Richard Lewis: MiBR’s legacy will be one of petulance not excellence (Part 2) - Dexerto
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Richard Lewis: MiBR’s legacy will be one of petulance not excellence (Part 2)

Published: 14/Sep/2020 19:13 Updated: 14/Sep/2020 21:45

by Richard Lewis

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The second part of an exploration into MiBR’s legacy and their core players who were once the unquestioned faces of competitive CS:GO, but had their prestige eroded by skirting conflicts of interest, consistently poor performances, and more. (You can read the full first part of this post here)


The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by Dexerto.


Where we left off last time we were about to segue into another reason why the MiBR core had gone on to become so disliked by common fans; and that was their litany of excuses they come up with to explain away defeats. However, in the few days between publishing this second and final piece, something extraordinary happened.

The team’s long-standing coach and manager, Ricardo ‘dead’ Sinigaglia, was given a six-month ban from participating in ESL competitions for using an in-game bug to ascertain information about the opposite team. The offense, ESL said, took place during the Road to Rio competition places the violation squarely in the same timeframe as the team went off the deep end with public allegations made against Chaos and their young players, going into an apoplexy that ruined the reputation and compromised the safety of two young and upcoming players.

Of course, Singaglia went down the predictable route of feigned confusion and denial, claiming he had been sent a clip from the CS Summit 6 event that showed the bug in action against Triumph. The clip he made public was, of course, edited to make it look like it was a simple error that garnered them no advantage at all. When the full clip was posted it showed Singaglia not only following Triumph players around on a crucial pistol round but also his teammates then lying about the coach being AFK after the round was won.

Beyond The Summit took the decision to ban Singaglia from the next two of their events and retroactively disqualify MiBR from the event. Valve have also subsequently stripped them of all Regional Major Ranking points, which is less of a punishment as CS:GO Majors have been canceled for the foreseeable future.

With these latest sanctions issued against MiBR they are the only professional team in CS:GO history to have been caught and punished three times for cheating at major events. The timing of these revelations is too perfect and underlines everything stated in the first part: these players think rules do not apply to them while publicly masquerading as the only honest competitors in a rotten scene.

Conflict Of Interest Violations

Speaking candidly I was surprised that ESL took action at all given that there was an even more egregious violation of competitive rules enacted by the Brazilians. On the 23rd of April 2020, in the North American Road To Rio competition for the Valve sanctioned CS:GO Major, MiBR took on another Brazilian team simply called “Yeah.” The brand name is another throwback to Counter-Strike 1.6 and thanks to some investors they were resurrected at the start of 2018. Now here for the potential to play in the biggest tournament in the CS:GO calendar, they were taking on MiBR for the first time since their return to action. This sounds like a great story, right? Well, if you look a little closer you’ll find plenty that will make you realize that this match should never have happened and would not have happened in any other professional sport.

Let’s start with those investors. Can you guess who they are? As the kids say “it’s ya boi” Epitácio ‘TACO’ de Melo and the aforementioned and freshly banned Singaglia. Both of them are in for a 25% share each, giving them essentially a controlling influence in the team through direct ownership alone.

mibr yeah gaming csgo esl one
ESL
MiBR and Yeah Gaming played a qualifier match in April for ESL One: Road to Rio.

You might recall that back in November of 2019 Valve said they were going to have a big clampdown on conflict of interests in the competitive CS:GO space. This came after years of work from beat journalists, myself included, having to catch multiple moneymen with their hands all the way in the monopolistic cookie jar. I’ve been doing it for years and at great cost to my bank balance, sanity and hairline (still not insisting broadcasts allow me to wear a hat yet though.) “Finally,” I thought reading this blog, “I have dented the financial membrane of Valve and got them to care about the thing that matters most to any competitive pursuit; its integrity.”

I must have temporarily forgotten I was referring to a game developer, which is easily done with Valve at times. In the grand scheme of priorities, the top three of which are all variations of “add gold to the hoard,” the matter of allowing player-owned teams to compete against the players that own those teams are so way down it’d give you vertigo to look at them. Combine that with the usual lack of communication (Valve’s philosophy is “we’ll tell you when something happens we don’t like or if it upsets China.”)

Incredibly this game was scheduled despite the fact that the players had disclosed ownership in writing prior to the competition. And to be fair, it was no secret to begin with. Yet there is something beyond distasteful about a team who have spent so much time complaining about how they are victimized by big tournament organizers seemingly oblivious to just what was being ignored here. Oh, and it gets worse.

