Minor Tournaments – A Pro Gamer’s Résumé

With the vanishing of Team Liquid’s Tournament tracker, there’s been a noticeable diminishment of minor tournaments since the end of 2012 and the start of 2013. We spoke about the importance of minor [weekly] tournaments and opportunity for up-and-coming pro gamers in the article: Splitting the Scene for Regional Champions.

Minor tournaments in 2010 and 2011 were the building blocks for pro gamers to build up their résumé in terms of achievements and earn increments of exposure. Weekly tournaments specifically offered consistently real tournament experience for those “ladder warriors” (a term used by some managers for players who are extremely powerful on the ladder but fail to achieve during tournament matches) and players looking to really test their abilities against some of the more establish pros. Indeed, some of the best players of today, have a good stack of their career rankings in weekly and minor tournaments such as NaNiwa, Snute and Stephano:

Snute NaNiwa Stephano

This is a snapshot of the 2010, 2011 & 2012 minor tournament winnings from all three notable foreign players: Snute, Stephano and NaNiwa (screemshot is courtesy of Liquipedia)

As shown, the value and usage of these minor tournaments are quite attractive for many professionals, established or not. Back during 2010 and 2011, the number of major tournaments offering high prize-money was not as many or desirable as they are now (First place: 5,000$ from MLG, 6,500$ from IEM, 15,000$ from IPl: did not always include travel).  Thus, the convenience of minor events being at-home as well as the return of payment notably raised the value of players exponentially, while also offering them experience and a variety of opponents both at their skill-level and lower (making tournaments a lot faster and not stretched across three-day periods [for weekly tournaments]).

However, the diminishment of weekly and even minor tournaments could be signs of a changing scene. In Europe, major staples of weekly tournaments: GameCreds, Antec, IMBAlonian Star Cup, CraftCup, Alt-Tab Gaming Trophy. For America and South Korea, there are no more weekly tournaments whatsoever. Are weekly tournaments no longer valued or considered amongst teams and managers?

According to some current player-managers, both of the largest organizations and those growing, these weekly tournament achievements were not always of a real priority of consideration before major events, marketability and actual results:

Team Liquid: “Weekly tournaments do not really matter at all.  It is, of course, nice if they do well in them but it doesn’t matter”

Ex-FXOpen, Josh Dentrinos: “I care about skill. Look at it this way: I predict things for a living, so I use those skils to predict who will be good in the future. Past results do not represent future results”

Clarity Gaming: “Honestly, we weigh their marketability the most, as well as how they mesh with our team environment. After that it becomes more about results: we generally consider qualifier results the most important, with weekly tournament achievements somewhere after that. Major tournament results obviously come first. Right now, desire to come to the house is also a huge factor, we’re not nearly as interested in picking up a player that doesn’t/can’t come to the house.

Honestly when it comes down to what results get looked at on a player resume, our main focus relies on qualifiers for major tournaments. You can win numerous online cups these days and it just wouldn’t be enough to significantly increase your value as a player if you’re not trying to take the next step in qualifying for International LAN events.”

Evil Geniuses: “Weekly tournaments, in Starcraft 2, account for very little now.”

Ex-Quantic, Brad Carney: “When looking for the next big name player for our team we would probably look at skill first. There is a lot of skill but there are some people who just can’t “finish”. So people who could close out a tournament and have the confidence to do so would be priority number one. When looking for an up and comer, seeing who is winning a lot of dailies really helped. Time is also a huge factor. If someone doesn’t have the time either now or in the near future, it factors in on a decision.”.

LighT eSports, Victor Chen: “Weekly tournament achievements fall in probably one of the lowest categories.”

While pro gamers and aspiring players value weekly tournament organizations such as PlayHem’s Daily, ESL’s Go4SC2 and Xilence/Competo; few team managers account for it when interested in acquiring players. This is especially true in 2012 and 2013, where the accessibility of major events such as IPL and MLG are less costly to the player and team and more rewarding in terms of exposure and worth. Blizzard’s BWC, MLG Arenas and IPL’s Proleague all offered regional qualifiers as well as covering travel expenses towards anyone who qualified. This helped promote Koreans getting to foreign events while also ensuring North-Americans earn opportunities to achieve.

