2017 in esports

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RUSSIAN VERSION

2017 is almost over, which means it's the perfect time to look back and remind ourselves of all that's happened with the CIS esports scene: discuss the way it evolved along with our understanding of where it's all headed and share our newfound experience.

LCL has been going strong since its inception in January 2016. The first split finals have led to the CIS region acquiring a new analyst desk as well as a champion team Hard Random. Hard Random has transformed into Albus NoX Luna during the next split, which they again won. Just a couple of weeks later they've destroyed the Nexus of the Korean ROX Tigers in a now legendary game series in San Francisco, which netted them a place in the World Championship quarterfinals.

The results have exceeded all expectations: not only has the CIS acquired a professional Riot Games league of its own, but LCL have been showcasing great accomplishments internationally right from the get-go.

Questions, questions and even more questions

Before proving themselves in the World Championship, ANX had a play-off and the Continental League finals housed by the packed VTB Ice Palace. Amassing nine thousand spectators during the league's first year seemed an impossible task, yet our community managed to unite and melt the ice at the VTB arena.

We were all overjoyed by our region's achievements, but we never forgot about the need to move forward, either. What must be done to make LCL even stronger in 2017? We were confronted with some tough questions:

  • How many people were unable to attend the Spring and Summer finals because they couldn't afford the trip to Moscow? Here is the number that helps to put things in perspective: of the LoL audience living in the CIS, fewer than 20% reside in Moscow.
  • Is watching LCL a good experience? What about the persistent pauses and other technical hiccups that lead to tech loses?
  • Are pro players able to get better and gain enough experience to play well at international tournaments if LCL games continue to happen online, when players of the same team play from different cities and even countries?

Forming ideas for the 2017 season

The quest for answers led us to create a list of changes that were crucial for Continental League’s development and growth. It formed our vision for the new season:

  • The Continental League must be played offline, like LCS. Athletes cab no longer compete with each other professionally from different cities and countries. Only by practicing together can teammates get used to each other’s play styles, gain necessary experience playing in front of a live audience and get to know their opponents.

  • The region needs a studio to help organize tournaments (including international ones) and broadcasts at the global quality level of Riot Games.

  • Financial compensation from Riot Games to organizations and players of the Continental League needs to be raised so they can make progress in comfortable conditions. We consider esports to be a full-time job, so the minimal compensation should not only cover competitive seasons, but the mid-season periods as well.

  • Resources need to be allocated in such a way so that everyone could enjoy esports celebration that are each split finals, whether they live in Moscow, Khabarovsk, Kaliningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata and other CIS cities. And we’d like for celebration to last longer than one day in the spring and one day in the summer.

To realize this new vision, we needed a powerful infrastructure and a new way to reach our viewers online. And while looking for new interactive solutions remained uncharted territory, we did find a suitable way to improve the infrastructure thanks to our 'seniors' — North America and Europe. It was the EU LCS in particular that became a blueprint for future changes.

The CIS needed to bring the League offline: make it so the teams live in gaming houses throughout the season and prepare themselves for offline meet-ups every single week, all while an audience watches them closely. The Continental League needed its own home.

Esports Arena

We started the construction just as the Summer Split finals ended and managed to launch Riot Games Esports Arena in Moscow a couple of weeks in LCL-2017 season. It came as a big esports complex with training rooms, recreational areas, playing arena, a control booth and an analyst studio.

The arena allowed us to broadcast at a quality rivaling that of TV stations. We have professional cameras, lighting and cranes helping us capture every angle, and all the equipment for mixing and production. Cutting-edge solutions make the arena layout flexible enough to allow for any kind of tournaments, including international ones. The arena turned out so good that several Riot regions asked us to share the know-how.

Infamous “LCL pauses” have steadily become a thing of the past. Pro players have begun accumulating more experience thanks to regular offline games with cameras watching. LCL fans were finally able to watch quality broadcasts of their favorite esports players every week from any city in the region. After the game they can talk to the players, take their photos or get an autograph. The LCL was now closer to the audience than ever before.

We are proud of how Esports Arena turned out. Right now it is among the best ones in the world in terms of equipment and quality of produced content. In this regard LCL is now on equal footing with developed Riot esports leagues.

September 2017 Player Survey results

Stadium or Life?

Our decision to build the arena left us with only one yet vital thing to be concerned about. We realized that we were unable to hold grand, ostentatious finals inside stadiums and maintain a cutting-edge arena space at the same time.

We rarely speak of money, being concerned more with the new projects for our player base. However, sometimes we do need to draw attention to the issue in order to make Riot Games' motives and our decisions clearer to our players, just as when we merged IP with Blue Essence.

Конечно, как и другим игрокам в League of Legends, нам бы хотелось делать все и сразу: и содержать арену, и проводить финалы на стадионах. Но мы видим ответственность Riot Games в том, чтобы правильно распоряжаться деньгами игроков, которые вы доверяете нам, покупая образы и другие предметы,– мы принимаем решения в пределах адекватных финансовых ограничений и выручки нашего региона. Поднимать цены на билеты и другими способами пытаться заработать на мероприятиях за счет игроков – мы считаем несправедливым.

Нам пришлось выбирать между двумя яркими финалами-фейерверками, после которых остаются приятные воспоминания, и фундаментом для дальнейшего долгосрочного развития профессиональной сцены League of Legends. Мы выбрали – развитие.

