Exclusive: VP of Pro Gaming at ESL speaks about Mountain Dew League
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With season 11 of Electronic Sports League (ESL) Pro League beginning March 16, Daily Esports conducted an exclusive interview with Michal Blicharz, Vice President of Pro Gaming at ESL. He commented on a variety of community criticisms and worries revolving the format changes imposed on season 33 of ESEA (E-Sports Entertainment Association) and their effects on Mountain Dew League (MDL).

ESL’s lack of communication

Immediately following the reformatting, ESL faced a backlash from the CSGO community. It was partly because the changes were significant and announced on short notice, and in part because ESL didn’t effectively communicate with the players affected the most.

Daily Esports: Many players felt spited by the lack of communication prior to the format change’s official announcement. Moving forward, how does ESL hope to improve communication with the community and gain back trust lost during the transition?

Michal Blicharz: We have learned a difficult lesson in both how we talk to teams on all levels and how we listen to them and their concerns. There’s no magical formula. We need to talk and listen. Trust is something that needs to be earned with actions, not words. So we hope to show that what we do with MDL in 2020 and 2021 is going to do that.

interview Michal Blicharz VP of Pro Gaming at ESL speaks about MDL

ESL’s  impact on Mountain Dew League

ESL’s reformatting joined all Pro League CSGO regions into one global region composed of 24 teams. With this, many professional teams were relegated to their prospective MDL regions. Many semi-professional MDL teams felt threatened by their incoming professional competition and expressed their concerns about the future of MDL.

DES: A major concern of the semi-professional CSGO community is the under-representation of non-organization teams in MDL. How does ESL intend to ensure semi-professional teams without backing have the opportunity to gain exposure?

Blicharz: The reduction of the ESL Pro League team size has resulted in a lot of interest, but no one seems to be looking at the big picture of what ESL and DreamHack are offering for CSGO. One of the core ideas of the entire newly designed ESL Pro Tour structure is giving clear opportunities for teams on all levels to rise up and challenge for the top titles. Each professional tournament we run has open online qualifiers offering a direct berth in a Challenger or a Masters tournament. Each tournament on the Challenger level has a direct tie-in to a tournament a level above. ESL National Championships send their winners to DreamHack Opens, and DreamHack Opens send their winners to Masters-level events. MDL sends its top teams to the ESL Pro League.

It is incredibly important that teams compete for positions with other strong teams. That’s the only way they can raise their level of play. Across everything we do, it’s an easy case to argue that we’re the group that provides the largest number of opportunities for teams on all levels. They are there to be taken advantage of. But at the end of the day, it’s the teams’ choice whether or not they want to try to compete.

DES: Several organizations such as Singularity have left the North American CSGO scene because of relegation. A concern is that other organizations will follow suit. How does ESL intend to attract organizations into sponsoring North American teams outside of EPL?

Blicharz: We’re going to be continuously re-working the Mountain Dew League to become more attractive than before, and a source of stability for as many teams as it can accommodate. But at the end of the day, there is no magical formula. We are all in this boat together and everyone needs to do their part. Our part was to create good products and within those product opportunities for teams, and we’ve created a very large number of them. It’s on the teams to take advantage of those opportunities and climb the ladder. That’s the only way they can ever become attractive to sponsors. Promoting teams beyond their standing is not something that’s going to be effective in the long run.

interview Michal Blicharz VP of Pro Gaming at ESL speaks about MDL

On NA vs. EU for EPL spots

Combining all professional regions into one overarching division meant that teams from every region would face off at the Global MDL LAN for spots in EPL. This caused concerns from North American players who felt as though the increased competition would cause an under-representation of NA teams in EPL.

DES: Another issue in semi-professional CSGO is that many players feel NA will be underrepresented in EPL because they are forced to now compete against EU teams at the Global LAN for spots. How does ESL comment on this community’s opinion?

Blicharz: If they are competing against teams from other continents at the Mountain Dew Global Challenge level and losing, that means that they are probably competing at their appropriate skill level, or maybe even above. If they are good enough to be playing in the ESL Pro League, then they will win their right to play in it. That is how competition works.

Upholding competitive integrity

DES: I read that “founder” teams under the new format are guaranteed a permanent spot in EPL for a period of time. FLASHPOINT has stated their season 1 teams are not guaranteed a league spot to “uphold competitive integrity.” What is ESL’s stance on upholding competitive integrity and making sure large organizations cannot retain spots that are not deserved based on performance?

Blicharz: In any tournament of 24 teams, there will be a disparity in skill between the #1 and the #24 team, and all the steps in-between, so it is absolutely normal that not all partner teams will be top 10 teams at all times (especially considering that there are 13 of them). In a league of 24 teams, it’s not a problem. At the end of the day, the agreement that was signed is a sporting and business arrangement. The teams that are part of it are here because they deliver value to the league through their sporting excellence and brand value. Both aspects are important when we talk about creating a great media product. However, should the sporting aspect significantly lag behind across a number of seasons, a partner team may lose its status via a vote by the other teams.

Minna Adel Rubio is an esports journalist with an interest in first-person-shooter games. She specializes in class-based, arena, and tactical shooters like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Valorant, Overwatch, and Team Fortress 2. Additionally, Minna is a senior CS:GO guides writer at Dignitas and a graduate student. Catch her on Twitter for memes and more content!