This disproportion of value of weekly tournaments creates misunderstood notions of one’s own value. This may be held especially true for many players currently teamless such as ex-TSL Hyun who has a current asking price of 2,500 and travel to international tournaments. An arguably heavy toll for anyone considering this 53-first placed finishing pro gamer [plus 15-straight IPL Fight Club Showmatch victories]. This possible misbelief ultimately leads to players’ misunderstanding their real worth as well as constantly comparing themselves to players they beat and their salaries. While Hyun has an impressive winning streak in smaller tournaments and showmatches, his on and off record with the GSL as well as average placements in IPL, DreamHack and TSL4 lead managers to consider other potential rising stars (though, he has just been signed as of the release of this piece).


Major events and LAN are accounted at a higher value than that of weekly tournaments and showmatches according to many team-managers (screenshot is courtesy of Liquipedia).

Can the same be said for casters? I caught up with IPL’s Frank Fields [Mirhi] as well as NASL’s Dan Chou [Frodan] to get their view on the matter. Does casting tournaments , small or big, add to one’s resume as we first thought for players?

NASL’s Dan Chou: “Weekly tournaments give an amazing platform for beginner casters for three reasons. One, they have the same audience — spectators who love the “homey” and personal atmosphere of the tournament which puts out enough consistent content to saturate their desires — on a consistent basis to practice their material on similar to stand-up comedians. Two, they have a high margin for error due to a loving low-count audience that endears the aspiring casters who work with little to no compensation. Three, they can build their own repertoire of history with local/semi-pro players for a storyline that main stage casters would not know if they were behind the same microphone.

However, I feel that the most important thing for aspiring commentators to learn from these small tournaments is humility and work ethic. It is a true shame when these once-unknown people achieve a status only to lose their approachability and allow their exaggerated “fame” to inflate their ego. Lastly, no caster got to the top without due diligence and sacrifice. This factor will stop 90% of people from getting anywhere in this industry alone. That or I-was-here-first fortune.”

IPL’s Frank Fields: “For casters, we chose 2 casters who are known for casting playhem dailies [Robin and Kibbelz]. So its a good way for exposure and practice”

The answer was obvious in of itself. More experience and exposure, the better the caster can be, the more the public is aware of the commentator and the more aware organizations such as IPL and NASL are. This steady incline is not true for players however, who must divulge their time wisely between streaming/marketing, practicing builds and strategies and playing smaller tournaments for cash-prizes.

Nonetheless, whether a caster or a player, the interest in weekly tournaments may be diminishing. As more and more weekly tournament organizations move on to new games and areas, the amount of money earned by players becomes more centered and emphasized on major tournaments and attendance. What direction will this mean about the separation between aspiring players, their result listings and the current established pro gamers? Will Heart of the Swarm merely continue this trend, emphasize the large events or will it revive the demand for minor tournaments, weekly competitions and create new reputations for new up-and-coming players?

The Lack of Storytelling in E-Sports’ Events

Within this month, there are currently four major tournament organizations showing content (if we exclude Evil Geniuses MCSL): GSL, IPL, MLG and NASL (as well as Iron Squid and KeSPA’s Proleague). They are all viewed as equally important with large prize-pools, top-tier talent and prestige. In the past, we mentioned how the community, players and scene is overstocked with tournaments, all similar in content, prestige and value (both production-wise and in prizes). With these similarities, the feeling of saturation becomes emphasized within the community’s thoughts. This similarity is a core problem because so many tournaments fail to distinguish themselves when their participants, maps and match-ups aren’t varied. This need for distinctiveness is also known as creating relevance. Relevance for these tournaments is outwardly assumed through their name and history. But with so many tournaments equal in qualities, how is one to differentiate which competitions to follow? This is where the role of story-telling becomes important for organizers. Story-telling solves the feeling of overflowing content by creating features and dimensions between major tournaments. Think of these tournaments like mountains: all mountains have their peak, history of climbers (players) and status around the scene/world. How would you, the organizer, set your mountain apart from the others? You would create context, weave a story, detail the results of past matches of the participating players and how each match is applicable to one another within your event (context).

