One of the biggest questions posed by people with a vested interest in the long-term success of esports is how the industry can grow beyond the core group of top teams around the world. How can it incorporate teams from emerging esports nations?
It’s not an easy question to answer. The League of Legends World Championship has attempted to address the issue in its main event by increasing the number of teams that can qualify for Worlds from smaller nations. These squads qualify for a preliminary event: the Play In Stage. It incorporates the top team from eight emerging sections with the third-ranked teams from four more established qualifying groups.
Last year, that worked out well for Turkish LoL side Fenerbahce 1907. They managed to earn one of the four Group Stage positions in the Main Event proper. That opportunity was unavailable to them in past years.
While opening up the biggest events to more teams is a positive, they only happen once per year. That is unlikely to sustain many emerging teams financially.
This week, however, Central Europe hosts a tournament that may offer a glimpse at the future of esports gaming when it comes to diversifying participating nations.
The V4 Future Sports Festival in Budapest, Hungary begins March 23 and runs through March 25.
How is V4 different?
At first glance, this event seems to be a standard Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament. There’s a healthy prize pool of $500,000 up for grabs, eight teams competing, and we have an initial round-robin stage (best-of-two) followed by a single elimination (best-of-three) playoff.
Look closer though. The tournament is unremarkable in its construction and team makeup. Most notably, teams come from three qualifying sections: the Czech and Slovak Qualifier, the Polish Qualifier, and the Hungarian Qualifier.
While these countries do have an esports presence, they don’t really have huge representation at the highest level of the sport. Now, they’re in line for plenty of exposure because the other four teams invited to this event include some of the biggest and best CS:GO teams in the world.
That’s FaZe Clan, Virtus.pro, mousesports, and HellRaisers. Facing them will be the relatively unheralded quartet of eXTatus and Dark Tigers (Czech and Slovak), x-kom Team (Polish), and GameAgents (Hungarian).
Is the gulf in class too wide?
Critics of this tournament style typically argue the four qualifying teams are lambs to the slaughter — that the four established teams will stroll to the prize money.
For one indicator of the unknown teams’ strength, let’s look at their biggest tournament hauls:
- exTatus – $9,612 for winning the Cross Border Esport 2017 Minor (Sept. 2017)
- x-kom – $6,657 for finishing second at the Polska Liga Espotowa Season 2 (Dec. 2017)
- GameAgents – $1,796 for winning the Esport Fest 2016 (Dec. 2016)
- Dark Tigers – there are no records available for Dark Tigers at present.
When you consider the other four teams are regularly picking up tens or hundreds of thousands every week or so, the gap in class at the highest level is patently clear.
And, yes, it is certainly the case that the four big name teams could thrash their opponents, but in the long term, that may not matter.
Even if they lose, the four qualifiers will be winners
While the chances of the four qualifiers finishing in the top four is remote, each picks up a check for $25,000 simply for competing this weekend.
That amount clearly dwarfs their biggest-ever earnings and should go a ways toward helping them remain viable. Of equal importance is the fact that these teams will gain valuable exposure and experience playing against the world’s finest CS:GO teams and players. They will be able to see at first-hand how their opponents strategize and interact to ensure a win.
Are we looking at David and Goliath battles here? Of course. But many viewers enjoy those mismatches and the underdog possibilities they present.
Many observers will be watching this event keenly to see whether the V4 Future Sports Festival proves successful. It would not surprise me if it serves as a catalyst for a number of similar events all over the world.