Esports evolution

Esports as an industry is built around and on top of the professional scene, the 0.0001% of players. Esports yesterday and today is pure entertainment. It's about the show, the big arenas, the $20,000,000 prize pools, the big brands. Now that's not bad. It's important for a sport to have top tier competitions and pro athletes that people can admire and emulate. But it's not enough. Sports must be about more than just entertainment. A sport has to be about the players. About the drive every human has for improvement, competition, and adventure. Esports are no exception.

Just like every sport needs an arena, a playground or a ballpark. Every esport needs a place where both regular gamers and aspiring esports athletes alike can come together, practice, compete and build their teams. Esports need a reliable structure and a path to the top. It needs professionally run events and competitions at every tier or level. And there needs to exist a continuity throughout all of that. Gamers that invest thousands of hours into their favorite competitive games need to know that their efforts will be rewarded in the future – just like you’d expect in any regular sport.

Challenges in esports

We believe that esports is a top-down show today, and that we must “flip it upside down”; that it must be built from the bottom up. Today, there exists a large disconnect, or a gap, between the hundreds of millions of gamers around the world that want to compete at a higher level, but don’t have any way of crossing the chasm from the amateur levels to the pro levels. At best, there are competitions to participate in, but they’re kind of all over the place, rarely reliable and many competitions tend to disappear as fast as they showed up. At worst, the competitions that do exist are very hard to get into, hard to understand, hard to find, and require a heroic effort from gamers to participate in. Regular people have lots of other commitments and things do in their lives; school, jobs, girlfriends, boyfriends. We can’t expect that the vast majority of gamers will ever have the time or will to learn what a double elimination tournament is or how to manually connect to a CS: GO server with an IP-address and type in arcane commands. They shouldn’t have to. Today, what we’re asking of most people that compete in esports would be like asking soccer players to set-up the goals and paint the white lines on the field, while recording the match with broadcast cameras, themselves. This is obviously not good enough if we want to get the hundreds of millions of competitive gamers that are out there to start competing in esports on a regular basis.

A path to the top

Moreover, for those gamers that are able and willing, a path to the top must exist. Young gamers that want to become professional esport athletes need to know where to start, and how to proceed from there. That’s not to say that everyone that wants to be the best can be the best, but they must be given the opportunity and the right supportive structure to maximize their chances. Today, there’s no good answer to the questions: “Where do I compete if want to go Pro?” or “How good am I, compared to everyone else?”.

Competitions at every skill level

For everyone that may not have the ambition to go Pro or doesn’t have the time to play several hours per day but still loves the game and wants to use their gaming skills for something more. There must be a way to put those skills to good use, and to compete at a level that is appropriate to their skill. If that's not possible, they will eventually lose interest and move on to something else. There must be a place to compete – in an accessible but serious environment – for all the Weekend Warriors, the people who don’t want to skip school and the mom and dads that only have a few extra hours to play every week.

Looking for team?

If finding a good team to play with wasn’t hard enough, sticking together over the long term is almost impossible. Your midlaner gets a new job, you start studying at University and can’t practice with your regular group of friends as often, your AWPer becomes a dad. Life gets in the way. Part of the story is that we all have other commitments and things to do, but the other part of the story is that there’s really no reason for a regular team or group of friends to stick together over the long term. What’s the point of investing time and effort in building and maintaining a team when you have no reliable and rewarding competitions to play in? Why try to gather your friends to prac every evening when you can’t rely on there being a next season of the league you’re playing, or a competition that will be rewarding for your level of skill?

Until we have addressed these, and other problems, esports will not come out of its infancy.

Building a new foundation

First of all, it’s worth remembering that esports are not one thing. Some games that are played competitively as esports are night and day from each other. Esports seen as a phenomenon within gaming, sports, and entertainment will change and evolve over time. It’s not perfect, but it’s the word we’re stuck with. After all, the sport of Dart has very little in common with Snowboarding, but they are no less both sports, in some sense. Esports may look very different in the future, as will computer games (VR?), but we can be quite sure that many people will continue playing competitive games (for fun or profit) and developers will keep creating digital games for many different platforms and technologies, some of which we can’t even imagine today. The point is that regardless of which kind of games make it as esports in the future, or what technology we use to play them, a few basic things are always going to be needed – and are needed – for them to thrive as esports and for players to be able to compete and invest in them, reliably and easily. We believe the following aspects are vital:

  1. Esport as a societal phenomenon must get widespread acceptance among the public and amongst goverments on a national level.
  2. Esports needs solid competitive infrastructure, built for hundreds of millions of players, not just a few thousand.
  3. Competitive gamers and aspiring esport athletes need a reliable and accessible way to take their hobby to the next level. To those that are willing and able, there must be a clear path to the top. Gamers must have the ability to turn into Athletes.
  4. Current and future game developers need a way to make their games easily accessible as an esport to not just gamers, but also organizers, brands, broadcasters, and audiences for the games to reach their full potential as esports.

