This week the ‘eSports IQ by Alex Fletcher‘ features the following content: Is Turner’s ELeague for fans or advertisers?; Alibaba invests in eSports infrastructure; Who’s bringing the prize pool?

Is Turner’s ELeague for fans or advertisers?

With the May 24th debut of Turner’s ELEAGUE creeping closer, more insight on its approach and format continues to emerge. While issues with broadcasting competitive gaming on TV remain prevalent, there are also very real challenges associated with actually running ELeague. Yes, Turner’s resources, and partnership with WME IMG, will tip the scales in favor of success; but it’s still not a sure bet. For example, it took years for Riot Games, currently the model for managing an entire league structure for competitive video game play, to propel its League Championship Series (LCS) to today’s heights; a journey uncomplicated by the attempt to corral TV audiences. On the other hand, Turner is facing similar challenges, in addition to those of generating acceptable TV ratings. As a result, Turner will have to divert focus away from the core competencies of managing a professional eSports league, a task with which they are admittedly unfamiliar.

As of today, Turner seems intent on hitting two moving targets with one shot. Even though ELeague is slated for multiple seasons, its popularity amongst core eSports fans, let alone general TV viewers, is unknown. The fact that ELeague has yet to establish a base viewership across the Counter Strike Global Offensive (CSGO) competitive community, and must now do so with a bifurcated broadcast strategy (TV and online), is a significant red flag; all further complicated by numerous top professional CSGO teams going missing from ELeague this year. In essence, Turner must attract core eSports fans, a segment marked by massive cord cutting, without aid of the best possible competitive product. This represents a shaky premise, at best. Instead, executives behind ELeague are betting that, even if ratings are lackluster, it will deliver desired eSports demographics (young men) to advertisers. And while advertisers pay the bills on network TV, it is the viewing audience that determines ultimate success.

In stark contrast to traditional sports, television broadcasts actually increase the number of boundaries to consumption by core eSports fans. Yet, the focus on packaging competitive video gaming in a friendlier format for traditional advertising and media companies, in order to attract those same demographics, is becoming standard practice. In the case of ELeague, it seems to overlook the foundation for success in eSports: establishing a firm foothold within the core competitive video game community FIRST. Turner might prove capable of simultaneously engineering a compelling TV format for ELeague and establishing a strong fan base for the league itself, but it will not be easy. The question is how much long-term commonality is involved with doing both?

Alibaba invests in eSports infrastructure

After launching its Sports Group at the end of 2015, ecommerce giant Alibaba has unveiled an eSports division, the Ali Electronics Sports Division, and as part of the inauguration, an announcement of the World Electronic Sports Games (WESG). With a total prize pool of $5.5 million, WESG is being positioned as an Olympic-style event seeking to draw participation from over 100 countries. More importantly, it represents an investment in the infrastructure for competitive video game play. By putting cash towards prize pools, event organization and competitive structure, in the form of WESG, Alibaba is creating an accelerator for the maturation of eSports in the region, and beyond. This is particularly critical as the growth rate of eSports, across the globe, has exceeded the development curve of according regulatory practices and integrity measures; leaving massive hurdles for the progression of sustainability. Should WESG make headway in this regard, it would be a welcome step in the right direction.

Who’s bringing the prize pool?

Rumblings that Riot Games will begin to dispense more money into the UK League of Legends (LoL) scene, including larger prize pools for events, underscores the unclear chain of responsibility for financial sustainability in eSports. In this case, it seems as if Riot is in talks with UK event organizer, Multiplay, and other potential sponsors to boost the payoff for participating in organized video game competitions. As publisher of LoL, it’s clear why Riot is vested in contributing to a respectable competitive scene in the UK, and elsewhere. After all, events with prize pools are great marketing assets. This holds, not just for large pro tournaments, but also for the growing array of smaller events that appeal to other levels of competitive play. Yet, how sustainable is the hands-on participation of video game publishers, like Riot, over the long term?

Scaling this type of involvement will only become more complex, as more regions across the world outgrow organic growth models and also require larger prize pools. Should distinct tiers of competitive play begin to emerge (amateur, recreation, pro-am), it will be critical to ensure there is stability at each level. Ultimately, this could emerge as a strategic concern for companies like Riot, which must rationalize the upkeep of an increasing cast of multi-layered, regional pockets. At some point, sustaining prize pools will exceed justification as a marketing expense; even if demand from the player base might warrant otherwise. In that light, regions must develop sustainable models around the eSports opportunity which doesn’t depend on direct financial investment from game publishers. Specifically, this entails aggressively pursuing partnerships with local, non-endemic companies that will benefit from reaching the eSports contingent. Doing so is paramount to supporting the very real costs of growth.

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About ‘eSports IQ’

The ‘eSports IQ’ is compiled by Alex Fletcher, the founder and president of Entiva Group, LLC, and features insights on the latest emerging trends in eSports. By curating invaluable content from a wide range of information sources you get the leading edge in the business of eSports. The complicated past (and future) of esports on TV

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Image source:, Photographer: Joe Brady