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Reality Check

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As much as the CPL essentially drowned themselves, as much as the others at the time were fatally flawed in one way or another, as much as the CGS was the camel of esports (horse designed by committee…yea, a stretch, I know), the deflation the scene experienced several years ago had just as much to do with those flaws as it did with Lehman Brothers.

I’m not entirely certain we’re in bubble territory yet these days. I know that may surprise some that read my blog regularly, however my thoughts on the scene’s trajectory have changed some in recent months. Most prominent in my thoughts around this is MLG’s efforts during the first half of this year to pivot hard towards Starcraft 2; it was a move that I thought they might make eventually, but wasn’t sure if they’d be nimble enough to make it before an upstart competitor made them irrelevant. That’s for another post though…

The difference between the wildly overvalued prize pots of the late ‘aughts’ and today’s massive purses are in their source and their implied persistence; more specifically, the several million dollars worth of new prizes that will be going out to players in the next half year or so are being furnished by the developers of the games themselves, and there’s nothing concrete to suggest that any of these large prize tournaments are intended to be sustainable, perennial parts of the esports landscape. It seems that these are simply massive one-offs with no guarantees that they’ll continue to make it rain.

It would mean that these pots are more or less serendipitous bonuses for those that find themselves at the top of their games right now and are able to cash out on these opportunities, and use it to start a business, or go to college, or something else enterprising. It’s money exiting straight out of the scene, rather than actually growing it to a sizable degree. If I started playing LoL today, there’s nothing to suggest that there’d still exist such massive payoffs for getting to the pinnacle of the scene once I got there some time later. Thus, I don’t think it can be argued that we’re going to see either massive growth or massive inflation stemming from these tournaments.

There are some that would suggest these qualities would make what’s being discussed ‘not esports,’ but that pointless idiocy has already been picked apart ad nauseum by the scene at large. My point is that I don’t think these events can really be considered inflationary, as there’s little in the way of credible indicators that these publishers could or would continue to do the same on a regular basis.

If anything, recent developments along this front can be interpreted as developers understanding the value of directly interfacing with and supporting the competitive communities around their games, which could serve as a safety net for the scene in general should things generally disintegrate in the global economy once again; in the case that organizers started falling off the scene because of larger economic maladies, it’s reasonable to suspect that Blizzard, Valve, Riot, or even S2 might dig deep to keep their respective scenes going through a rough patch, making a bet on the future of their game. But could such a safety net be relied on to keep things going as they are? That much is doubtful.

And just in case you’ve been consuming far too much TL forums and SC2 reddit than real news, well…things aren’t so great right now, and optimism of an economic turnaround long though to be just around the corner is fading pretty quick. The so called ‘leader of the Free World’ is being held hostage by a group of loonies that thought a default on US sovereign debts would be pretty peachy. What should be looked at by history as a massive triumph of international unity in the Eurozone is being threatened by massive debt crises in Greece and Italy, either of whom could implode into an economic black hole of sorts pretty quick, dragging anything not bolted down (esports included) right with it. With most sources of relief already red-lined, we’re pretty damn close to another freefall.

While the scene does have quite a lot to lose at this point, and while I’m generally optimistic as to the general direction of things lately, we’re in no place to consider the gains of the last few years to be permanent. We’re finally getting the attention we’ve craved for so long from the developers of esports titles, possibly providing a safety net if the world were to lose its damn mind yet again, but we’re still in a precarious position in general, and there’s nothing to be done about it really. At the least, I think we can take comfort that if we were to experience another ‘recession’ in gaming in the next few years, it’d be a small storm of external making that we could weather; and not a perfect storm of our own making that would take us back to nearly the beginning for the third time.