By Isaac Chandler
February 20, 2020
ESL announced the 24 teams participating in their new partnership program for the ESL Pro League starting this year. The list has caused quite a stir amongst fans. On the list are 22 of the top 30 teams in the world, according to HLTV’s rankings. The ESL Pro League list includes all of the top 10 teams, leaving rival league Flashpoint operated by B-Site and FACEIT with at most eight of the top 30 teams.
But why are teams turning away from the new, supposedly player-focused league when many have long complained about ESL’s handling of their league? While at the surface, it would appear as though there are more benefits to joining Flashpoint over the EPL. Looking closely, you’ll find tons of problems surrounding Flashpoint that would give any team hesitancy for joining.
First and foremost, the most glaring issue stems from the rule surrounding the world ranking of teams in the league.
According to Thorin, creative director of the league, teams ranked outside of the top 20 in an approved power ranking list must pay a $100,000 fine for each month they remain outside the rank threshold. That is a huge sum.
Most teams aren’t even profitable in the scene. Teams in the top 10 tend to stay there or within the top 15. So, that’s half the spots already mostly locked up unless somehow a smaller org can convince top players in form to join them.
With 12 teams in the league, that means two will always be fined. Of the teams announced so far, only three are currently in the top 20. MAD Lions is at 12, MIBR at 16 and Cloud9 at 20. That’s already half the teams announced getting fined for not being a high enough rank. This could scare off smaller or developing orgs.
Most of the top 30 already in the EPL. With how long it can take for teams to climb up there, most any team left that could join Flashpoint must swallow months of fines as their team grinds through smaller tournaments to qualify for larger ones to boost their rankings.
It’s not an easy task, nor one a team outside the top 30 can do easily or in enough time. With few excellent teams to play against and improve with to get into that top 20 as well, it’s going to make the league less attractive too. Teams looking to improve want to play against the best, not a handful of teams of who barely make the top 20.
There’s also the $2 million entry fee teams pay to earn a spot in the league. While there are two LAN qualifier spots to get in as well, those two spots don’t get to share in the revenue generation. Any team that wants to join a share in the revenue needs to pay that multi-million dollar sum.
There’s also the big elephant in the room with the league: Thorin. The league’s creative director has a history of talking without a filter. Since revealing his connection to the league, he has attacked and insulted teams and players who don’t sign with the league. Thorin even accused them of lying or being stupid for joining with the EPL. He’s undoubtedly a Flashpoint firebrand, but his word choice and language is sure to give pause to any team even considering joining.
Sponsors aren’t likely to be comfortable with a league with such a hot-headed and open mic’d creative director. That’s going to make their retention and revenue generation much more difficult, which is only going to make profit generation possible, beyond the lack of big names involved already.
This is a lot of Flashpoint criticism, but that isn’t to say it’s doomed to fail. This league will be an interesting experiment in trying to generate revenue in the CS scene. If it works, it will surely be a model any other TO looking to move into leagues will copy. It’s going to take time for profitability and stability in this league. It could take even longer for stronger orgs to see the risk of jumping in as worth it.
There’s also the bounty of amazing talent involved with the league. They’ll be key for the first few seasons as the league grows in generating interest and hype, even for matches between weaker teams that are likely to be involved for them. The EPL can have all the big-name teams, but casters make a match. Without a slew of strong talent lined up, it could make for some very boring matches to watch.
Flashpoint has the potential to be something great. It has talent, good revenue sharing for teams and long-term sustainability. But there is a slew of problems the league needs to handle before it can truly take off. Whether or not they can do so on time will inevitably determine whether this project succeeds or fails.
For the good of the scene, I hope the former happens. However, a lot of damage to the league’s image has been done already. It’s going to take time for them to earn that back for me.