The parent company of MiBR, the Immortals Gaming Club, are such suckers for all things Brazilian they’ve either bought all the businesses their players own or created working business relationships with them. So it is that the parent company of MiBR pays an annual fee to Yeah that enables them to buy any two players they wish from the organization at “an agreed-upon price.” This means that Yeah is in essence the academy team for MiBR. And they played against them in a qualifier. For the Major.

MiBR beat Yeah Gaming 2-0 in their opening match on the Road to Rio.

Incredibly the result still stands to this day and neither team has been disqualified. Valve completely bottled the issue when, in a statement to HLTV.org, they went back on their previous stance and instead said: “The sole requirement for ESL One: Road to Rio was that participating teams disclose existing conflicts of interest and that those disclosures be made public so that the community can have an opportunity to discuss them.”

I’ve been covering Counter-Strike now for over fifteen years. I’m qualified to say this. The average fan doesn’t even understand what a conflict of interest is, let alone grasp why it matters within the context of a tournament. While there was discussion in the CSGO community, these were punctuated with the usual moronic arguments; “why does it matter” or “are you saying that Yeah would throw a game just because they were told” or “But Yeah are so bad they can’t beat MiBR anyway.” That last one becomes especially hilarious when you consider their recent defeat against the team ranked 64th in the world Wisla Krakow.

So, even though there are multiple pathways in which a match between these two teams could be compromised, the “resolution” was for Valve and ESL to come to an agreement that as long as MiBR divest themselves before the Major itself in November (which, let’s be real, isn’t happening anyway) it is perfectly fine for any matches prior to that, such as qualifiers for that tournament, to be compromised. Man, people really do pick on those MiBR guys, don’t they?

Why Does Everybody Pick On The MiBR Guys?

There are few groups of players as humorless as the core of MiBR who’ve shown themselves to be over their careers. Despite the numerous examples of clearly preferential treatment they have received over their careers they seem to remain utterly convinced that everyone is out to get them. The record shows them to be some of the most widely praised players in the history of the game, their dominant era seeing them rightly showered with plaudits. By the same token, there is a significant blind spot in the community when it comes to behavior that would see other entities “canceled” in the current environment. I won’t get into the fact that the players have openly supported Jair Bolsonaro because, frankly, we should all be tired of playing the very American ‘gotcha game’ that the Twitterati have made a national pastime. However, there are some actions that usually carry consequences.

Following the death of George Floyd while in police custody, the Black Lives Matter movement gained significant momentum in carrying its message to a much wider global audience. This brought with it a wave of corporate statements keen to capitalize on positive messaging at this time. MiBR were no different. On the 1st of June they posted a message to their official Twitter account in both Portuguese and English. It read: “No to fascism. Yes to respect. No to racism. Yes to diversity. Killing? Just in a game. In real life, just life. The only acceptable supremacy is respect for our differences. The differences unite us, and the respect doesn’t separate us.”

 

Fernando ‘Fer’ Alvarenga streams on Twitch regularly by professional player standards. During a broadcast just two days after MiBR’s statement about respecting differences and rejecting notions of supremacy, Alvarenga made comments to a viewer that his straight hair was “good” and that the viewer’s Afro-textured hair was making them angry. This also has significant cultural overtones given Brazil’s long-standing history of racism towards the country’s population that are of African descent, including a period in their history where they implemented eugenics to increase the European descended population. The message in and of itself is horrendous with this analysis but the timing of it, the way it actively contradicted MiBR’s public stance, meant that it would be almost impossible to ignore. Almost.

MiBR’s response was to put out an apology only in Portuguese, one would assume to avoid the wider world noticing their acknowledgment of the player’s culpability. There was nothing directly from Alvarenga.

As is the usual strategy for the organization their statement went to great lengths to explain how words can sometimes be divorced from intent. “We all know, sometimes, language or phrases have, if taken to the extreme, a set of implications or meanings disconnected from the speaker’s intention” their apology read. “However, it cannot be an excuse to hide behind it. Fer knows and recognizes this type of language feeds a narrative that is wrong and deeply damaging. Instead of hiding, he faced the problem and apologized.” The story did the rounds but, despite it being the worst possible thing to say at the worst possible time, nothing really came of it. Weird, given the extreme amount of bias and hostility that the players believe they face.

