ELeague Season 1 is now in the books. The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament will go down in history as an important growth step for the game as esports on television starts gaining momentum.
That said, it had its own ups and downs as a league.
High production values
Good personalities and analysts
Solid content around players
First on a note of praise, it is undoubtedly true that ELeague's production was a level above that of other esports broadcasts. The team behind the award-winning show Inside the NBA brought ELeague to life. Working with the natural talent of the ELeague broadcast analysts themselves, Turner turned the final result into something genuinely funny and entertaining to watch.
There were subtler aspects of production that also shined. Reaction shots of players and fans added emotional context to the in-game action. The closely contested Week 1 Finals on TBS were seasoned with timely cuts to the rowdy crowd as Cloud9 appeared to be taking down the favored former Luminosity squad. The energy in the air was nearly palpable, and it was an amazing kickoff to the live television viewing experience.
In addition, highlighting the personal stories of some of the players themselves made the games more meaningful without sacrificing the pacing of the broadcast. They allowed a newer audience the opportunity to feel engaged with the players and teams.
Format lacks weight
Hard for viewers to become invested week-to-week
Drawn-out tournament, not a true league
Unfortunately, ELeague's choice of format undermined many of the production's efforts to add weight to the games. Essentially, ELeague wasn't a true "league"; instead, it was a drawn-out tournament with an unusually high number of teams and an unnecessarily inflated game count. As a result, it was difficult to become invested in any single game throughout the group stages, save perhaps the weekly Friday finals played on TBS.
The draw of a league is to have the best teams play each other throughout the season in exciting matches to balance out the less-appealing games between worse teams. The advantage of a tournament is that it cuts down on the number of games in favor of producing only the most competitive matches. ELeague's compromise between the league and tournament formats sacrificed the best aspects of the both of them to its detriment. Thankfully, the ELeague team seems to have realized this and is looking at making Season 2 a shorter affair, hopefully with a more exciting format.
The SK Gaming/Luminosity fiasco
Due to a perfect storm of unfortunate events, SK Gaming's newly acquired team and its former roster, now playing under Team X, were removed from ELeague and not allowed to compete in the playoffs. This was controversial partly because the new SK Gaming roster had formerly been under Luminosity Gaming and had built a reputation as the best team in the world. The disqualifications occurred because of an ELeague rule that the teams own their spots in the league and not the players, and both SK and LG broke the rules in the way that they changed their rosters.
Players and fans alike took to social media to decry the ruling, but ELeague is not in the wrong for standing by its own rules. In traditional sports, the organization is the one that owns the spot to compete in the league, not the players, and Turner modeled its esports league in this fashion. Having a set of players switch banners midseason would be bad form and would also set a bad precedent that team organizations could buy their way into better spots within the league.
The situation was still ugly, however, and not just because of social media. A petition from other team owners that asked ELeague to uphold the official rule came to light, which many people interpreted as evidence of shady dealings; ELeague said that the decision was based solely on its rules.
In the end, everyone lost. The players of SK's current squad and the previous squad lost their chance to play out the rest of the season, both SK and LG lost exposure by not playing on television, and ELeague lost the draw of the best team in the world, fresh off of a second consecutive Major title, competing in its tournament.