Early this year I wrote a post for this blog detailing the need for eSports to be taken seriously. Well here we are about five months since that initial post and we are looking at a whole new world *cue Aladdin.* With the landscaping changing seemingly day by day, it is beneficial to take a look back at the changes and announcements. In the House of Esports we have a saying: Brace Yourself, Leagues are coming (probably).
World Esport Association (WESA)
WESA did not have a very happy beginning, which created a lot of criticism and an uphill battle for itself. In early May of 2016, there were leaks, rumors, and speculation of a strong professional league forming. A league that would be very similar to any other professional league, a league run by the teams and focus on the players. This league was to be the savior of all oppressed players that have come before. With all of this speculation, WESA had its hand forced to announce itself. Not a good move. Mid-May, WESA announced its members – eight teams and mega esport organization ESL – and very little information about the league. No one knew the bylaws, no one really understood its structure, and it never felt like it was any more than ESL running the show yet again.
To add to it, about twelve days after the league’s announcement a “founding member” FaZe Clan decided to leave WESA with no explanation. Another crushing blow to a league that just getting started. As of writing this, it looks as though WESA has hit the war room to figure out how to regroup. In late August of 2016 WESA announced Ken Hershman was to take over as Commissioner and Executive Chairman. Aside from that announcement, WESA has been quite. While we patiently wait for WESA to bring the transparency it promised, other associations have been stepping in.
Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC)
On July 8, 2016, the ESIC was officially introduced. Although it is not a league, the ESIC is the introduction of the first governing body which serves as the “guardian of the integrity of Esports and to take responsibility for disruption, prevention, investigation and prosecution of all forms of cheating, including, but not limited to, match manipulation and doping.” The ESIC is also one of the few bodies that, after its announcement, was able to provide a commissioner (Ian Smith) with a strong understanding of regulation and governance, a constitution, a form of bylaws, and set expectations of its members. In fact the coalition produced a report in April, before its introduction, detailing the reasons why it is needed in the industry.
While this coalition is important and necessary for the industry, it begs the question of who is bound to follow its rules? The theory is great, stop cheaters, keep the game clean, all of that good stuff. The application, not so much. I would like to think that every competitive league/association would look to have similar rules (although that has been questionable). The rules and regulations of the ESIC are rooted in firm principles; however, it is unclear who is actually bound by these rules.
National Association of Collegiate eSports (NAC eSports)
September 7, 2016 marks the announcement of a league I have been clamoring for since I fell in love with esports: a collegiate league. Although players are starting to play past their early twenties, the college age is typically viewed as “prime” years for players for various reasons. This creates the opportunity for these players to play and practice under a collegiate model. Formed with the support of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), NAC eSports is a separate entity, allowing the participation of any school in any athletic association (including the NCAA). Via a tweet at me (#Hype), the association’s first season (spring 2017) will feature the popular game League of Legends. But it is still unclear what other games will be available to the league and schools.
Esports introduces an interesting dynamic that other sports do not have to deal with – publishers own the rights to the game, thus the association needs to work closely with the game developers. There are various different “club” level esport organizations such as TeSPA and LoLU, but NAC eSports offers one unique difference to help legitimize it on campuses – school support. NAC eSports requires the school to officially endorse and fund a fielded team. It will be interesting to see how the dynamic between schools, NAC eSports, and game developers plays out.
Professional Esports Association (PEA)
September 8, 2016 PEA officially announced it’s formation. A North American based association, PEA is formed of seven major North American Teams: Team SoloMid, Cloud9, Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming, Immortals, NRG eSports and compLexity Gaming. The first season, set to begin January 2017, will feature Counter Strike: Global Offense and a $1 million prize pool. It is yet to be seen whether PEA will feature other games but it is unlikely League of Legends (LoL) will be featured nor will Heroes of the Storm (HotS).
LoL has its long standing League Championship Series (LCS) and HotS will be starting a year long series similar to LCS in 2017 called Heroes Global Championship (HGC). PEA may be able to work something out with these developers, but Riot (LoL) is notoriously difficult to work with and Blizzard (Hots) has its moments. It is also worth nothing that Blizzard/Activision owns Major League Gaming (MLG) which has a tight grip on anything Call of Duty or Halo related. Although it seems like the game pool is limited, the most intriguing facet to me is the structure of PEA – owner-operated.
PEA seeks to be come something of the NBA esports equivalent and it could work. It is in this light that PEA is different. ESL, MLG, LCS, and many more all stand separate from their teams and players. PEA seeks to bridge that gap. PEA seeks to focus on the players. Split the revenue between players and teams, care for the players health, and allow the players a say in decision making. It is in a model like this were a player’s union, something many believe needs to happen, could be effective. What is unclear is how this will all play out. How much regulation will the league have on the teams and players? Where will the revenue come from? TBS has shown massive success with “ELeague,” will TV stations fight over broadcasting rights for PEA? Will these teams be prevented from competing in non-PEA sanctioned events?
While there are obvious differences between eSports and traditional sports, there is no reason we cannot have something the resembles the NFL or NBA or MLB or MLS for eSports. As the industry continues to grow, there is no doubt more leagues will begin to form and each league will learn from its predecessors mistake. My hope is that eventually there will be one body where all the professional teams go, off season, free agency period, and even a “draft” for players out of college. Until that time, I will continue to enjoy the ride of as I watch this new industry grow – the future is now.
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