So, I’ll just state it plainly: had this been someone from any other team, broadcast or media company, they would have been fired and on an indefinite vacation. Inflammatory, racially dividing statements at a time when people were addressing systemic racial inequality would have been, rightly, viewed as inappropriate for any other professional. When you factor in that Alvarenga had been banned from Twitch previously for using racial epithets to describe who he was playing within America it’s hard to fathom how MiBR players think they have anything other than an incredibly privileged position in the esports landscape.

Despite MiBR’s claims that the player had been fined and warned it doesn’t seem that the player learned any significant lessons about expressing bigotry on his platform. The same month, following the aforementioned dispute with Furia, Alvarenga went on a tirade about the Furia players that made some charged comments about “taking it in the ass” and “not being a man.” This was ignored by all parties.

kNg – The Law Unto Himself

Vito ‘kNg’ Giuseppe is a relative newcomer to top tier Counter-Strike. He has, however, wasted no time in establishing himself as belonging squarely in the company of his fellow teammates when it comes to both talent and consistently unprofessional behavior. There isn’t a single person in the Counter-Strike scene who isn’t aware of his meltdown at DreamHack Montreal while representing Immortals but I’ll provide a summary. The Brazilian roster, then a top ten team in the world, was late to a competitive match against CLG. The admins gave them a warning but took no further action. They won the match and made it to the final where they would face North. Having a few hours of downtime between matches they went back to their hotel rooms and somehow managed to sleep through the call time. This being their second late showing the admins made them forfeit the first map. They would go on to lose to the Danes.

Now, as a point of information, it was widely stated by many attendees at the event that three of the players from the squad, Giuseppe being one of them, had been seen out drinking late the night before. The sheer volume of people claiming this never gave me cause to doubt it as being true but if you harbor any doubts in your mind the team captain at the time, Lucas ‘steel’ Lopes, said that while he didn’t think they were partying hard or that they went to a club, he said they were at the hotel bar late the night before.

As always what was fed back across the internet was likely an exaggerated version of the truth. Equally, these players, despite claiming it was jet lag that made them late, clearly weren’t feeling those effects bad enough to have an early night before must-win matches.

Anyway, CLG’s in-game leader Pujan ‘FNS’ Mehta tweeted a joke that it sucked to lose to players who were hungover and Giuseppe lost his mind. In a tweet that has now gone down in Counter-Strike history, he resorted immediately to death threats. “You’ll prove it or I’ll kill you” he said. It would transpire this wasn’t a quaint turn of phrase. Giuseppe was actively seen trying to find Mehta with the intent to assault him.

CSGO pro KNG’s response to FNS. The tweet has since been deleted.

The CLG captain had to avoid being in the hotel while people actively tried to calm down the Brazilian and even in the aftermath he stated he would never apologize for what he did.

While this ultimately set of a chain of events, that not only saw him removed from Immortals but also ended up having a huge negative impact on the upcoming Major, there was never any formal action from DreamHack. For a company that is on the record publicly as having stated that everyone must feel safe at their events, when a competitor tried to assault another one they took absolutely no action nor even addressed the matter publicly.

Of course, if they were being consistent, the player would have been banned from attending their events for a period of time and, in line with the code of conduct guidelines in the handbook, would have forfeited a percentage of his winnings. Instead, he was issued with zero penalty from the tournament he disgraced.

Hello Violence My Old Friend

We can all agree that there is no place for violence spilling over from what should be a spirited competition. Giuseppe’s Montreal incident is widely regarded as the worst of its kind, although Singaglia and de Melo threatening Oleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev’s life over a throwaway in-game knife could just as easily be brought to the discussion. However, what isn’t talked about as much publicly is when one of the Brazilian entourage that was brought to the PGL Major in Krakow actually assaulted a professional player at the event’s after-party.

Although I wasn’t personally in attendance the story has been told to me many times by those who were. It has mostly been covered up due to the combination of embarrassment and obviously the fact that there should carry some form of reprisals. Removing any embellishments from the story, here are the consistent facts that all present parties have repeated independently.

Esports after-parties generally tend to take place before the event has finished because it’s cheaper to do so. In this case, the event took place the day before the final, which featured the Brazilian team Immortals taking on the Kazakhstanis of Gambit. Markus ‘Kjaerbye’ Kjærbye, then playing for Astralis who had beaten the other Brazilian team of SK Gaming 2-0 in the quarter-finals, approached the group of Brazilian players from both teams who were together.

