The Esports Championship Series, better known merely by the acronym ECS, is becoming an institution in the worldwide Counter-Strike calendar.
With the news that the finals for ECS Season 4 are taking place in a luxury hotel in Cancun, instead of the crowded Wembley Arena, we spoke to Michele Attisani, the co-founder of FACEIT, the company behind ECS.
A luxury hotel might seem like an unusual choice for a Counter-Strike tournament, but Attisani says that it was a good opportunity to focus just on the content instead of the logistics of dealing with a huge crowd, and that, as the last large event before Christmas, they wanted to focus on providing a positive experience for their players, which could also result in players and audiences fostering a stronger connection.
“We wanted to try something a bit different,” Attisani said by way of explanation. “Every season we manage to introduce a new improvements, thanks to the structure of ECS.” Attisani explains that teams in the ECS are co-owners in the league, and that they also have a governance constituted of teams and players to make sure that ECS is always heading in the right direction.
“With this finals, we wanted to try something a bit different. That was a decision we made, obviously, with a lot of input from the players but also from the team owners, as well.”
“On our side, we wanted to focus very much on the content by creating a much stronger connection between the players at the tournament and the audience watching at home. We felt that this Cancun idea was a perfect environment to achieve this goal.”
Attisani has said that the players key concerns are around sustainability, with is a “key discussion” that we’re having with the ECS governing committee. “I think that so far it has been a bit of a separation between team owners and players. While on both sides, there has been maybe a perceived lack of transparency. Therefore, each side think that the other side is getting rich. The reality is that we're still very much in an investment phase. If you look at the ECS teams, the actual investments in player salaries and facilities and coaches and psychologists and nutritionists and so on that all those teams are making are still huge.
“What we're trying to facilitate is improved communication and transparency between the players and the teams in order to make sure that everyone understands what the full picture looks like.”
“On the league side, we're trying to be very transparent about what are the challenges that we have, how it's working from a commercial and financial standpoint, we’re looking to make sure each part of the ecosystem more aware of how the ecosystem is working. We're already seeing some first benefits from that, coming from when the entire team is pulling together.
Other concerns for players are the competitive environment, something that sees the ECS largely looking after the players at the event to make sure they can perform at the top of their game.
“We take care of them end-to-end during our events from the moment they book the flights. Well, actually, we book their flights for them. They arrive at the airport. We pick them up. We have a staff dedicated to making sure that all their needs are covered 24/7.”
“We need to make sure that they have the right spaces in order to be able to practise during the event, but also to get together in a private environment, so they can discuss their strategies and review their gameplay. We need to make sure that they have the right type of equipment whether that's desks, chairs, computers, monitors, and so on. We want to make sure that's not just the perfect environment in terms of competition, but also an event that they can remember as something fun and, let's say, pleasing experience overall.”
Attisani mentions that this year has been “easy” for the ECS, claiming that Counter-Strike:Global Offensive is drawing more interesting, becoming a bigger and bigger mainstream phenomenon. “We've been engaging with YouTube quite a lot into promoting ECS and construct to a more general audience of gaming fans. Obviously, that's a slow process. It doesn't materialise overnight. But at the same time, now we're looking at very interesting results from that standpoint.”
It’s a big gamble for an esports event as large as this, to broadcast not to a live audience but to a digital one, with the event broadcast online and through their traditional TV distribution channels. While some influencers and media will be out in Cancun, fans of the game will be unable to watch their favourite teams compete in the flesh.
Still, taking risks and trying to make the ECS a better tournament every single year could be described as a bit of a passion for Attisani. He describes FACEIT as the only organisation that’s working on multi-year deals with both American and European teams together to play, with the goal of trying to bring together a scene that can at times be somewhat fragmented.
For the ECS season 5 finals, the event will return to baying crowds at the Wembley Arena. For now, the Cancun event, taking place at the Hard Rock Hotel with teams fighting it out for a share of $750,000, is an experiment. When the event takes place from December 15 to December 17, we’ll see how successful that is.