HLTV at ELEAGUE Media Day
ELEAGUE will mark a stepping stone for competitive CS:GO with the launch of its $1.4 million first season on May 24th. Below you can find some snippets and impressions from the official media day.
With Group A of ELEAGUE Season 1 kicking off in less than 24 hours, the tournament organiser hosted a media day beforehand which included a press conference that featured statements from Turner Broadcasting, WME|IMG, the league commissioner, and some players.
The conference got under way with opening statements by Craig Barry, EVP and Chief Content Officer of Turner Sports, and Tobias Sherman, WME|IMG's Global Head of Esports. The spirit of these statements concerned Turner's original decision to invest in esports and how they enlisted the help of IMG to enter the space and get a dialogue with teams going.
"We immediately understood the connection with the community, how important it was and how important it was to listen to it and as we continue to learn as we go, everybody in this room as well as the community, are all important for our ongoing education [in esports] and for us to come out with the best product," Barry said.
The conversation then steered to a panel with Richard Lewis as host and Christina Alejandre, VP & General Manager of the ELEAGUE, and Min-Sik Ko, the ELEAGUE commissioner, answering questions and discussing the background of the tournament.
The Media Day was about the ELEAGUE's origins, operation, and future
When asked about the biggest challenge in forming the league, Alejandre mentioned scheduling and the "crowded space" that is the current CS:GO scene, however she noted that ELEAGUE cooperated with ESL and FACEIT (i.e. ECS) to make the whole venture happen.
Afterwards, the panel switched to include RoomOnFire trio Anders "Anders" Blume, Auguste "Semmler" Massonnat, and Jason "moses" O'Toole and the talent spoke about their original doubts concerning CS:GO on television, but the prevailing theme was that ELEAGUE did not impose their own ideas on the scene, but rather almost beseeched any and all to give their input on how things should be run.
The players were also included as Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert of Cloud9 and Chad "SPUNJ" Burchill of Renegades were brought out and gave their thoughts on the format and on the feasibility of CS:GO becoming a mainstream spectator experience. Regarding the format of group stage games for seeding purposes:
"I think it's something we need to see in the Major qualifiers, the round-robin system to determine seeding. I think it's really cool. So that's the main thing I'm looking forward to.
Sometimes over the course of a year, things change in a roster in esports, you go to a tournament and your ranking is determined from your placing three months ago, and that team changes a lineup but they're still the number one seed. Here you get to play in the round-robin, get your seeding, and figure it out that way so I like that," Gilbert said.
The final portion of the conference involved an open question-and-answer session, which featured media (including HLTV.org) asking questions to Alejandre and Ko, with some of those highlighted below.
Will the Friday broadcast on Twitch be a true broadcast alongside the TV broadcast?
Alejandre: It will be the observer feed from the broadcast. The commentary will be there but you won't see the stage/studio.
Why did you guys arrive at this particular round-robin format?
Ko: This season was planned at the beginning, when we planned to have 15 teams and have the teams do their versus match-ups three times. But by expanding the team list, we changed it to this format which I think is fair because teams have a decent chance to be on TV each Friday. But we don't know ultimately for the second season what we will do. In any case every game is going to count.
Is there an intention to bring the TV broadcast on Friday to Twitch?
Alejandre: Television is definitely a different beast. We have different distribution deals with our different carriers which basically prohibit us from simulcasting or at least offering Friday's broadcast in an unauthenticated way. We want to make sure that people who only watch on Twitch catch the gameplay, at least for the first season.
How did you grapple with the contrast that the Friday night broadcast, which is situated during the traditional death slot, might not actually reach young adults most effectively?
Alejandre: As a live sporting event, we wanted to find an ideal time slot on a Friday night that people both on the East Coast and the West Coast of North America could catch it. We thought 10pm was the best time slot to accommodate for all these considerations.
How does WESA feel to you guys?
Alejandre: We haven't had much time to delve into WESA, quite candidly, we were focused on setting up this league and tournament. We haven't been formally reached out to by them either, so we haven't engaged in conversations. Once we do, we're very open to having conversations. We just want what's best for esports.
Lewis: We're the same as everybody else when it comes to that. We don't have special rights or privileges or insight into what they're doing, so we'll watch and see how it develops.
How are the "two additional teams" that get invited to the Last Chance Qualifier decided?
Ko: That's why each match-up in the groups is important because those points determine if you're going to make it to the Last Chance Qualifier. So the best two teams who lost in the semifinals are going to make it by points [in addition to each group's runner-up].
Following the press conference, all parties involved were made available to one-on-one interviews. Craig Barry was asked many questions by HLTV.org and a few other parties concerning Turner's long term vision for the ELEAGUE and on how to sell esports to a more traditional TV-viewing audience.
Craig Barry, EVP of Turner Sports, spoke at length about the viability of esports on TV
How do you keep engagement with native viewers who may not know the storylines so people can keep coming back year after year?
Well there's the narrative of the individual teams, which we're going to have a heavy focus on, but then there's the narrative of the overall tournament. And you hope that you get engaged in the competitive nature of the tournament.
I can tell you that I necessarily don't like playing Counter-Strike because I don't like getting smoked by 12-year-olds. But I do absolutely love watching Counter-Strike from a competitive stand point, and I didn't even know about it 8-9 months ago, when this started.
CS is very media friendly because it actually plays a lot like poker [with its Pocket Cam innovation]. There's an innovation in play for viewers, namely the X-ray mode for spectators that gives you a line of sight on a player and being one step ahead of the sport engages people in the experience.
Are you going to base success for this off of the traditional television model, i.e. Nielsen ratings?
Of course the metrics are important. But you have to look at acceptance of the community and authenticity. If you don't engage with the grassroots of esports, then the trajectory of Season 2 and onward gets exponentially steeper. It's so important that we do this right.
I can't say they won't have an impact. But I would say that it's a lower priority as we enter into this space. And we have a model for thinking about the Twitch viewer numbers and what the overall engagement should be.
How does the partnership between Turner and WME|IMG work?
We do the business, they do the league. We do production, content, business operations and they have the commissioner, handle teams, handle travel and amenities, and format.
How much have you guys talked to Valve throughout this ELEAGUE process?
We had a number of meetings with Valve before we started this because without Valve it doesn't happen. So we developed a good relationship with them; as you know, they're very interested in what's going on but they're also very interested in letting us figure it out for ourselves and then we'll adjust an approach for the second ten weeks.
How generational is the ELEAGUE content going to be?
I think it's okay for content to be generational. If you gave it its due, there would probably something for everyone but the fact is is that the audience is younger. When we talk about an authentic product, we have to also talk about an authentic audience. I'm not sure we can force it to a cynical audience who have zero interest in the competitive nature of video games.
Our age demographic standard answer is 18-34 but I think it skews a little bit younger and the sweet spot is probably 24,25 and probably even a little bit older, surprisingly.
What attracted you guys to getting into the esports realm?
It got pitched to us by WME|IMG and when we looked at this space, we thought about what we can bring into this esports space. We centered on a higher quality of content and a richer narrative; those were the two main drivers for us to say there's an audience here, there's room in this space for us, and we think we can make an impact and differentiate ourselves with higher levels of content and narrative.
Is Season 2 going to be CS:GO? But you guys are thinking of other games if ELEAGUE were to continue into 2017?
I can say yes to both questions.
We have one more piece of content from the Media Day coming to you later in the American evening, namely an interview with Richard Lewis, who is an advisor to Turner full-time and also made his trade as an esports journalist.
stich writes for HLTV.org and can be found on Twitter