After NBC earlier this week announced it’d be working with FACEIT and Psyonix to produce a $100,000 Rocket League tournament, reaction to the news was met with confused enthusiasm.
People are happy that NBC are getting involved in esports in a big way, but many commentators and fans were confused as to why NBC would choose to screen Rocket League over one of the ‘big three’ of Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or League of Legends.
We sat down to talk to Michele Attisani, FACEIT’s co-founder and chief business officer, yesterday at Wembley Arena ahead of the weekend’s ECS finals in London, one of the world’s premier Counter-Strike: Global Offensive events. FACEIT know what they’re doing in the esports event space, so I thought I’d ask them simply: why Rocket League?
“There’s a number of reasons,” said Attisani. “First is the Rocket League community. It's extremely strong and very passionate, and that's one of the main factors for us when we decide to invest in a game or work with the game publisher.
"We felt there was a huge demand for more competitive features and more competition around the title itself, so for us it's very much like what drew us to Counter-Strike"
“Also we felt there was a huge demand for more competitive features and more competition around the title itself, so for us it's very much like what drew us to Counter-Strike originally, starting from the community, starting from the grassroots level, having an open circuit. That's very much what we managed to achieve in partnership with NBC.”
The tournament is in a 2v2 format, which is underrepresented in esports but, according to Attisani, the most popular gamemode amongst the community, with an open qualifier taking place in June. After this, the tournament is going to get quite a signal boost from NBC with the early stages broadcast on NBC’s regional channels, and the final rounds playing out on NBC Sports and several different broadcasting partners in countries around the world.
Still, Attisani says that the grassroots scene is absolutely key for any new esports event and so it’s important to FACEIT that it’s embraced. “We're not starting with an invitational or with a top down tournament, we're starting very much from the bottom. We can have open qualifiers in all the regions, we're really going to engage with the community, and also we're going to embrace a game mode that has not been utilised for esports yet (with 2v2)
“My hope,” Attisani says excitedly “is that we’re starting from the community, and then trying to build a path to sustainable and professional careers. Therefore we'll put a lot of focus into storylines, and following these players from the grassroots to top flight play, and obviously having the partnership with NBC Sports gave us the opportunity to leverage some amazing platforms including all the NBC original Sports Network in America, and NBC Sport Network and Paris International TV channels.”
I was curious if all of this focus on player narratives and television production could risk alienating endemic fans who are used to tuning in on their streaming platform of choice, but Attisani beat me to the punch, admitting before I could ask that they they are still planning on a strong digital offering, with all of the production you might expect from one of FACEIT’s broadcasts.
However, he’s keen to stress that broadcasting Rocket League on television networks provides a gateway not just for new fans of Rocket League, but for esports itself, with Rocket League’s similarity to several traditional sports making it easier to understand for people who may not have any familiarity with the exciting world of digital sports.
Stepping away from my own self-confessed love of digital shootmens, it’s easy to see why people more used to sitting down in front of the TV to watch a Premier League match or even a day of baseball might feel easier watching the vehicular antics of Rocket League to the fast-paced slaughter that makes up a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive match. That might not make it any easier for people disappointed at NBC’s choice of esport for their first tournament,
“The accessibility from a spectator standpoint was one of the factors that we took into account for sure,” said Attisani. “Take that, the size and engagement of the community and the very real opportunity we have here to create something new and unique, and those are the elements that pushed us into working with NBC and Rocket League.”