After last month's second successful World of Tanks Grand Final, we talked to WarGaming.net's head of eSports to find out how the company plans to revolutionise player income.
Mohamed Fadl, Director of eSports at the Cypriot MMO publisher, detailed a new system of leagues at the event, which saw thousands queuing outside Warsaw's Expo XXI arena.
The ranked leagues – Gold, Silver and Bronze – offer three distinct levels of support from the publisher, ranging from advice and promotion in the lowest, to help obtaining sponsors in the Silver league, all the way to regular income and salaries for all players in the Gold league.
"It came down to the core sense, what we want to be as eSports, we thought about what is our vision, strategy or goal," Fadl told eSports Pro. "And there are two approaches: we can make it so that we give out €1m to the winner, €5m to the top ten and one team wins, and the rest of the teams can only really use the game as a hobby but they can't play professionally because they have lives, they need to pay bills."
Fadl believes that the second approach they have chosen is the superior one, to offer a 50% split in player wages to performance and 50% based on something he refers to as "content creation."
"Even if you're a low-tier team, and you can't compete with the high-tier teams skill-wise, then you invest time into making streams, connecting to communities, making the brand about yourself and your team and then they get more of that 50% content creation share from us," Faddl said. "And suddenly they're earning as much money as the best team in the league which is nowhere to be seen in the community, they do nothing for their fans so all they get is the ranking prize money.
"And then, on top of this, they get Twitch money, YouTube money, sponsorships because of the size of their community. So ideally, the teams realise if they do this approach and make the brand around themselves, they don't need any WarGaming, Blizzard, Riot, nothing. They can be sustainable without anyone or anything, this gives them freedom. Because if like me you have two kids, you could never be a pro player, never."
As a result of the positively skewed age range that World of Tanks appeals to, this approach is intended to offer the sort of support, Fadl believes, that simply does not exist in eSports as it is at the moment.
"When you look around our finals here, you can see so many families with kids," Fadl said, from the 3,000-seater arena in Poland. "When I went to other events I saw a lot of young hipsters, and it looks very cool, it's a young event, you see crazy people in amazing costumes. But here we see families with buggies and older gentlemen and wives, families with food. It's a different audience, but it doesn't mean they can't be eSports. So we have to adapt."
Through their attempts to open up competitive gaming to a wider playerbase, WarGaming have removed the stresses of financial instability for many of the lower-ranked teams who cannot always take home massive prizes from every major event. However, the more well-known teams, the ones who can already afford to pay their players salaries from the winnings they accrue, could potentially see this move as chance to reduce their pay. Fadl has seen this coming, but does not foresee it as a negative.
"It could happen, but at the same time I was never a very big fan of monopolies," Fadl said. "Maybe it will happen that some of the bigger teams say 'OK, well, we'll pay you less' but then most likely the teams will say 'OK, do it, but we'll do our own thing then, because then we'll create our own brand'. Because we will support them to make their own brand, they'll have their own followership joining them because they're not loyal to a name, they like the human beings and the personas behind the brand.
"And this is something that gives players power, because right now, with the superstar players on the pro teams, I don't want to say they are powerless but they aren't the ones driving it. They should not have to stand in the shadows of publishers or big companies or teams, they are the ones the community love. From our surveys, 80% of people come to an event like this for the community and to meet the stars."