He made some seemingly disparaging comments that downplayed the likelihood of Immortals playing in many more finals in their careers, a comment that is often paraphrased as “enjoy the final you probably won’t play in many more” and a fracas ensued where one of the group assaulted the Danish player. This is widely accepted as a brother of one of the SK Gaming’s squad, although in the subsequent squabble it seemed even Kjærbye himself was unsure of who had done it. It is also worth noting that depending on who you ask the assault varies from a full-blown punch to the face or a finger being poked close to the eye of the player.

A now-deleted tweet from Kjærbye confirms the incident as having taken place, although due to his reputed intoxication it seems he aimed the tweet at a German racing driver. Fellow Dane Mathias ‘MSL’ Lauridsen also made light of the incident with a tweet at the time, with some fans who claimed to have witnessed the incident responding to him.

When it comes down to how I should view this incident, I am conflicted. I’ve been around sports my entire life and I’ve seen how quickly adults can behave like children when emotions are running high. Mix alcohol in with that and we all know what it can lead to.

I was raised on legends from the Welsh rugby team tours of the 80s and 90s, the insane antics of American wrestlers, and the rivalries of the golden age of the Premier League. As such, a part of me wants to file this story away on a mental shelf next to all of these, something to be saved for an esports speaking tour or a book. Yet by the same token, I know that violence is completely inexcusable and has no place at an event.

Competitors shouldn’t need to worry about being assaulted over trash talk or banter, which Counter-Strike fans agree is a part of what makes our esport stand out from the more sanitized, developer-controlled ones out there. It also cannot escape my attention that the most notable incident of an assault at a sizable Counter-Strike event just so happened to involve players who have actively threatened to assault other players. The fact that everyone with knowledge of the incident has a silent agreement to essentially never speak of it again may very well show a sensible maturity, but what would we say if another incident were to happen involving the same figures? We’d probably ask why they hadn’t been banned.

The answer to that is simple. We have collectively agreed to treat those with a certain level of status in our scene preferentially. As I can attest to personally, as someone who has been publicly smeared and castigated for five years over an act of self-defense, not all of us get to feel that benefit.

Excuses By The Bucketload

Another thing happened while I was working on this article. I was sent a thread from the forums of CS:GO’s leading coverage site HLTV.org. It was an update of an earlier thread that hadn’t attained much notoriety entitled “MiBR excuse list.” While I had planned to address some of the excuses as another example of how the players had tarnished their own legacy, this thread did include a few that even I had forgotten about. Sure, the thread does include some unsourced claims that I wouldn’t take as being the gospel truth but it shows that the fans are becoming increasingly cognizant of the lack of accountability the players display. After the latest round of drama, the thread has now been updated an additional five or six times.

Rather than rehash a forum thread here let me simply select some of the choice examples that have come from the team’s in-game leader Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo. Like a lot of great former champions, he seems to have fallen into the trap of believing in his mind that there are always explanations for losses that go beyond simply understanding that you weren’t good enough. Right now, you would hope that they would be waking up to that reality as, at the time of writing this, the team has lost matches to rosters that fall outside of the top fifty ranked teams in the world. This includes a loss to Copenhagen Flames who are ranked #75. Few excuses have been forthcoming lately but let’s take a look at some of Toledo’s greatest hits.

There’s the obligatory reminder that he claimed players were cheating when they lost to Chaos worth repeating as his fans peddle the lie he never directly accused anyone. At the 2018 Boston Eleague CS:GO Major, the schedule meant one team would have to play twice in one day. It was randomly attributed to his team. He peddled a conspiracy intimating that Eleague had somehow been biased towards his team, relating it to their disqualification for moving organizations partway through the inaugural season.

When they lost to Astralis at IEM Katowice 2018, it was because the PCs were randomly tabbing out in-game. At the same tournament, he said the headsets were so uncomfortable it was unplayable. After having gone on a poor run of losing pistol rounds around this time he publicly said that one pistol in particular, the CZ, was too overpowered and should be removed from the game. Even though there was nothing stopping them from using it too, it wasn’t a gun that their squad naturally gravitated towards. Just a coincidence.

