Esports closed and open ecosystems: which one is better?

Jul 26 2019 7 min read

Esports closed and open ecosystems: which one is better? ⚡⚡⚡ Esports and gaming news, analytics, reviews on WePlay! The latest news on WePlay!

We have already worked out that esports is nothing like anything humanity has ever seen incarnating both show and sports, seasoned with epic atmosphere and an enormous audience. Esports is similar to the Olympics, NBA, football, tennis and most other sports. And at the same time, you can't really divide esports into disciplines because the new ones appear too quickly and the industry is developing too hasty to solidify genres or subgenres. 

Most esports games apply open or closed competitive ecosystem, which determines how it works with teams and newcomers' chances to get into the spotlight. 

Open and closed esports ecosystems

In sports, no one owns the game. FIFA has an influence on the soccer rules to some extent but it can't enforce them and can't ban someone from playing the game outside the league. That's the most significant difference between the general sports and esports. In esports, not a single publisher would let someone but them make the biggest tournament/event dedicated to their game due to financial reasons, because they own the IP. 

Let's take a look at two (and a half) most suitable examples: Valve's Dota 2 vs. Riot Games' League of Legends. And a bit of Blizzard's Overwatch but in a smaller perspective, as Overwatch League is not mature enough yet comparing to these two.

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Riot Games and Blizzard run their own "closed" top-leagues, like North American/European League of Legends Championship Series (eventually ending in LoL World Championship Series) and Overwatch League respectively. These are the only Tier-1 tournaments for LoL and OW, and the players are trying to do their best to get invites into the leagues. 

Dota 2 is all about "open" ecosystem, where Valve is just supervising tournaments and assigns Dota Pro Circuit Points. There's a competition amongst TOs to make the best championship, get Valve's and the audience's respect, grow, improve and earn more money. "Open" ecosystem seems like a battlefield full of warriors, where everyone wants to please the war chief who is sitting on the throne all alone and comes once a year to his loyal servants to show some magic with the most profitable and epic tournament of the season. 

League of Legends European/American Championship works like this: the teams are picked through franchising, which means that one cannot possibly take part in the competition if they haven't paid to participate. This is where the main problem of an closed ecosystem appears: you can't really make your way to LoL World Championship if you're not in a team competing at the Tier-1 level.  

Then, Riot Games are financing third-party tournament organisers such as ESL to hold Tier-2 and Tier-3 tournaments to fully concentrate on their own work and the game itself. Those T2/T3 leagues are more supplements for LCS, and a similar thing is happening to Overwatch. Valve doesn't finance anyone, they just keep an eye on meta and intervene when things get too much out of hand. Valve even provides players with a way to influence the prize pool by purchasing Battle Pass.

Interesting fact: Blizzard uses War Chest crowdfunding system (and their own finances) to support both regional and tier-1 StarCraft 2 tournaments. 

The free ecosystem format in Dota 2 has its flaws as well. Yes, there's a lot of space for companies to develop business and you know, where's competition there's progress, but working in a "now for now" volatile environment could damage your future. The entrance barrier to the competition is much lower than in "closed" ecosystems, but it doesn't mean Tier-3 (4, 5, 6...) teams are changing the game. On the counter, they are mostly crushed by overpowered rosters who have been doing just fine ever since Dota competitive scene was born, making it easier for T1 teams to get the desired Dota Pro Circuit Points and keep feeding into the same players over and over again. 

Recently, there were two glorious examples: Team Anvorgesa and Forward Gaming. The first one has made a lot of noise with their play, which led to Infamous signing the whole roster (even with the fact that the South American scene has their own mutual issues) just before The International 2019 Qualifiers started. Will anyone remember Team Anvorgesa as a team? No, that was just a bunch of boys with a cool tag and funny emblem. If they get good results at TI9, it will be about Infamous more than about ex-Team Anvorgesa. Exactly the same thing happened with Forward Gaming, as the guys have qualified to TI9, but the organisation was terminated due to financial reasons. Two days later, Newbee signs the lineup. These two cases mean how hard it is for the newcomers to compete with franchised organisations on the T1 level: you may have the skill, but you can't fight money. 

There's even a bigger problem in the "open" ecosystem. While in LCS and OWL teams are doing just fine with Riot telling them (and making sure they are doing it) how to manage their teams/sponsors/finances/etc, Dota players, teams, organisations and TOs are suffering from chaos. How come Forward Gaming had financial troubles with their roster making it to the 18 best teams of the world? No one knows. And most importantly, Valve would never investigate (until there's a hype bomb exploding). Each unit from the Dota 2 pro scene operates in a different way. And those revenues often cannibalize one another. Can you imagine anyone ever to surpass Valve's The International? No. Moreover, no one ever would even try to. You just can't compete with a $30m prize pool and that level of media support.

But in OWL and LCS everything works just fine. Can you recall any team to have financial or team's relationship break-down issues from these two Tier-1 leagues? Right. 

Younglings and the future

Low-Tiered levels consist not only of "not good enough" players but also of young and unnoticed prospects. Nowadays, more and more teams hire scouts to find talents and even create "youth rosters". Though, how can you find someone playing well enough if there are no tournaments to show off? Yes, Miracle- once made it top-1 MMR in Dota 2 and that was why n0tail asked him to join OG.  And even if there's someone young and talented enough, this person will be definitely snapped by a bigger team. Stay loyal to a smaller team and get success when a miracle happens? Leave it to Hollywood. One will either fail to shine again as the team will drown eventually, or they will win by a lucky draw and then fall out because they can't afford to train in a bootcamp. 

PPD's NA Dota Challengers League 

There was a guy who tried to fill in the gap between T1/T2 and non-pro teams. Peter "ppd" Dager.  He is considered to be one of the most intelligent Dota 2 players and he saw the problem of the low-level scene. You might have heard of Black Sheep, Team Xolotl and Team Team — all of them came out of ppd's cup with the latter even getting signed by beastcoast in May 2019.

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Peter knew it was very important to make something achievable and glorious for low-tire teams, but managing a tournament is not that easy even (and besides) if you are a world-known silverware-wining player. At the end of the day, ppb couldn't secure solid sponsors and had to shut down the tournament.

Thre is a T3-scene in LoL because of strong media support and huge investments (from the developers themselves as well). 

Open or closed?

So what's better? Total chaos? Strict rules? No one can't really tell. It sounds like politics where there are cons and there are pros. 

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system.

The main thing every person from the esport scene should understand is that there will be no great future if we forget about low tiers. Esports can evolve into something unimaginably big, and we believe that large organisations will continue supporting smaller teams and non-pro scene. And WePlay! is doing their best with Forge of Masters CS:GO and Tug of War Dota 2 leagues, where every team can try to qualify and show their strength. 

We need to make sure the smaller teams and not the most famous players are also required to fall into the light. Unlike real-life sports, esports is much more accessible and easier. 

As Dager has outlined in his Reddit post speaking about the future of gaming: 

When I was in my teens [StarCraft 2] was the big thing in esports. […] I started playing [Dota 2] and lucky me the MOBA became the most popular genre. Now we see Battle Royale games sweeping the world’s attention and new young gamers finding their start into competitive gaming. Next year [...] it will be something else.

So esports is truly too young yet. Everything is just ahead.

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