increase in prize pools. Video games themselves have become a full-fledged part of the cultural agenda, and young gamers have grown and gained a really remarkable value.
Valve, the owner of the Steam digital store, made a king’s move in 2011 and organized the first The International Dota 2 tournament with a really significant budget, the winning team won one million dollars. This amount contrasted sharply with the prize pool, for example, World Cyber Games – at that time the main e-sports championship, where players fought for $300,000 in as many as ten disciplines. Millionaires and overnight stars, by the way, then became the players of the Ukrainian NAVI team.
A few years later, The International moved to the seventeen-thousand KeyArena in Seattle, and the prize pool, now additionally raised by players from around the world, will exceed $10 million. There was no turning back now, the real deal began. In an attempt to increase the overall level of tournaments during the calendar year, Valve came up with the Major format: tournaments with a millionth prize pool, half of which will be covered by the company itself, and the remaining amount by the tournament operator. The Minor format was introduced with the same rules, thereafter, with a smaller prize pool.
The density of the tournament grid has contributed to the overall progress of the industry, e-sports organizations have become real hubs and brought together under their flags, teams in several – often more than ten – disciplines, hired trainers, psychologists, and physiotherapists. Tournament operators, whether ESL and DreamHack or young and progressive ones like WePlay! Esports got a chance to take the competition to a whole new level.
WePlay! Esports recipe for success
WePlay! Bukovel Minor 2020, yet the largest tournament from WePlay! Esports ended a little over a month ago. In the final, the European team Nigma (they also won The International 2017 as part of Team Liquid) defeated the top Chinese team Royal Never Give Up. Bukovel tourists who learned about the tournament from outdoor advertising at the resort came to see celebrities: Miracle- (Amer al-Barkavi, one of the best Dota 2 players in history) and Dendi (Danil Ishutin, the most famous Ukrainian Dota 2 player).
To get the right to host a tournament in Bukovel as part of the elite DPC series (Dota Pro Circuit is a series of competitions within the calendar year, rating points of which are taken into account before The International), to the WePlay! team I had to go to a tender from Valve and come up with a concept stronger than that of competitors. The best tournament operators compete for the right to host such tournaments around the world – from Los Angeles and Stockholm to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
WePlay! Esports relies on solid, well-thought-out thematic events in which offline experience works in synergy with the online one. Such were the Forge of Masters CS: GO tournaments and Bukovel Minor was the same. Given the dates (January 9-12), they decided to bring the whole Christmas spirit. Commentators covered with blankets drank cocoa, carols were allover the place, a picture of the gaming field in seasonal winter style was replaced by photos of the Carpathians taken from the drone. The incredible atmosphere of intimacy and coziness of the Bukovel minor led to the memory of the legendary tournaments from the Beyond the Summit team when the players lived, communicated and competed in a large house in Los Angeles. WePlay! itself calles its approach to organizing tournaments ‘esportainment’, it is a combination of esports and entertainment.
The concept appealed to the audience, and WePlay! Bukovel Minor was the most successful Minor series tournament in history, and the Dot Esports portal called the Bukovel tournament the gold standard for all future Dota 2 tournaments.
“Esports is a promising business. The audience of both players and spectators is constantly growing. Media rights are becoming more expensive, and the geography of the market is constantly expanding. Setting the “gold standard”, we strive to develop the market and make it even more attractive for partners,” said Oleg Krot, Managing Partner at TECHIIA Holding.
The efforts of the organizers were visible to the naked eye, not at every major tournament you can be entertained by the choir and bunch of pyrotechnics. On social networks, to support PepsiCo, Secretlab and other sponsors, memes and viral videos were running. By the beginning of the tournament, a limited series of stuffed-toy merchandise from WP Merchandise was created.
“Everyone understands that marketing decisions that are aimed at 35+ audience, almost do not affect the younger generation. Esports allows you to reach young people with unique sponsorship activations that organically fit your broadcasts and can even be integrated into the game itself. Many sponsors come to esports just in order to reach out to an audience inaccessible elsewhere,” says Oleh Humeniuk, the general manager of WePlay! Esports.
Of course, before getting the opportunity to conduct a DPC tournament, the WePlay! team had to become noticeable for Valve. Dota 2, Counter-Strike and Artifact tournaments had already been organized, the team also participated in the production of last year’s The International stream. Including the WePlay! Bukovel Minor, the company has already held fourteen tournaments with a total prize pool of more than a million dollars and more than 15 million hours of broadcasting.
Moreover, WePlay! Esports became the first tournament operator to host an official Ukrainian-language studio broadcast. The OTT platform has already expressed their interest in this. For example, MEGOGO, on which it was possible to follow the tournament. The tournament’s final games could also be seen in the cinema. The Multiplex network halls in seven cities of Ukraine organized the broadcast, and viewers could watch the broadcast in Ukrainian. Spectators on Twitch and other platforms turned out to be interested in esports content in Ukrainian, and the company continues to develop this direction.
“Traditionally, esports operators in CIS arrange broadcasts of their tournaments in Russian and English, but the minor in the Carpathians made us think about professional studio production of the tournament in Ukrainian. We saw the interest of viewers and partners in the Ukrainian-language broadcast and decided to go for it. Our WePlay! Mad Moon tournament is also in Ukrainian,” says the Managing Partner of WePlay! Esports Yura Lazebnikov.
From February 20, one more tournament of the company started in the Kyiv Expocenter of Ukraine (VDNG). WePlay! Mad Moon on Dota 2 with a $300,000 prize pool, which lasted until February 23 with some of the most famous teams, like Team Secret, Virtus.pro, Nigma, and others. It was possible to follow the tournament at the official studio broadcast of the competition on Twitch.tv.