During the FACEIT Major in London, where they had an early scare by losing against TyLoo, he complained about the tournament PCs not performing well despite the spec being in line with what most tournaments use. When they lost to TyLoo at the Asian Championships in 2019 it would be the flu, not PCs, that was to blame. Oh, and most recently, when they failed to beat Mad Lions after they choked in the finals of the Flashpoint League earlier this year, the reason they lost was that the tournament system didn’t give them more of an advantage for having been undefeated prior to that point. This is especially hilarious given the caliber of the team in the league and the fact that it was the easiest lay-up in the world for them to take the title.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means and only spans the last two years. It is also only Toledo’s excuses and, take it from me, the other players on the roster have all learned from the best when it comes to explaining away defeats as being circumstances beyond their control.

It’s good to see the wider community recognizing it for what it is. No sports fan likes competitors that can’t be gracious and humble in defeat. This is because in many ways it is the ultimate insult to the victor, a way to strip their moment of its luster and make it about yourself. Whatever you do though, don’t ever criticize them publicly about this or imply they might have lost their hunger.

A Fundamental Inability To Accept Criticism

As a public figure, criticism will come your way. Not all criticism is valid. A lot of it is coming from people that aren’t in any position to offer informed critiques because they are profoundly ignorant as to what they are talking about. Think the sports fan who is absolutely adamant about how they can fix the team they support without knowing anything about how the players train or interact with each other. They express themselves as you’d expect… Red-faced morons whose ignorance is only eclipsed by the confidence that they are right. You’ll have to hear those people, but you don’t have to listen to them.

However, in sports, there are those whose job it is to critique what you do. Many players feel these people are as equally clueless as the angry fans, and that is true in some cases, but certainly not the majority. Commentators, analysts, pundits and journalists religiously watch the games and are also privy to information shared behind the scenes. We know when a team is breaking down due to in-fighting. We know when in-game leaders are looking for someone new to add to the squad. We know when contracts are expiring and when players want to get a better deal. We know when orgs are shopping around a star player they can no longer afford. All of this gives insight and perspective that players sometimes don’t take into consideration when it comes to putting out an opinion.

Most players do understand that it is part of the business though. The MiBR guys have consistently lashed out at anyone either criticizing them or even making lighthearted jokes at their expense. It was this behavior towards Chaos, a team containing a young player whose reputation has been ruined by their claims, that was the last straw for me. The MiBR core enjoy an unbelievably privileged position in the esports landscape. They are, seemingly regardless of how badly they act, national heroes. They bring huge viewing numbers whenever they play, meaning tournament organizers and broadcasters will look to accommodate them in ways that other teams do not have the luxury of. They are paid a huge salary, one of the largest in Counter-Strike, without even the expectation to achieve results commensurate to their reputation and ranking. There is no oversight when they step out of line. Their coach is a lifelong friend and business partner. Their employer is also in business with them on several projects. They are completely untouchable and can act with impunity.

Because of all this, it leaves an especially bad taste in the mouth when you lash out at a young social media manager for implying that, due to bad results, you might be missing a legendary former member of your squad. It is beyond petty to take to Twitter to lash out at a broadcaster who says that you appear to have lost the hunger you had in 2016 (which would be an understandable reality by the way) and whine endlessly about how hard you work. The truly mean-spirited would point out if you’re working so hard and failing so consistently it might be time to quit. There were no such suggestions here because people still remember the Brazilian core of old.

We remember the team that came from nowhere to shock the world and win the country’s first CS:GO Major. We remember the style and swagger, the never-say-die attitude that meant until 16 rounds were on the board you could never be counted out of a match. We allowed the gamesmanship because it came alongside a healthy dose of showmanship. And we remember the gestures of giving back to the scene such as streaming to raise money for South African team Bravado because of their desire to come from a scene hampered by a lack of economic opportunity but go on to be among the best mirrored your own journey.

Since joining MiBR this has become a distant memory. Now what remains is a group of players too egotistical to see their own faults and labor under the delusion that everything else has changed while they remained the same. You’ve shown spite to your fellow pros, including youngsters who aspire to be like you. You’ve cheated while accusing the innocent of cheating themselves. You’ve diminished the achievements of teams that right now are better than you. In doing all of this you have taken a brand that should be a source of national pride and turned it into a bad joke, one that will never recover from the reputational damage you have all done to it. When your old colleague Lincoln ‘fnx’ Lau said “if MiBR comes back it will be a joke in my humble opinion, they will ruin a name that was once well represented” he couldn’t have known how right he would be.

