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The League of Legends All-Star 2017 ended earlier this week without much fanfare. The special event took place a little over a month after the most successful League World Championship in China.
Yet despite the Chinese all-star team's victory over the South Korean team, leading to Uzi's first championship win, reactions were still lukewarm overall. Do esports fans even care about all star events?
Esports events need to look to the immensely successful NBA All-Star exhibition that has been hosted almost every year since its inauguration in 1951.
Part of what makes the NBA All-Star event successful is the spectacle of the event. Fans anticipate the exciting competitors in the Slam Dunk Contest, where high flying dunks are unveiled and some look forward to the 3-point Shootout.
Players also get their own slice of the limelight during the special side-events in an all-star weekend that are mostly reserved for the biggest stars of the season. Take the former Sacramento King forward, Peja Stojaković, for example. Stojaković played for the Kings for 8 years from 1998-2006 and he managed to win 2 NBA 3-Point Shootout championships in 2002 and 2003. He would not win his first and only NBA championship until 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks, but he was renowned as an amazing three point shooter which was validated with his all-star 3-point shootout wins.
The one thing that the NBA All-Star has that is absent from esports all-star tournaments is the honor of being named an all-star player. NBA players that are named All-Stars carry the title along with other prestigious title such as season MVP and NBA champion. Such honor is lost in esports, as all-star events in professional gaming amount to no more than exhibition matches.
The Spectacle is Lost
Team SoloMid's ace mid laner, Soren "Bjergsen" Bjerg, expressed his personal dissatisfaction with the All-Star event as a whole. Despite placing second in the 1v1 tournament, Bjergsen pointed towards the event losing its old "fun" nature in lieu of a "try-hard" serious event.
The 2017 League of Legends All-Star did away with most of the fun exhibition game modes such as the 10v10 Tandem Mode, Assassins Only, and Tanks Only modes. The reliance on a serious 5v5 bracket among the regions and a 1v1 tournament makes it no different from any other League of Legends tournament.
It's an entirely different experience to watch professional players enjoying fun game modes compared to when they try play seriously for an event without a prize pool. All-star esports organizers should consider the effort that players have to put in to take time from their busy training schedules or holiday breaks in order to play for an exhibition-type event.
Watching games with professionals somewhat demotivated is a poor experience for an esport fan, no matter who competes in the games.
Esports All-Stars in the Philippines
© Ren Vitug
The first attempt at an all-star event in the Philippines was a four-team bracket with little advanced warning and no prize pool. The resulting four-team event resulted in poor audience attendance on the first day. The organizers allegedly had to pay civilians to fill the seats after providing free meals and transportation.
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A Step in the Right Direction
The Dota 2 all-star event takes things in the right direction. Dota creator Valve held an all-star event during their biggest annual tournament, The International. Having an all-star exhibition match in an existing tournament reduces the effort from from both the organizers and the players.
The all-star match at The International 2017 also offered up a cash prize of USD 100,000 for the winning team. This is a huge advantage over the other games and organizers that hold all-star events without any prize to fight for besides a trophy.
The ensuing exhibition match at TI7 provided a relatively competitive game between the 10 fan-voted players, while also showing a fun side to the usual serious nature of the game. The players were actually motivated to do well in the game
What Will Make Fans Care About All-Stars?
All-star events will continue to be subpar until the organizers recognize the changes that need to be made on a fundamental level. Fans will not flock to your events simply because you’ve gathered big names in the game. They’re looking forward to exciting and compelling action that they would be willing to spend money to watch. It’s hard to reach that level of game entertainment and fan satisfaction from haphazardly clumping big players in a tournament without a proper goal motivating the players.
There's only one way to fix esports all-stars. Organizers need to make the players care about all-star. If the players care more about all-star events then they will be able to provide the fans with more amazing games. How can we begin to call these players all-stars when we expect them to play for our amusement for free?
Providing the players with an incentive to compete will make the all-star events more entertaining to watch, and when the all-stars are more interesting, fans will care more about them.