Photo Credit: ESL

ESL Heroes Production – the Truth

Jun 8, 2016
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Photo Credit: ESL

Previously, I called out ESL and DreamHack for their less-than-stellar production of Heroes events in the past six months, particularly the extreme delays caused by unknown technical problems which left the audience in the dark (figuratively—this isn’t BlizzCon) to ponder why they were sacrificing their time to watch multiple countdown timers followed by a barrage of ads. Sustained down time reached all-time highs in between games, up to 40-50 minutes, and multiple technical issues during drafting could delay getting into the game by up to 10 more minutes. As a net result, we had several ten hour days covering only six series, a feat you’d be hard pressed to match even if tried to run a tournament badly. To put it simply: Heroes of the Storm tournaments were awful to spectate.

Of course, the more time we spent waiting to see games, the more time we had to complain about it. Reddit was filled with threads bashing event organizers and telling them to get their act together—the usual. Compounded by reports of Heroes’ demise in the latest round of Korean and Chinese interviews, a lot of pressure was put on ESL to perform during their next event at Burbank or risk the wrath of an already outraged community hell bent on punishing anyone who could potentially damage the scene next.

ESL Burbank Day 1—The Community Stream Fiasco

Cue the North American Championship, held at ESL studios in Burbank, California. It was make or break time for ESL, their chance to show the community that they were listening to concerns and working tirelessly to head off technical issues before they even began in order to fix the trademark delays that have come to define Heroes esports. Friday morning, viewers eagerly awaited the action, tuning into the Twitch channel to find that it was quizzically offline.

Thirty minutes before the tournament started, ESL abruptly released a statement via their website that Day 1 would not be casted on the main stage at Burbank but instead by community streamer Tetcher from a remote location. Okay. That announcement was extraordinarily short notice, and it did seem a little ridiculous that they weren’t streaming a third of the tournament in the studio dedicated to event production, but Tetcher is a solid caster with a decent stream—it’s not so bad. The community tuned into Tetcher’s stream—offline. Okay. Where are these games being casted??

Welcome to Gillyweed's closet cast!
Welcome to Gillyweed’s closet cast!

Finally, through word of mouth on Twitter (via a caster at the event, not ESL), we were able to find the stream on Gillyweed’s channel. As it turns out, Tetcher’s CPU failed the day before and he was unable to cast, so Gilly dropped everything at the Burbank rehearsal to set up a makeshift casting booth in what many community members more or less accurately dubbed “a closet” (small shoutout to Gillyweed for being a hero though). Coupled with continual delays using the drafting tool and technical issues in the player warm-up area, the first day of the event was very rocky and had a lot of fans infuriated.

Between the confusion of trying to find the stream, the poor setup, and constant technical issues, the community was (perhaps justifiably) up in arms, and witch hunt threads cropped up everywhere calling for ESL to be fired. Insubstantial claims that ESL didn’t care about Heroes or that they were all completely incompetent spread like wildfire throughout Reddit and Twitter.

ESL Burbank Day 2—Turning Over a New Leaf

After a grueling first day of production, the event organizer Chobra released a statement regarding the lack of communication and an assurance that the rest of the tournament would run much more smoothly. Several community members were still in disbelief, but Day 2 of the tournament proved them wrong.

NA Regional Trophy

Aside from an initial set of problems between the first two sets, production ran incredibly smoothly. The tournament started on time, and there was almost no wait time in between games and each set—less than 10 minutes on average compared to the historic 20+ minutes at live Heroes events. Teams were locked into games almost immediately after drafts, and the action stayed very consistent throughout the day. For many of us fans, this was a shocking improvement, though it was probably exaggerated somewhat by the poor state of affairs the day before.

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In usual Reddit fashion, community favor swung hugely the opposite direction, praising ESL for listening and putting together such an amazing production. Most of the mob-like rage was quickly dispelled in light of the day’s events, aside from a few skeptics, and ESL was looking promising.

ESL Burbank Day 3—Holy %*#@, That Was Amazing

Day 3 of the North American Championship went even better than the day before. Down time was stripped by almost 20%, and everything flowed smoothly from one game to the next without any noticeable problems. In fact, I had trouble finding the game times in the VoDs correctly because I’m calibrated to skip 20-30 minutes ahead in between games.

Post Game Interview

The awards ceremony went by rather quickly, and interviews were succinct and to the point. The audience was mic’d to help create the atmosphere, and kept at a non-cumbersome level for stream viewers. Everything was wrapped up nicely at the end, and, for a few moments, Heroes of the Storm looked like the esport we all imagined it could be.

To put it simply, Day 3 of the tournament proved to us that ESL had what it takes to be a top tier production company, at least in the eyes of the Heroes community. After several months of being let down by extensive delays, fans were treated to an event that blew the top off of many previous tournaments. Praise overflowing poured from the community, and ESL was, to some degree, redeemed for their past mistakes.

Conclusion

My take on it? Acceptable. Aside from the debacle on Day 1, ESL delivered what they should have delivered, nothing more, nothing less. Originally, I pointed out that last season’s NA regional at the Burbank studios actually went quite well and were a step in the right direction:

“…occasionally having an exclusive Heroes event—like the NA Championship at ESL Studios in Burbank last season, for example—will go a long way toward making sure the event is properly organized.”

I commonly attribute OGN’s pristine-as-always production to the fact that all events are held in the OGN studio, which is a controlled environment designed specifically for high-level production. The IEMs and DreamHacks of the world are great events, but they aren’t held in production studios—therefore, a lot of different things can go wrong. The ESL studio in Burbank should be no different. This tournament is not groundbreaking, it’s simply the status quo of having a tournament in a production studio as opposed to a convention center. We’re still far off from having dedicated studio productions for Heroes, but I would love to see more of these (more or less) flawless tournaments.

The OGN studio. Via OGN
The OGN studio. Via OGN

The real test for ESL Heroes will come at the next major non-studio event (Gamescom in Cologne, Germany in August). Will they be able to keep wait times at a minimum? Will they be able to replicate some of the fantastic features in the Burbank studio? Will we see a definite improvement in production quality? Will we see an improvement in communication between the organizers and the audience? We’ve complained and complained, and we’ve been assured that production is working hard to make sure we’re given a fantastic product in return. It’s time for ESL to step it up and prove to us that Heroes esports is worth investing our time and money into, especially at events where anything can go wrong.

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Christopher Meek
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Chris is an esports aficionado who has followed and written about several different games, including StarCraft II, League of Legends, and Heroes of the Storm. He has served notable time at Team Liquid, among others, in the pursuit of becoming a freelance writer and editor. He’s sometimes been known in the MOBA community as “that feeder” but continues to improve and remains optimistic for the future.
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