It’s not a surprise that with the explosive growth of eSports in the past five years we get asked on a daily basis if we’ll be running a [insert game] tournament.
In short, our answer is no.
Don’t get me wrong we love esports, tournaments, and packing our venue. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I think a largely appealing factor for gamers to play at Ignite is competition. Giving our fans an opportunity to put their skills to the test in a high energy environment is exhilarating, and not only for the participants, but us too. In fact, since we’ve opened doors at our new location (first event held on Feb. 2013) we’ve run roughly 45 unique tournaments in League of Legends, Starcraft II, Hearthstone, Dota 2, CS:GO, Call of Duty, Street Fighter IV, and a myriad of other fighting games. In just two years we’ve distributed over $40,000 in cash and prizes and had thousands of gamers compete from all over the Midwest.
Our tournaments helped spearhead opportunities to create rich partnerships with SteelSeries, DXRacer, NVIDIA, and Red Bull. They connected us with the most loyal and passionate gamers that continuously show us support. We believe tournaments are an instrumental tool in helping us raise brand awareness, engage with our fans, and build strong communities.
Great, so you love ’em. We love ’em. What can you possibly mean by no tournaments, Sam?!
I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a transparent perspective on how we view tournaments at Ignite – the process behind producing one, some of the struggles we’ve encountered, and our plans for the future. When we first moved into our new space we tripled in size, both in square footage and gaming stations. We have always been huge advocates of eSports and from the get-go we had envisioned a space large enough to accommodate tournaments and our regular foot traffic. Something we could no longer pull off at our previous location. Our goal was a minimum of 2 tournaments a month. We jumped straight in by committing to a once-a-month League of Legends tournament dubbed Summoner Saturdays. The response was more than any of us had fathomed with lines forming hours prior to doors opening. We were starry-eyed. We rushed to bring a diverse set of tournaments ranging from weekly fighting game ran bats to two day cash payout Dota 2 tournaments. By the time our first summer hit, we were running a different tournament every weekend.
Man, that sounds like a lot of money and fun!
It was a ton of fun. So much fun that we didn’t get a chance to step back and realize that we were overlooking some crucial factors. After each sold out tournament (really, each one was sold out), we would sit back and talk about how we can bring an even better experience to the players. What we failed to realize was how they impacted our brand identity, finances, and most importantly our walk-in guests. Although we had planned for more of them well into 2014, we began more closely dissecting results and discovered several things:
Not Enough Stations for Everyone
Naturally our goal for every tournament was to sell out. It intensified the competition for tournament participants, padded the prize pools, and brought that energy that we all look for at a live event. Consequently, it also meant that we needed as many stations as possible to move the schedule along in a timely manner. The Freljord Cup, a two-day League of Legends tournament we held back in Jan. 2014, had sixteen teams battle it out in a double elimination bracket. The tournament went from 10am to 8pm each day to determine a victor. Thats 10 hours each day. This meant that for over half of our operational hours those days, all of our PCs were occupied for the tournament. This effectively displaced any patrons that were interested in coming and playing games over the weekend. Now if it were an isolated occasion it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but when every weekend or other weekend they would have to worry about getting seats because of it , well, you could imagine the frustration. It reached a point where we would get calls each weekend to see if we were running any tournaments. This lead us to discover what this over saturation of tournaments was doing to our brand.
Ignite Gaming Tournaments or Ignite Gaming Lounge?
Digging through our various marketing channel archives we quickly discovered that a predominant focus for us was tournaments. For a period almost anything that came from us was tournament related; promoting and advertising upcoming tournaments, photos, videos, and media from them, countless Facebook posts and tweets, newsletters. We felt that from the outside looking in, we began resembling more of an event company then a gaming lounge. This permeated into our staff structure too. We had developed a three person team that was working full time on designing, promoting, and running tournaments. Our initial goal to use tournaments as event marketing transformed into somewhat of an eSports league company in the likes of ESL or MLG (albeit at a much smaller scale). The only difference was we didn’t create a foundation to monetize it.
Companies like ESL and MLG monetize their tournaments, both live and online, through major sponsors and ad revenue generated through viewership of their broadcasts. Essentially they are digital eSports content producers that offer advertisers an avenue to reach a coveted young male demographic. In fact, even large companies like these still haven’t quite figured out the surefire way to generate sustainable revenue. If you’ve been following MLG since 2002, you’ll realize that they’ve significantly scaled down on the amount of traveling live tournaments they host. They’ve gone as far as building their own arena in Columbus, OH to offset the costs of producing original content for their proprietary streaming platform MLG.tv. All in all, producing these events is no walk in the park and without a robust strategy to produce premium content that captures ad revenue, it makes tournaments at any scale difficult to sustain.
So does that mean you’ll never run a tournament again? Say it ain’t so!
It ain’t so. Again, we love eSports and thoroughly enjoy the thrill and excitement live tournaments bring to the gaming community. We still plan on hosting some in our space, but we’ll just have to be more picky about the time and size of the tournament. We are being more sensitive than ever to our walk-in guests experience by making sure we don’t inconvenience them. At the end of the day we are a gaming lounge, and its important that we make it as easy as possible for any gamer to walk in and play some games, anytime. Nevertheless, we have been hitting the drawing boards and thinking of new ways to bring those large scale tournaments more consistently to the Chicago community. Who knows, we might even go outside of our four walls to make it happen…
If you have any questions or comments about the direction we’ve taken our tournaments, send them my way, I’d love to talk about it.