Tournaments vs. Leagues: Which is better for the future of esports?

Mar 26 2020 4 min read

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Esports continues to grow abundantly in mainstream media and across the world. We are starting to see almost every esport move away from a tournament-based format to a league-based format, one that parallels traditional sports. This league approach offers more matches for fans of their respective esport to spectate, but also comes at a price in terms of stakes. While matches still remain essential for advancement, it seems teams have many more chances to make mistakes without being completely eliminated from an event. Is mimicking traditional sports the path for continued growth in esports?


Out with the old

Not so long ago, esports tournaments were the true test for teams. With only a handful taking place throughout the year, the stakes of each match at these tournaments carried immense weight. Most tournaments offered a double-elimination style at the minimum, which offered teams a little wiggle room, but falling into the losers bracket early in the tournament made the road to finals a rocky one and the advantage to the upper bracket team in grand finals near unsurmountable. It seems nowadays that we are moving away from the team from the upper bracket having an advantage, and whether that's good or bad is a debate for another day. 


In with the new

With the exit of a tournament-based structure in esports comes leagues. Different esports titles have handled this transition in differing ways, so I'll make an effort to include a couple of examples.

Let's start off with CS:GOCS:GO is a hybrid between the tournament-based format and the league-based format. CS:GO has a number of leagues across multiple regions, but we are going to focus on the most prevalent one in the ESL Pro League. The Pro League pits teams up against one another over a long period of weeks that eventually goes from a group stage format to a tournament-style bracket featuring top teams from each group. The Pro League also helps with seeding for the big tournaments that still take place throughout the year. This structure makes competitive CS:GO plentiful, and that's very exciting for fans. 

The only downside I can place my finger on within this system is matches having less weight individually. The best example I can give around this is the recent results of Group B in ESL Pro League Season 11NAVI topped the group despite losing their first two matches of the group out of five. This result was due to all teams in the group having a 3-2 or 2-3 record. In a usual tournament double-elimination format, NAVI would have been eliminated after their first two matches. I'm not stating this is a bad thing, just stating that it is different.

Call of Duty also formed a new league system this year with the release of Modern Warfare, whereas before, they have four or five tournaments a year. The Call of Duty League has a very different approach to the format, however. For those that are familiar with Overwatch League, the Call of Duty League follows the same format. For those who are not, league games take place on weekends at varying home cities of franchise teams throughout the season. These matches and placings at weekend events earn the teams points for the Call of Duty World Championship at the end of the year. They do have some higher staked events sprinkled throughout the season, but the end goal is to get a Champs ring.


What does this mean

This shift to league based competitions can mean a lot of things for the future of esports. One major one is the fact that competition is happening all year round, giving viewers something to always watch and be a part of. The other is organizations and game developers having constant exposure to potential investors and sponsorship opportunities, which ensure the continued growth of esports. So, while in some instances, individual matches feel less impactful, it helps content and events become plentiful, which is a very positive thing for everyone involved.

I won't lie, I was a skeptic when this transition began, putting all of my stakes on the weight of matches. But, this system will truly see the growth of our passion, and that is something I think everyone can get behind.

While the current coronavirus epidemic is a tragedy, there is something positive to gain from it in the world of esports, and we already see it. Due to the outbreak, no traditional sports are able to take place. This drought has seen sports like NASCAR and F1 racing turn to the virtual alternative, with excellent results. Not only will sports that can be imitated through video games rise in popularity, but we can also see esports as a whole rise in viewership and exposure. So, as I said, while this is a devastating time, it is also a time for opportunity.


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