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A group of prominent esports teams have joined together to launch and own their own league, called Flashpoint, built on Valve’s venerable Counter-Strike: Global Offensive title, using a structure and approach that’s the antithesis of just about every trend in the burgeoning sector over the past couple of years.
“What’s unique about this open ecosystem is that it allows for creativity,” said Kent Wakeford, co-founder and vice chairman of Gen.G, one of the prominent teams involved in Flashpoint. “We’re doing something unique in the open esports space. And we believe it can have a spillover effect in all other esports, well beyond CS:GO.”
Instead of franchises tied to specific cities, like Activision’s just-launched Call of Duty League and three-year-old Overwatch League, competing teams will come from across the United States, Europe, and China, without that geographic tie, and the related expense, said Wakeford.
Where publishers of the games used in other leagues required franchises to pony up tens of millions of dollars to secure a spot, Flashpoint will be owned by the 10 founding teams, who will participate in resulting profits alongside their players. The founding teams include a number of prominent ones – besides Gen.G, they include Cloud9, Immortals, Dignitas, OverActive Media, MIBR, and cOntact Gaming – with such prominent backers as WWE, AEG, the Michael Milken family, Meg Whitman, Will Smith and The Weeknd.
The league will have two seasons a year of about six weeks in length, and two championship tournaments, with a total purse of $2 million. Initial matches will begin in March, with another season in the fall. In between, participating teams will be able to play in other tournaments, one-off events and the like.
Up-and-comer teams will have the chance to qualify for two open slots in the double-elimination tournaments by playing their way in. And founding organizations that don’t maintain highly rated teams risk being fined or even kicked out of the league, Wakeford said.
Perhaps most notable will be a change in tone, in part because of the nature of the game itself. Counter-Strike features one team playing as terrorists and an opposing team trying to stop them.
“The game has terrorists planting bombs, and a team trying to stop them,” said Wakeford. “We are fully embracing that. This is for a mature audience.”
As well, the tactics-dependent Counter-Strike has always attracted somewhat older players and fans than many other titles. That more mature audience gives Flashpoint the opportunity to differentiate from squeaky-clean, even slightly cartoonish game play and commentary typical with other leagues.
Instead of ESPN, which many leagues tried to copy and which has broadcast Overwatch matches, think of Flashpoint as more like the equivalent of Barstool Sports, Wakeford said. Broadcasts will be structured to feature top players, and allow them to smack talk opposing teams. The new league will try to fill a relatively neglected market niche as esports continues to grow.
To help drive that sensibility, the league hired a group of long-time on-air talent associated with CS:GO, including new creative director Duncan “Thorin” Shields, Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles, Augest “Semmler” Massonnat, Dan “DDK” Kapedia, Freya Spiers, Jason ‘Moses” O”Toole, Anders Blume, Sean Gares, and James Bardolph.
“We are taking the box that has been put on esports that said what ‘casters can say about players, and we’re breaking that box open,” Wakeford said.
The lineup of on-air talent, given its deep roots in the game, gives the new league “instant credibility” with fans, said Seven Volpone, CEO of gaming lifestyle company Subnation and himself a long-time veteran of esports.
“Those guys are really going to deliver value for the league and its sponsors,” Volpone said. “If we were going to start a hip hop league, you’d want to have Dr. Dre on the team, it’s crucial.”
Volpone also applauded the format’s play-in structure, which gives outsiders a chance to fight their way to a prize purse.
“It’s a great move,” Volpone said. “They really came up with a great format. It’s almost a Rocky effect. (An upstart team) will ave a chance to win money, be a champ. A lot of these leagues don’t have a walk-on opportunity.”
The new league still has to announce a couple of major pieces, however: who its major sponsors will be, and where it will be broadcast/webcast. Both of those pieces will drive the profitability of the league for its members. Wakeford said those announcements will be coming soon.