Challengermode’s project as a company is to solve for 2, 3 and 4. 1 will be accomplished as a result, and from generational shifts. This is why we have created the National Esports Leagues. Both as technical solutions for the problem of running large-scale esports competitions and as infrastructural solutions for gamers and organizers to participate in and/or organize around esports. Through this (and many other projects), it’s our mission to structure the amateur esports scene and make it as accessible to participate in esports for regular gamers, as it is for regular people to participate in regular sports like football.

The new standard for grassroots esports

Instead of just organizing one-off competitions, regardless of how big or well produced they are, we want to build from the ground up. By designing a league system with seasonal gameplay, it will allow any team of any level of skill to find its place within the competitive scene of their favorite game. This series of Leagues will be the answer to the question: “How good am I, really?”. It will set the standard for national and regional esports competition. By playing in such a permanent, well-funded and long-term competition, teams and players will be readily able to invest their time and effort into the games they enjoy the most as they know that their efforts will be rewarded. As a result, the pro-level will have a steady supply of contenders that will fuel the ecosystem – from the bottom-up and then back down.

So, what is the NEL?

More specifically, The National Esports Leagues on Challengermode are seasonal competitions based on an infinitely scalable league structure made of several interconnected divisions, or levels of series. These divisions are roughly equivalent to skill tiers, with the top division holding a given number of teams that represent the best and most accomplished teams and players in the whole league. Below that, every other division will hold roughly twice as many teams as the division above it via a dynamically increasing number of groups within each division, like a tree-structure. For those who know how regular sports leagues in football or hockey work, this should be familiar.

Teams move through the league structure via promotion or demotion at the end of every season. New teams would start from the bottom and work their way up over the course of several seasons, proving their skill at every level and facing increasingly difficult competition. Typically, teams would face-off against all the other teams in their group over the course of a season in a Round Robin (group) format, playing one or a few matches per week. There may be one or more seasons per year depending on the size of the league, the number of sponsors and local organizers etc. By structuring the leagues in this manner, we accomplish several things at the same time:

  • There exists a reliable competitive structure that teams, players, viewers, sponsors and so on, can count on.
  • The infrastructure needed for new teams to prove themselves is in place. The influx of new contenders on a consistent basis fuels the ecosystem and ensures that top talent will emerge organically.
  • Established (but not necessarily Pro) teams have a dependable competitive environment to exist within, one which can earn them a consistent and reliable income in the form of prizes, sponsorships, and more.
  • Players and teams don’t have to commit to play several hours per day to participate in the league and to have a chance at progressing, as less than a handful of games per week will be required.
  • Moreover, the division structure means that any team of players – whether they are a casual group of friends, co-workers, or semi-professional gamers – can find their place in the league and compete at a level that is both challenging and rewarding, without having to play at the very top or win every game.
  • Finally, this reliability, the potential for consistent rewards and prizes, and the ability to compete at your skill level within a larger professional league structure means that teams get a reason to stick together over the long term. This might be one of the more important aspects, as it will lead to many new teams forming, fueling the top tiers and securing the growth of the esports ecosystem as a whole.

Embark on your new adventure

Ever since the dawn of mankind, playing and competing in various forms has been one of the most prominent features of our species, right next to fire and language. Electronic sports are the next frontier in the evolution of sports and games (in the general sense). Just like many other sports have gone from a spontaneous, rather unorganized and fun past-time activity to an organized, structured and culturally salient feature of our society over the past one or two centuries, so too will esports and competitive gaming.

With the new league system we have put in place, and the national and regional esports leagues that will be emerging over the coming years, we invite you and your friends to start your own esports adventure on Challengermode. Whether your dream is to go pro or just play higher quality competitions, you now have the place to start and work your way up! So gather your friends, colleagues, classmates or find some trusty new pals online, and join the next frontier of esports – the National Esports Leagues.