Esports has seen a sharp rise in popularity during lockdown. GGRecon sits down with two first-class tournament organisers to discuss the implications.

20:00, 16 Aug 2020

When you think of tournaments in Rainbow Six: Siege (R6:S), your first instinct is Majors, Pro League, and The Invitational. What may go by your notice, by no fault of your own, are the grassroots tournaments. The leagues that take growing talent, both players and production staff, and give them a platform, resources, and airtime. These tournaments are the lifeblood of esports across different games, regardless of the genre. By giving growing talent a spotlight and something to play for, they offer a route into esports for all. 

In the European T3/T4 R6:S scene, two of these tournaments include the Esports Association (ESA) and European Esports Gaming (EEG). We caught up with the directors of these two fantastic organisations, Shawn Flanigan (ESA) and AbsoluteAJ (EEG). The first thing we wanted to know about our interviewees was what got them into esports. Shawn (ESA) responded:

“For me, esports in terms of owning a league was not the original plan. I started out just wanting to play for fun, with friends and maybe starting a team, but there wasn’t much space to do it beyond Pro and Challenger league.

“I saw an opening and got a team together, gathered some other teams and eventually figured that I could run a league for us all to play in, just for fun. At the time, I wanted to go into architecture, but then I saw that it could turn into a company. I clued-up on the business side of things, and over the past four years, ESA has grown into what it is now!”

AJ (EEG) has a different tale to tell: “I’ve not been into esports for long, about a year. I played R6:S with friends, one of whom ran tournaments themselves. I found it incredibly interesting and asked if I could do the same but in Europe. We went from strength to strength quickly, and what it started as is very different to what it is now. 

“I’m motivated by giving people a route into esports, for teams that don’t necessarily meet the age requirements for other competitions. It allows people with talent and aspirations to join and play, not stifling talent.”

A common theme between the two of them, a topic that also permeates just about every grassroots organisation, is the desire to give opportunities to those who otherwise would not be able to have competitive games. By creating the space for players and talent to ply their trade, both Shawn and AJ are the unsung heroes of the T3/T4 R6:S esports scene.

An Interview with the Directors of ESA and EEG
Image via ESA

The next thing that GGRecon wanted to know was what made their respective organisations stand out. Shawn started:

“So for the overall organisation, it goes back to our ‘mission statement’ – 

ESA was designed and is dedicated to improving and expanding the esports experience for everyone, this includes the players, fans, and the community of every esports game.

- Shawn Flanigan, referring to the mission statement of Esports Association.

“For the current esports scene, there isn’t necessarily the community aspect to the large organisations. It defaults heavily to the professionals and the fans with a distant relationship. We want to bridge that gap, have the professionals, the semi-professionals and the amateurs and the fans/viewers all very much able to interact and share esports as much more of a community sporting endeavour as opposed to the somewhat distant relationship that ‘traditional sports’ have with viewers.”

Following on from this, AJ had a different point of what made EEG unique:

“The main point for us is that we have a different format for our leagues. We pull teams from every division, allowing every team to shine if they are able to compete at the high levels. The season counts as well as playoffs.”

An Interview with the Directors of ESA and EEG
Image via EEG

Moving onwards, GGRecon wanted to know about how the organisations had adapted or been affected by COVID, and whether it was COVID or other factors like natural growth that explained the surge in viewership that both organisations have had. AJ replied: "Difficult question because there are so many nuances, and at the same time we have rebranded from RSL to EEG – there has been an influx of viewers as well as teams since we were acquired by EEG as their ready-made Siege wing."

Shawn offered some insight into ESA's growth: "I think there are two sides to that. For us, our company's growth has been quite steady and high each quarter, each season. We average around 80% growth per quarter, and we're on track to meet and beat that compared to last quarter. Our growth is very fast, and it's difficult to attribute that to COVID. I would imagine that pro league streams have been more popular since there is less outdoors activity and the like during lockdowns."