Drama is the side-effect of an untold scene. My viewpoint on drama is that it is a byproduct of a bored environment. A boring scene is a culture without meaning in its crowning events or overall performance in entertainment. In my opinion, drama, rivalries, hype, nicknames and announcements are shapes and offshoots of story-telling for E-Sports. Why is story-telling so important?

  • While prizes, competition and a livestreamed event may entice and attract competitors, it doesn’t necessarily hold the same weight and worth for spectators. No doubt that players fighting for 1 million dollars is pretty cool. But what more could we say about the players and the prize?
  • Not all spectators of an event quite know the history of your previous events or even the height of a certain match-up. While I understand that the entertainment of the games have their own attraction, contextually adding a backstory to a certain match-up can bring people in to watch the match. Story-telling helps formulate justifications for the spectator to watch an event over another while the match keeps them watching.

The problem with most tournaments is that they all follow similar formulas to advertise: “here is the player list, here is the grand prize of our tournament and here are the amazing matches from the past”. Because of this, tournaments start to run into redundancies with other events, creating a repetitive feeling to the community. During events, you have commentators to describe, analyze and inject excitement in a game. After the tournament, you have video-editors highlighting the best matches and recaps both in written and video form. But what about before the whole event, who is writing a story, creating importance of each tournament during the year?

Thankfully, websites like Team Liquid does a great job recapping, doing power rankings and creating pertinence to a tournament that may get washed up against the bigger dogs. But it shouldn’t be done by external organizations, it should be a part of a tournament’s marketing team; hyping their service or product. To be frank, it doesn’t take much marketing to be both excited in what you’re featuring and writing 200 words on the tournament overall or of specific players.

Here’s an example of a tournament that had some great players, decent prize-pool and no other tournament was happening at the same time (nothing major), but failed to promote themselves: Campus Party (EU), Campus Party (Official Topic). Look at the qualities of this event: 25,000$ prize-pool, great player line-up; Snute, Socke, Strelok, Elfi, ForGG, NightEnD, HasuObs, Supernova, Ret, Naama and this comment sums up exactly my thoughts:

$25,000 and i’ve never heard of it lolol. What?! Come on now tournaments! It’s not that hard to throw up a post on TL and/or reddit!” is what a user said about the event. It’s definitely a common thought amongst many users. MLG, IPL; they all post hubs for their upcoming matches or tournaments, but it’s just an information center. Very rarely do any of them take advantage of a central community lobby to produce some more hits on their website with a hype article or to portray a particular strong component of story-telling: Stakes.

What is at stake for these players? If you’re looking for how to start your article on your tournament: ask the question; What is at stake? Stakes is everything in a sport and it’s almost implicit through the nature of watching two players duke it out:

  • The stake of winning it all: becoming the best.  Earning the money and credibility that you are a real competitor.
  • Emotional stakes: Pride. Some examples of dilemmas you’ve probably imagined or read:
    • Bouncing back after the community doubts your return.
    • The pressure of being the few foreigners to beat a Korean.
    • Once supported by a team, you’re now flying solo with your sponsor.
  • Rivalries: Rivalries are a relationship of stakes. Someone has to lose for the other to win and while that’s obvious in each and every match,if there’s a history of winning and losing between the two players, that’s a story. Rivalries matter; no matter if they’re true or just fabrications of the community, rivalries amp up the imaginative stakes. Anyone remember Idra’s rivals (Cruncher, HuK, MC)? How about NaNiwa’s (NesTea)? These add some flair and interest in matches and also put give reasons for someone to watch a match (in addition to their initial interest in the two players’ ability independently).

The point being, drama is a branch of what the community wants, but not in the form they prefer. With a circulation of tournaments, qualifiers, LANs, weekly/daily competition, it would help if someone stringed all these tournaments with some sequencings. This piece isn’t only for tournament organizers, players and personality go hand-in-hand with the desire to color the scene with shades of uniqueness. But even without personality, your player can stand out with written context about who they are, where they are in the brackets, etc. Interviews also help players shine and these small touches really create a blend of iconicism. In a crowded scene trying to appeal to a small market of viewers, adding a written background can help justify your presence and mark throughout the years.