The Russian division tries its hardest to make choices which best reflect the players' needs (after all, we're players too); taking into account the size of the CIS player base and the growing popularity of esports in general.

We also make sponsorship deals as a healthy long-term alternative to encourage investments. Our first major step toward with this strategy is a collaboration with Red Bull on Universities program.

From Kaliningrad to Vladivostok

One of the central tenets of the new LCL is availability. All the enormous resources which go into our local projects should benefit all of the region's players. Each and every one of you.

We love Russia's central region, ourselves living in Moscow. However, all the players from Nakhodka, Vladivostok, Ternopol, Kiev, Gomel, Kazan and other CIS cities are just as important to us. And most of them cannot afford to buy tickets to Moscow or St. Petersburg and stay in a hotel for a few days, yet everyone craves the festive mood: participating in contests, winning amazing prizes, opening chests, getting the players' autographs and posters, watching cosplay shows, getting special skins and all the suspense and competition that comes with it.

Having toyed around with new mechanics during the spring finals (such as digital posters and autographs, the now-classic "Forecast Competition" and other projects) we've finally found a unifying solution — Live.Portal.

As it stands now, Live.Portal is our biggest platform, allowing players to interact with the broadcast and win prizes in real time. Live.Portal also evolves according to in-game events. For instance, the audience used it to choose an alternate CIS champion in the in-game Fan Battle before the Grand Finals.

Thanks to the players' support and continued interest in our projects, LCL 2017's view count broke all the records: in just two years, the peak spectator count rose by 7 times.

Your kind words as well as the record number of active players on a Russian server (as of November 2017) all tell us that we must be doing something right. It wouldn't be possible without you. Thank you!

Gaining more financial support for Riot Games

We're committed to long-term growth. As a part of this philosophy, we've taken the resources we previously spent on events and reallocated them to things we need most for the League of Legends competitive scene to grow. The new LCL enjoys more support from organizations and boasts a larger prize pool.

For example, the minimal compensation Riot Games pays its main players every season rose over twofold: from around 5500 dollars to around 12400 dollars. Gaming house rent compensation rose threefold, to 15300 dollars. The numbers for 2016 and 2017 are presented below. Moreover, in these articles, our investments for 2015 comprised less than half of what they did in 2016.

Riot Games' financial support gives a necessary foundation, which is what lets the players and the coaches alike make League of Legends into a profession. This is Riot Games' global strategy and it applies to all of its regions. The rules dictate that our minimal compensation cannot be lower than the specified standard for the players, which means that we always pay the whole sum. The teams themselves are also allowed to pay their own compensation, which often depends on the specific player's skills and the team’s overall performance.

The players can also receive prize money, with the pool size dependent on the team's level of skill and its rank in the championships and international tournaments. Getting into an MSI Play-off or a World Championship would net you hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money, and it lets players heavily expand their fanbase, make new sponsorship deals and make money off their merchandise.

For instance: if 2016 saw you winning a regional tournament, getting into a World Championship and then getting into the Play-Offs, then all the revenue the organization and the players get would be something to be amazed at. If you didn't make it into the World Championship in 2017, then it becomes food for thought on how to improve your skill.

New balance of power in the region

This year didn't see the CIS make great strides in the international scene, but we had a lot of local events to make up for it.

The LCL saw M19 as its 'Death Star' in spring. The main ex-ANXes together with VincentVega and some huge investments; how could they be stopped? And yet, the split didn't go so smoothly for the team: they scored 4-4 before the IEM break, then won 6 matches in a row after their return from Poland and finally lost the tie-breakers to Vega Squadron.

In the end, no one made it to the finals. The final series saw the battle between Vaevictis Esports and Virtus.pro, with the season's newcomers winning the competition.

***Watch again***

After the unexpected split results, the teams were updated, which led to the creation of a new 'Death Star' — Gambit Esports. The legendary organization sought to rectify the results of the spring split. A new team was assembled around Diamondprox as the lone remaining player. EDward left Vega Squadron to become the new support. PvPStejos and Kira joined from M19, with the all-star cast being complete after Blasting left Virtus.pro.

Gambit exceeded all expectations in the local championship, reaching the heights of Albus NoX Luna: 14 wins and just one loss to Natus Vincere. Such a result gave the CIS scene great hope for Gambit at the World Championship. Amazing split, great skrims, extensive experience of international play (four of Gambit players made it to the World Championship's quarterfinals in different years) as well as an OMG Bootcamp in China. Even with Gambit facing the strongest opponents—Team WE and Lyon Gaming—we were always rooting for them. Still it didn't pan out—Gambit went home, and quite early at that. Well, stuff happens.

Despite all the CIS's problems in the international scene, we still believe in LCL's organizations. History shows that our teams have got a knack for surprising us when we least expect it.

That was an amazing year. We've only picked up the pace since the last season: we haven't seen so many big esports events in the CIS for quite a while. Still, it's only a beginning, with many more exciting games, experiments and news to come.

To all of our pro players and teams, we wish them best of luck in the new year. As for the viewers, we hope you get to see even more amazing League of Legends esports events!

Континентальная лига 2018
Киберспорт: яркие моменты – 2017