June 5, 2007

Part of the problem with titles is they don’t get room for qualifiers. It’s a headline, and it should capture the gist of what’s written in the ensuing article. Usually it doesn’t matter, but I think it needs to be explained a little bit this time.

First of all, I do mean it as a question. It’s something to think about – I’m not predicting doom for CEVO in the next week, month, season, year, or maybe ever. The second thing I have to mention: as of now, I’m providing coverage for CAL, aka the only other online league worth mentioning. So I can see how this would be a little conflict of interest. Of course the guy writing for CAL would think CEVO is in trouble and needs to change, it’s good for business to say so! But, I don’t think I’m that jaded yet, and the same things I say here about CEVO could be said about CAL-Invite. In fact, it’s already happened in CAL, just on a smaller scale.

This is a mayfly. It lives for 24 hours. That's 24 hours longer than the NEL survived.

Remember when CAL was the only online league worth playing in? UGS was alright before it became the NEL (and the DEAD quickly after that), but it was never the main focus for professional gamers. CAL-I was still offering higher CPL seeds as part of winning the division. That’s a huge draw, like offering soccer fans free beer. CPL was THE LAN.  

Then two things happened: CEVO came along and offered cash money for playing online, and other LANs started popping up. The LAN effect wasn’t huge by itself, but cumulatively it helped to devalue the CPL’s product a little bit. It was still a huge LAN, but the difference between the second seed and the tenth seed wasn’t as big because you could prove your worth, and earn money, in other events. The WSVG ran international competitions, and before that the ESWC and the WCG did the same. Those extra LANs, along with CEVO offering money, made CAL’s seeding bonus look like ... not money, that's for sure.

We all know what happened after that: the grass was greener (monier?) on the other side of the hill and the big (professional) teams left CAL to focus on CEVO. If they could have played in both leagues, I’m sure they would have, but four matches a week was too much to handle. Even if they were on the same map, it just doesn’t leave much time for actual practice. (Yes, we talkin’ ‘bout practice, man. What we talkin’ ‘bout? We talkin’ ‘bout practice, man! Practice, not da game, man. Practice.) No matter how good you get, you always need to iron out kinks, new strats, small conflicts, etc. Doing that while playing against fRoD or Ksharp is, perhaps, not the best path to success. 3D, coL, Pandemic, and a couple other teams just dropped CAL. When they had to make a choice, they went to where the bigger rewards were.

Which leads us to this question: what happens when somebody offers bigger rewards than CEVO – like, say, the Championship Gaming Series? (I’ll take “Guaranteed Salaries” for $30,000, Alex.) We can’t forget the CGS is going to prohibit teams from participating in events that conflict with their schedule, too. At this point it’s unclear exactly what that means, but if the CGS does well it’s easy to see teams practicing for that and dropping CEVO. Professional teams will follow the money, just like when they dropped CAL.

If the top teams do end up leaving or focusing less on CEVO, what happens to a league that’s based on competition? Both have the same result: less interest in watching the matches. CAL could survive because their biggest constituency is the casual/semi-serious gamer (CAL-Open/Intermediate level). They limped along, wounded, but with their core intact. CEVO might have to make changes to the whole league.

If the sponsors are still willing to put up some money, there will always be talented teams willing to play for it. The hardest part, the reason why CEVO will need change, will be making sure people still care about the matches. Their 1.6 division took a hit when coL and 3D left, and there isn’t as much interest – from both fans and media. Everybody follows the big teams, even when they play a different version of the game. After those same big teams switched to Source for CGS, I think you’d have a hard time finding people who know more than five teams in CEVO-P 1.6 outside of 1.6 players. (Off the top of my head: Revoltados, Turmoil, x3o, uh … does Check-Six have a team? Are JMC or EG still playing? I had to check – the answer is "yes" to EG. The first four teams I mentioned are playing, along with EG, Backfire, EMG, eMg.dz, Extreme Team Six, Mug N Mouse, Talent, and West Coast Rockers.) Now that the top teams like coL, 3D, JMC, Pandemic, EG, are gone there’s a lot less interest across the different genres. Who wants to watch Backfire or Extreme Team Six? No offense, I’m sure they’re good teams and they earned those spots, but they’re not going to draw fans (or sponsors) like 3D, coL, etc. How is CEVO going to remain relevant when there’s better competition and better prizes elsewhere (CGS)?

Sports and education do go together: alma mater is latin for "nourishing mother."

The most likely thing, in my opinion, is that CEVO will expand into other games and competitive areas: things like having a CEVO LAN, getting involved with other LANs (like they did with the WSVG recently), or even (GASP!) starting a WoW division. The LAN scene is nice, but I think shifting focus away from Counter-Strike will net the biggest gains for the least amount of expense. The WSVG (which uses WoW) doesn’t have the exclusivity or rigorous schedule that the CGS does, and as my pappy used to say, “eight million accounts can’t be wrong.” There are other games coming up besides WoW, too. Add Unreal Tournament 3 (provided it’s a good competitive game), throw in a dash of Starcraft 2, and CEVO's future looks a lot brighter. And we know they’d jump all over Promod if/when it comes out. That brings us to, possibly: WoW, Starcraft 2, UT 3, CoD 2, CS (version unknown). It might not be appealing to CS players, but as a whole that league would have a huge fan base. Basically, instead of competing against the CGS with a possibly inferior product with less rewards, I think they’re going to change what their product is – much like what the WSVG and CPL World Tour did.

I could be, and often am, wrong. There’s one thing I do know: if the CGS does prevent the best teams from playing (or focusing) on CEVO, they won’t just sit around and watch their league die. Right now they have a few big things working for them. The CGS is starting small – only six franchises – so there’s still talent to go around if those franchised players can’t participate in online leagues. Even if people are a little less interested, the product would still be okay. Not great, but exciting enough to help ease the transition into other games. If the CGS ends up expanding to eight or ten teams, things start to look a little murkier. The other thing in CEVO’s favor is, though it seems strange, fans are often willing to overlook the quality of play in favor of entertainment. Game, Set, Match: The Chicago Cubs. Horrible team, packed seats. A large scale example is the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament. Nobody’s crazy enough to argue the NCAA has better athletes and teams than the NBA, but people love it even if the skill level is lower. They feel like the college players compete with more passion, pay attention to the fundamentals, and of course they like to root for their alma maters. Skill level is only part of what makes sports entertaining.

Will CEVO die? I doubt it, and I hope not. They’ve done well as a league, and a lot of people love playing on their client and for prizes even on a non-professional level. I enjoy following the league as a fan. But if they want to remain as prominent in the community as they are now, I think some changes are in order.