An Esports Event Done Right

I was a massive skeptic when I first heard about PVP Esports; I’ve seen too many esports events with struggling production values and green hosts, and like many others I have my favourites. I’m not interested in a multi-game esports festival. But after spending a weekend at the event in Singapore, this kind of thing could be instrumental in growing esports in the Asia Pacific region.

This year, Optus and parent company Singtel created PVP Esports – a $US300,000 tournament covering Dota 2, Arena of Valor and Hearthstone ($US200,000 went to Dota 2, $US100,000 to AOV, and Hearthstone’s prize pool was covered as part of the Blizzard run championship, HCT).

Over the last couple of years, esports has been a hot topic. The elusive golden goose with $25 million dollar competitions. A market still in its infancy slowly growing underground.

Everyone wants a piece of the pie, but after a few enthusiastic pushes it seems things have fizzled out, as companies take a step back and realise they aren’t actually sure how to invest in esports. But PVP could be the answer to all this.

I don’t say that lightly – I’m happy in my critical skepticism, and as much as I love being inclusive I still have that instinctive protectiveness over my community. I like that esports is still young and free, and I’m not interested in big business coming and caging it. They don’t understand me, and I don’t care that they don’t.

What makes PVP so different is how and why it was set up. The point wasn’t to make money – it was to build a community, take risks, and make something exciting for esports fans.

“When we first looked at it, a lot of game developers came, and a few partners thought we were just going to sign them a cheque and sponsor it,” says Arthur Lang, Singtel’s Chief Executive Officer, International.

It’s a familiar story. I’ve seen so many companies throw money and esports to try and see what sticks. It isn’t entirely a bad thing – growth requires investment. But all too often this ignores the nuances of the esports scene. And fans can tell.

“But we don’t want that because for us, fundamentally, we want to see what we can do to engage our customers,” says Lang.

“I think a lot of companies will say, ‘Eh, how do we make money on this?’ right?”

Yes, absolutely. Surely you can’t run an event, hire a hall, bring out three of the top Dota 2 teams and qualifiers from five countries in the region in the world at a loss.

“I’ll be frank … we have to also look at this because we run a business. But at the same time, we can’t be just driven by business,” says Lang.

“I think, actually, all companies today, I think they have to realise that they’re part of a much larger thing. It’s not just about money making and all that because I think people lose a lot of patience if companies just go out there and focus on money, money, money, right?

“Engagement. Excitement. Delight. These kinds of things, I think, we go with our customers first. And don’t worry, when the customers see you can produce a good product, good service – the business part will come.”

It’s a good soundbite. It sounds exactly how you wish capitalism worked – people using their business to build something better and serve customers first. But we’re in late stage capitalism now, and any illusions of Good Guy Money Bags has been thoroughly destroyed.

You can’t deny PVP Esports was popular. Tickets sold out. Almost four million people watched online.

But it wasn’t just popular – it was polished. I’d just come back from a trip to Vancouver for the Dota 2 2 International – the big kahuna of esports events – and while the scale was drastically different, the vibe was still the same.

Fans on the edge of their seat watching excellent Dota 2, to the sounds of top tier casters. This wasn’t a community tourney – it was the real deal.

We finally got to see a company get their hands dirty and learn what professional esports is all about, while still looking at it with fresh eyes.

“When we started this all the game organisers told us you only need to focus on one game. They said, ‘If you do [multiple games], it’s a disaster.’

“We decided, ‘Let’s see what our consumers want.’ And we looked at our demographic across the region. We looked at the top three games per country and that’s why we came up with Dota 2, AOV, Hearthstone with Blizzard, and we’ve got Fifa as well,” says Arthur.

My advice would certainly have been to keep it as a single game event, but I was pleasantly proven wrong.

Two stages were set up, with a wall and a decent amount of soundproofing separating the two. On one side Hearthstone ran pretty much all day, and on the other AOV games were played in the morning and Dota 2 in the afternoon and evening.

This gave a relaxed vibe. It didn’t feel divided or confused, it felt inclusive while still letting you focus in on your game of choice. As a result you only had to watch a few hours, rather than the 12-hour marathon that esports can so often be.

You can be sceptical all you want – and please do. I don’t want to let anyone rest on their laurels. But I finally felt as though I saw a new tournament that could stand with the big boys, and a company that understood my very particular needs.

For now, that’s enough for me.

The author travelled to Singapore as a guest of Optus.

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