2020 has been a difficult and challenging year for everyone. The COVID pandemic has affected every aspect of our daily lives and prevented us from engaging with some of the activities and events we enjoy most. While esports has been able to continue far more smoothly than traditional sports and other big events such as concerts and conventions, esports has not gone on uninterrupted. Many regular season leagues were able to transition to online matches quickly but this has completely removed the live spectators from the competition. As with traditional sports, the live audience can completely change the atmosphere in which a game is played and create additional pressure on the players competing. While this element missing from the regular season raises a few questions, it becomes increasingly impactful throughout playoffs and now a World Championship.
In the current environment, organizers have three realistic options that they can choose from in regards to hosting a major tournament such as a World Championship. We will explore each of these options by looking at the pros and cons of each decision for players, fans, and the organizers themselves. Our goal here isn’t to provide a definitive solution on how these events should be run. We instead want to provide perspective on all of the different factors at play so that smaller organizers can make more informed decisions and fans can better understand why their favorite esports are approaching their largest competitions the way they are.
Postpone the Event
- Can run the event normally once things return to normal
- The long anticipation for the event can build hype and excitement
- Removes all safety & liability concerns related to the pandemic
- Fans are left with a void of competition
- Professional players lose interest in practice with the uncertainty of the competition
- May have to redo the qualification process, rosters may have changed and the meta may have shifted
This is perhaps the most obvious solution to attempting to host a massive event in the middle of a global pandemic, simply postpone it until it can be operated normally and safely. Many of the events around the FGC have gone this route as has TI10, the largest DOTA2 tournament of the year. This allows for the competition to be run normally once the pandemic is over, but nobody is quite sure when that will be. This leaves a massive void for both fans and pro players who look forward to this major event all year long and now are left with little reason to play or watch the game until more details are announced. The positive to all this is that anticipation for the event will be at a fever pitch when it does finally happen, but until that time both fans and players will just have to wait. In this period organizing smaller regional events and league play is critical to maintaining interest from both fans and players.
Series of National Online Competitions
- Allows for a tournament to take place
- Lower cost for the organizer
- No International Competition
- Play is online and without fans
This is another route popular for major international tournaments such as IEM New York which has moved to online. Instead of one competition featuring teams from around the world, there are now three separate tournaments each held regionally to crown the regional champions. This method still allows fans and players to have the tournament they were anticipating but it does miss out on the international matches that are so often the draw in these major events. With play being online there is obviously no live audience which also means there is no need for a stadium or venue rental, and keeping the competition regional means teams can compete from their usual facilities and are not required to be flown out to a central location. This keeps the tournament cost down for the organizer and provides a high-quality experience to fans through professional broadcasting. For players, this can be challenging to clearly differentiate between a normal practice match and a tournament final when they are playing in the same room as they usually are, but at least with this method, we actually get a tournament final. This option is the middle road between canceling an event altogether and going through the enormous expense, effort, and logistical nightmares of creating a bubble for players.
Create a “Bubble” Event
- International Competition
- LAN Environment
- Expensive to run
- Time-consuming for players (quarantine periods)
This is by far the most expensive and complicated way to run a tournament during these trying times and so far only Riot Games has done this with the League of Legends World Championship. By creating a “bubble” teams can compete in a LAN environment against other teams from around the globe providing the international competition that fans love to see. Doing this is incredibly difficult logistically for both the organizer and players however making it extremely difficult to pull off. The organizer needs to get individual hotel rooms for each player and team member attending in order for each person to properly quarantine for two weeks. This period of isolation makes it hard for the teams to get quality practice and can be very difficult for the players and staff going through the process. Then the organizer needs to find a way to keep everyone away from unknown individuals when traveling to and from the venue as one person contracting the virus could infect almost everyone at the tournament. The logistics of this are very complicated and incredibly expensive which is why this massive event is the first in esports to try and do it.
Overall there is no correct way to address this problem. Fans not being in attendance significantly diminishes the atmosphere of the competition especially for the players on the stage. Postponing the event until fans can be present solves this issue but leaves the event in limbo for an undetermined amount of time. Running smaller regional tournaments and grouping them together creates a competition, but lacks the international matches and atmosphere that typically make these events stand out as much as they do. Creating a bubble simulates everything from a normal event besides the presence of the fans but is incredibly complicated, expensive, and risky as one loose thread can quickly unravel the entire process resulting in a giant catastrophe. Ultimately tournament organizers are in an incredibly difficult situation right now. No solution is perfect, but they are doing their best to balance their own interests with those of fans and players to make the best decision for their community. Regardless of what route your favorite esport is taking the best thing any fan can do is tune in and support whatever competition is happening and stand behind our developers and organizers every step of the way.