ESEA increase prize pool and number of seasons for 2021; simplify path to Pro League
Winning any of the four ESEA Premier seasons in the year will secure a team a spot in the following season of ESL Pro League.
ESEA's league system has undergone a massive overhaul ahead of the start of competition in 2021, the company announced on Thursday, with the focus being on improving the state of ESEA Premier (formerly known as MDL) by offering teams more incentives to participate.
One of the key changes is expanding the number of seasons played per year from three to four, and eliminating "training seasons" which didn't offer the promotion to ESL Pro League. From this year onwards, the winner of each ESEA Premier season will be qualified for the next season of ESL Pro League, simplifying the process. Additionally, the prize pool for each season has been increased to $100,000 per season, split between the top eight teams in Europe and North America.
"We realized and we've heard from a lot of teams, especially in the second tier, that the system that we have been running really isn't good enough," ESL's General Manager of CS:GO Brian Krämer, who oversees all projects related to CS:GO in the ESL - DreamHack - ESEA group, told HLTV.org. "A lot of players don't feel incentivized to actually play in MDL (Premier) and don't see their path to becoming a pro, especially after the changes we did to ESL Pro League last year. There was still a path, but it wasn't as 'easy' or good for them as it had been before".
The changes put in place see more, shorter seasons played out in a year, which aims to reduce the downtime between competition, lower the time constraints for playing a season, and allow teams to climb up the divisions quicker.
The four seasons will be played out according to the following tentative schedule, with more details to be announced at a later date:
Season 36: January - April
Season 37: May - July
Season 38: August - October
Season 39: October - December
From each ESEA Premier season played in Europe and North America, one team will qualify for the next ESL Pro League season, ensuring that four teams from Premier will be included in the elite competition every season. Additionally, the best performing teams in ESEA Premier will be handed invites for closed qualifiers for DreamHack Open events, giving them additional avenues to break out and start their path on the ESL Pro Tour. Details regarding ESEA Premier in Australia will be released through a separate announcement soon.
The format of ESEA Premier in Europe and North America has also been overhauled, with the classic 18-team round-robin BO1 group stage replaced with two groups playing a round-robin BO3 format, followed by a BO3 double-elimination playoff bracket. In order to improve the coverage of the competition and allow for "highlight matches" that will be shown on ESL's official Twitch Counter-Strike channel, the scheduling will be more strict than in previous seasons, with teams "able to block out a number of match days (every Tuesday & Wednesday), which they are not able to play on". Matches will be broadcasted from a virtual studio for the groups with a full studio setup planned for the playoffs, should the pandemic allow for it.
With the change to ESEA's league system, the company has underlined that their focus in 2021 is going to be on team-based competition, as all prize money will be removed from Rank S and moved into Cash Cups. The short tournaments will be played in both Europe and North America, but the latter region will get the lion's share of the prize pool, $15,000 in North America compared to $4,000 in Europe, "based on the fact that European teams have many more highly prized cups to compete in".
"Our goal, especially with this change now, is to strengthen the player base and the core of the scene again by offering a clearer path from zero to hero and more incentives to play," Brian Krämer concludes. "That second tier is where we see a lot of break right now, players not trying to get to the next level, but rather going to play Valorant, getting a normal job, or something else. By initiating these changes we hope that they see more incentive to stay. They have more prize money to play for, they have more opportunities to make the breakthrough, they have other chances of being recognized and seen. There is more attention on them."