Intrigued by the business side of the organisation, we asked about how the businesses sustained their funding:

"Sponsorships which are shared across divisions are handled by EEG headquarters, but we're also in the process of negotiating sponsorships for our siege leagues. Prior to this, we didn't really look for sponsorships or anything, but since joining we've actually had inquiries from organisations regarding sponsorship, which is exciting!"

On ESA, Shawn replied: "On the business side, esports still have to make money somehow, which tends to come from sponsorships. With the economy slowing down, sponsors are less likely to sponsor or sponsor in lesser amounts than prior, so while viewerships are up, I would imagine that sponsorships are struggling and that the revenue streams for large companies are slowing down. The switch to fully online hasn't been difficult for us since we didn't run any LAN events anyway! 

"The growth of esports as a sporting product/form of entertainment I think may have been lopsided in terms of viewerships and business – with viewerships up but with revenue streams down."

Following on from this, we wanted to look forwards to the future. We wanted to know from our interviewees, what was next most exciting development to come in esports?

Shawn led with an exciting view of the future: "For the industry – the growth that we're seeing is very exciting, year on year, season on season. I'm excited for that growth to continue. Generally, we have a younger audience, so as the generation currently playing and watching esports get older, we will have newer generations, younger generations coming and watching and playing too. Everyone generally has a hobby or a sport that they do in high school, but a lot of people also come back to playing some form of video game. As the industry grows and with us living in a more and more technologically advanced world – production quality will climb, and the industry will expand. I would argue that Esports can, in future, become bigger than traditional sports."

Big predictions from the director of ESA. Along a similar line, AJ followed up with: "I'd love to be able to have competitions broadcasted more regularly on mainstream broadcasters – currently there is a base of support for EEG Call of Duty! It's a good goal, rather than an approaching reality."

An Interview with the Directors of ESA and EEG
Image via Iconscout

We were coming down to the end of the interviews, and we had engaged in a long chat about esports at this point. We had only one final question for the two directors now, and it was the most important one for the growth of the game that we had asked! We wanted to know what our directors thought grassroots organisations should prioritise moving forwards.

“So naturally, we currently cater to amateur and unofficial leagues. It would be nice to see major game companies and tournament providers lend more support and credibility to the grassroots – it is a competitive industry, but it must also be a collective effort by the grassroots as a whole to progress the growth of the industry in its entirety. We all have our own opinions on methodology, but we all are aiming for the same goal!”

Shawn followed this with similar sentiments: “This is probably the hardest question of all the ones you’ve asked. For us, we want to support every player from amateur to pro – making sure that there is a route into esports for all. Trying to find a milestone is difficult because at the moment our aims are to support people coming into the industry and we’re seeing people consistently coming into the system.

“The more you support this cycle of people coming into esports, the more that companies and businesses will grow. By treating it as a community, we are hoping that support of the industry will be a cyclical experience for growth, both of us as a company and of players and spectators. We are in a growth industry, and the focus for ESA is reasonably simple: Commercialise by monetising and enticing talent to get involved in our tournaments so that we can run competitions at more levels. We want to have a complete community from amateur to professional levels. So our aims aren’t necessarily milestones – but more generally working towards growth which can entice sponsorship and commercial enticement of higher-level talent.

“Becoming an industry leader at (for instance) the pro league level would be a milestone that would be interesting since then the community we could utilise would be capable of affecting esports as a wider network of industries and companies.”

The interview came to a close, but not before filling GGRecon with hope for the future of R6:S. While there is a lot of controversy regarding balancing changes, netcode, bugs and who the developers truly cater to, esports rises above it. These league directors, these tournament organisers are at the forefront of a continually developing R6:S competitive esports scene. The next time you catch one of them in-game or notice one of their streams up on twitch – give it a view, get involved. 

Siege is our game, and we get out of it what we put in.

Images via Ubisoft | ESA | EEG | Iconscout

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