Regardless of whether or not this farce is allowed to continue by the people that sign the checks after two years, it is too late to change what you’ve turned your legacy in to. It could have been one of the greatest stories esports had ever seen. Instead, it has become the all too typical one about unchecked power, ego and greed, and we had plenty of those already.

Columns

Adam Fitch: LoL, Call of Duty are rightfully the most marketable esports properties

Published: 21/Oct/2020 19:30 Updated: 21/Oct/2020 16:30

by Adam Fitch

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Last week, sports industry media company SportsPro released their list of the “World’s 50 Most Marketable Properties” in sports and, perhaps surprisingly, both League of Legends and Call of Duty made the cut — coming in at 12th and 41st, respectively.

This may sound extreme to some, with just football housing numerous world-renowned properties; from the Premier League, to the UEFA Champions League, to the FIFA World Cup itself. Add in that teams themselves are very much properties in their own rights and the listing of both League of Legends & Call of Duty may be pungent sources of contention for some.

The first thing that must be considered when judging whether esports titles can stand tall against well-established, decades-spanning sports properties is the set of criteria used to base judgements and estimates on. By now, almost everybody who’s a sports fan has been exposed to esports in one shape or form — whether through an ESPN broadcast or F1 wholly embracing its gaming counterpart during the global health crisis — but there’s still a lot of convincing to do as to esports being a sport (operating on the belief that it’s necessary at all).

SportsPro used a “universal currency,” devised by SponsorPulse, to identify the opportunity score of over 185 global sports properties, made up of seven key metrics that were tested on over 30,000 people each month.

Engagement, excitement, favorability, intensity, momentum, passion, and purchase consideration are the metrics used to develop the overall score that properties were compared upon. These metrics provide what I believe to be a somewhat fair foundation to judge the overall hype, attraction, and commercial viability of a sports property — it satisfactorily serves its purpose.

With any sort of list or power ranking it’s important to take into account bias and subjectivity, and scoring properties still offers the opportunity for those things to creep in, but at least we know the boundaries in which we’re operating.

Finally, let’s get into the infiltration of this list from two interestingly-contrasting titles.

The League of Extraordinary Growth

Riot Games may have finally warranted the “s” in its name with the expansion of its offering through Valorant, Wild Rift, Teamfight Tactics, and Legends of Runeterra, but League of Legends is still the developer’s golden child.

Released in 2009, it’s not taken long for household brands — the likes of Spotify, Mercedes-Benz, and Louis Vuitton — to get involved on the esports side of the equation, and it’s impressive when compared to the commercial interest and scale of other upstart sporting efforts like the XFL.

G2 Mikyx at League of Legends Worlds 2020
David Lee/Riot Games
G2 Mikyx’s wearing a Bose headset and sitting on a Secretlab chair at Worlds 2020.

For this year’s League of Legends World Championship, Riot Games has put together its most impressive roster of partners to date by mixing endemic and household names together in a variety of activations. From Cisco providing network infrastructure to Red Bull sponsoring in-game happenings, not to mention in-game banners for Mastercard and Alienware, there’s a lot of value to be obtained by putting a brand in front of an average of almost 1,000,000 avid gamers (according to Esports Charts.)

This level of pull for Riot Games isn’t commonplace in esports by any degree of the imagination. It’s a testament to the attractive, successful property that the developer has built over the course of a decade and the hard work of employees such as Naz Aletaha, who serves as the head of global esports partnerships. It’s not possible for every game to secure a breadth of mainstream and endemic brands like this.

Now, the list doesn’t state whether it’s the League of Legends esports ecosystem as a whole or simply its global efforts that found its way to 12th place, which could change things significantly. If it indeed includes the entire game’s competitive efforts, then you also have to consider LEC’s KitKat, Kia, and Shell, and LCS’ Buffalo Wild Wings, Samsung, and Verizon, for example. This possibility alone speaks volumes about the depth of commercial opportunities that the MOBA yields.

The League of Legends competitive scene has undergone impressive growth with the formation of its regional approach — its Belgian League alone is sponsored by Audi and Burger King — and it creates an almighty commercial offering for prospective partners on a global, regional, and national level. This infrastructure can’t be found to this degree in other major titles, whether it’s Dota 2 or Fortnite.

