A look at the debut of ECS one of the biggest new leagues of 2016

The first year of the eSports Championship Series has had its ups and downs. The first season of the league was generally considered to be a massive success, and a surprise win for G2 Esports added another contender for the major that was due to take place just after the LAN finals at Wembley.

But it hasn’t all been good news since. A controversial initiative to give amateur casters a chance at casting the league resulted in a lot of backlash when it was thought that the casters would not be paid. Then one of the biggest teams in the world, NaVi, dropped out for the second time in as many seasons causing a few people to question if there was something more going on than the official reasons given. There has also been confusion around the co ownership of the league and just what the prize pool actually was.

With Season 2 now drawing to a close all that is left for the ECS in 2016 is the final LAN event, which is due to take place over in California in a couple of weeks. So we thought it was the perfect time to catch up with the team behind the event to find out how they have found the first year as well as getting an idea of what to expect at the LAN and in 2017.

“I think that ECS has gone really well in terms of our expectations,” says Michele Attisani, co-founder and COO of FACEIT. “Season one was distributed on linear TV in over 35 countries, that was a big goal for us and we actually exceeded our expectation in terms of TV distribution. We feel that overall we are very happy about how things are going, and the prospects for the future.”

“Obviously we had some issues as well,” continues Attisani. “There is still very high number of tournaments and events happening in CS:GO, which puts some pressure on the players and the fans. It definitely creates some friction and makes things a bit less valuable in terms of content because the fans are quite tired of all this content, where they see the top teams playing each other every week. On the other side the players are very worn out, they are starting to have injuries, they are starting to have psychological breakdowns and that is obviously not ideal for this scene.”

The amount of high level CS:GO tournaments has been a hot topic of debate over the last twelve months. With rapidly growing viewing figures many companies have entered the CS:GO scene with big money competitions trying to become the biggest non major event. It’s an issue that is starting to have serious effects on the scene and the players, but after a year of massive expansion many expect things to slow down a little as a result.

“I think that this year was the year of assessment and I’m confident that next year the situation will improve,” says Attisani when discussing the issue and how it has affected his competition. “I think some specific tournaments and leagues are getting higher relevance and now the players and teams are becoming a bit more selective in terms of which competitions they participate in. This is great ultimately because that will give more space to the lower tier teams and tier 2 teams that definitely have an opportunity to get the spotlight, win some money and become more stable and professional and developed.”

While Attisani had a fairly positive view on the issue it has had an effect on the ECS. Despite offering an exciting revenue share program and one of the larger prize pools in the scene the NaVi team has dropped out of ECS twice. In the first season they dropped out when they were a member of the main league, then for season two they were invited to qualify in the developmental league, but also dropped out of that.

“I think it was kind of expected that maybe one or two teams would drop out, but obviously it was not ideal,” says Attisani. “They [NaVi] had, back when that first happened, a problem with one of their top players, he had an injury and the team had crisis, they needed to regroup and take some time to think through their strategy and their team and then come back stronger. So that’s something we understood, and we obviously respected. We would obviously prefer having NaVi in the league, but we don’t think it’s changing much for us, I mean it doesn’t really change that much in terms of our overall plans.”

The development league has proven to be a great addition for season two, allowing new teams to enter the league and keep it feeling fresh. In the North American region for season two both teams that qualified for the competition through the development league have made it to the LAN final, strengthening the quality of the competition. With the LAN taking place in America this will surely make the fans happy, and should mean that the first ECS LAN on American soil is just a good as the one at Wembley Arena earlier this year.

“ECS is a league that has a European and a North American component so we felt like it was quite natural for us, as we had the first event in Europe, to have the second event in North America, just to give an opportunity for the American fans to experience ECS live as well,” says Attisani. “The idea is that this year we want to establish a very strong footprint in Europe and North America when it comes to ECS, and set the foundations to have an even broader global expansion for the league in the years to come. On top of that the weather in California is so much better.”

It’s safe to say that the ECS has been a success for FACEIT and Twitch, and that it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see the league expand even further in 2017. While Attisani wouldn’t give any specific details he did hint that there may be some changes in store over the next 12 months.

“We are looking at expanding some of the new concepts that we introduced like the ECS development league, the community caster challenge and some other concepts that we really like as they fill the gap between the community and ECS, which is a really important goal for us,” says Attisani. “We are going to have some additional things that we are going to introduce next year but I think we will talk about that later in the year and early next year, but the idea is to build on the foundations of what we did this year and grow.”

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