The Counter-Strike ESL Pro League, formerly known as the ESL ESEA Pro League, will increase its available prize money from $1 million in 2015 to $1.5 million, spread across two seasons, in 2016. ESL has confirmed that 24 teams, representing every major organization across Europe and North America, will participate, including Fnatic, EnVyUs, Question Mark, Natus Vincere, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Cloud 9, Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming and OpTic Gaming.
"The ESL Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Pro League is leveling up this year. We'll be working on enabling larger offline crowds to follow the action as players battle in matches that could define the rest of their lives," said Ulrich Schulze, vice president of pro gaming at ESL. "But it's not just offline audiences we're aiming for. Television broadcasts, a higher standard of online production, a continued emphasis on competitive integrity -- these are just some of the things you will see this year."
The increase in prize money for ESL's premier Counter-Strike league comes after Turner's ELeague announced it was offering a total of $2.4 million in prize money split across two seasons of its own. When asked whether the boost in prize money was a response to Turner's purse, Schulze told ESPN that it was due to market factors.
"The increase in prize money is a testament to Counter-Strike and its explosive growth over the past few years. Seeing the teams' achievements not only in the ESL Pro League but also in major competition such as ESL One Cologne and IEM San Jose, I think the prize money increase is nothing short of well deserved," Schulze said. "Alongside that, with two seasons this year, scaling up the prize money per season for a league of this standard, thereby enabling players to make a living with less travel requirements and event attendance -- that was what was best for not just the players but the league as a whole."
Rumblings among team owners suggest that many European organizations, which represent the majority of the top 10 CS:GO teams in the world, have not yet committed to competing in Turner's ELeague, which will debut on TBS this summer. Turner has attempted to be as accommodating as possible to the current CS:GO ecosystem, featuring shorter seasons that allow teams to play in other events. Schulze says teams won't be locked into one league or the other.
"The schedules for both leagues are fairly similar, and as they will not be taking place at the same time, there is no need for organizations or players to choose," said Schulze. "In fact, Turner's new schedule fits very well with our first Pro League season in 2016. We're happy that teams will have the opportunity to play in both, should they wish to."
The fact that Turner's ELeague competition will be airing on TBS will be a milestone for broadcasting esports in North America, but ESL also hinted in its press release that it will launch some television broadcasts of its own this year.
"We've had TV broadcasts for our CS:GO events in the past, and have had various offers coming into the new year in regards to how we could expand this in the future, specifically with the Pro League in mind," Schulze said. "Broadcast deals we're currently considering would plan to feature summaries of the Pro League's weekly activities alongside selected live coverage of the matches -- all to be broadcast in multiple countries. We'll have more details as the year progresses."