It’s worth considering that Chinese live streaming company Bilibili reportedly paid around $115M to acquire the Chinese broadcast rights to just the League of Legends World Championship for three-years. Media rights may be the main revenue stream for sports properties but that’s not the case in esports, though Riot Games’ flagship game is showing that it’s possible.

League of Legends on a casual basis is huge across Asia and Europe and popular in North America, so it has an amazing viewer base, a whole host of competitive offerings, and the hype of non-savvy spectators of esports as a whole. With all of this in mind, it’s entirely possible that Riot Games’ MOBA could be a more enticing marketing option for companies looking to advertise to a legion of young, technology-adept potential customers.

All-in-all, it’s fair for League of Legends to be highly-regarded through a commercial lens and I feel it indeed deserves to be high in the list.

Call of Duty League leapfrogs Overwatch League

Sneaking onto the list in 41st place, ahead of the New England Patriots, Paris Saint-Germain, and tennis’ French Open, is the Call of Duty League.

A repackaged and reformatted version of the Call of Duty World League that had been chugging along at modest viewership numbers for years, the Call of Duty League is the second geolocated franchised league to come from Activision Blizzard following the Overwatch League.

Despite having to readjust its plans of having franchises hosting events in their home cities due to unfortunate circumstance, the competition had no problem in attracting commercial partners — nor more viewers.

Long written off as a “dead” esport that will only ever entertain hardcore Call of Duty fans, Call of Duty League and its 12 shiny new franchises drummed up a lot of interest and secured a lot of deals. The likes of Sony, PepsiCo, YouTube, the U.S. Army, and T-Mobile all chose to get in on the action despite a pivot to online play.

London Royal Ravens hosting their home series event
Call of Duty League
London Royal Ravens hosted their home series event in February.

Despite a lack of transparency in the financial terms of most deals in the esports industry, we know such partnerships aren’t being sold for pennies. The narrative of a new league, which is capitalizing on the titanic player base of the Call of Duty franchise, growing in viewership and looking to drum up location-based fandoms like in traditional sports, is compelling for marketing managers at technology and consumer-good companies.

Let’s be real. The viewership for Call of Duty esports is dwarfed by a plethora of other games so it simply doesn’t pack as much of a punch when it comes to putting eyeballs on a brand’s logo. What it does have in its back pocket, though, is that a high percentile of the existing viewers are avid players of the franchise and have likely supported competitive Call of Duty for years. Consider the legion of fans that a Scump or FormaL has, never mind an OpTic Gaming (which was spiritually succeeded by NRG’s Chicago Huntsmen and is the fastest-growing franchise in the league) or FaZe Clan.

So while it may not be the biggest league in the industry, Call of Duty League has a lot of merits — viewership is growing, new players are climbing through the ranks and building followings, the city-based approach has freshened things up, it has a lot of capital behind it (which allows for experimentation) and, importantly, new and existing companies alike are flocking to advertise through it.

What may be surprising here is how Call of Duty League has managed to make the Top 50 following its inaugural season, while its predecessor and sister competition, the Overwatch League, is nowhere to be seen.

This could be down to dwindling passion and viewership in the league, a degrading interest in the game’s casual player base, or simply that brands such as State Farm, T-Mobile, and Coca-Cola are much less plentiful in terms of commercial interest when compared to the exciting, industry-rattling launch of the competition.

Turning a casual fan base into a viable esports market

Looking at the two titles in comparison, they’re both hermetically-sealed and entirely governed by their wealthy and well-connected developers. They each have rabid casual fan bases spanning multiple regions, and both are garnering more eyeballs than ever on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube.

When it comes to the CDL, the LCS, the LEC, and similar League of Legends endeavors, you know which team brands are going to be involved for the long-term. There’s no risk of smaller, less attractive organisations with less resources or popularity being promoted into the league. Other major titles you may think of, such as Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or Dota 2, are structured differently when it comes to esports.

CS:GO has tournament organizers battling each other with no means of commercially acquiring a package deal across them all. Valve isn’t particularly interested in getting involved with that, nor controlling the ecosystem itself, unlike what Activision Blizzard and Riot Games have done themselves.

This results in a more fragmented and less reliable means of advertisement and marketing for brands, and that’s why you see the same faces — Intel, Betway, and DHL, for example — and rarely any additions when it comes to Valve’s iconic FPS.

Whether it’s believed that esports is a sport or not, it’s clear that some titles are proving to be a hit when it comes to sales, and that’s a promising sign for the future of esports should others follow suit before long.