EVE Online has always had a tradition of in-game tournaments, with thousands of people tuning in every year to watch its annual Alliance Tournament. The tournament turns EVE's normally asymmetric PvP on its head by putting everyone on a roughly level playing field to compete for huge in-game prizes. Players were excited this week to learn that CCP Games is launching its very first competitive tournament with a real cash prize. The $10,000 New Eden Open could be the start of something really big, but will EVE's famous political and spying metagame get in the way?
In this week's EVE Evolved, I investigate the details of EVE's $10,000 tournament, the source of the money pouring into e-sports, the potential of a big EVE e-sports scene, and how EVE's metagame could interfere with the New Eden Open.
Hell yes, another EVE tournament!
The Alliance Tournament is an annual event celebrated by EVE players and onlookers alike, so you'll forgive me if I get terribly excited over the prospect of more tournaments throughout the year. The New Eden Open is a 32-team double elimination tournament, which means teams losing one match can still claw back a victory, but a second loss will eliminate a team from the competition. Each team can have between eight and 24 players, and players aren't permitted to join multiple teams at the risk of disqualification for both teams. Anyone violating this rule to intentionally disrupt the tournament risks having all of his EVE accounts closed.
Before each match begins, both team captains will select two ship types to ban from their match. A team could develop a strategy that is vulnerable to ECM, for example, and then ban the Rook and Kitsune. Each team will then have 45 minutes to redesign its ship setups to deal with the ban. This should add some interesting variety to the setups used and prevent one-trick ponies from making it to the final. Teams will fight using real ships that they have to supply themselves, and teams are limited by a point-buy system.
The sandbox metagame
EVE's Alliance Tournament has a long history of metagame controversy and dodgy dealings. Alliance Tournament IX was famously upset by teams Hydra Reloaded and Outbreak working together to ensure they would face off against each other in the grand final. The teams practiced together in a secret location and spied on the competition, then fed intelligence to competing teams in order to manipulate the match brackets. This year CCP disqualified Hydra Reloaded and Outbreak after finding the teams practicing together on the test server again as one entity, which violated a new rule on alliances submitting B teams.
For the New Eden Open, CCP is cracking down even harder on the political and espionage metagame. Each player can only participate in one team regardless of how many accounts he or she owns, and anyone using spies to deliberately get teams banned for breaking this rule risks an account ban. Fears raised by players that a large alliance could buy up all the tournament slots were met with a promise that this kind of action would be punished. It'll be interesting to see whether this works out in reality or EVE's typical metagame rears its head. There's little to stop teams from making back-room deals or betting against themselves and throwing the match, but the fact that there's real cash on the line may be enough incentive to play it straight.
Where's all the money in e-sports?
The prize purse for most big e-sports tournaments was always in the $10,000 to $40,000 range, but that's chump change next to today's MOBA giants. League of Legends pumped $5,000,000 US into its official competitive league this year, and Dota 2's world championship tournament The International recently handed out its second $1,600,000 prize pool. The bar has been seriously raised in the past two years, but not every company has the raging financial success of Riot Games or Valve to fall back on.
The average big e-sports tournament is still in the $10,000 to $40,000 range, and for CCP, the New Eden Open is as much an experiment as anything else. Unlike the Alliance Tournament, the New Eden Open won't offer any unique in-game ships as prizes. The fourth-place victors walk away with 25 billion ISK, which can buy around $875 worth of PLEX, and third place wins a straight $1,000 to be split evenly between all players on the team. The grand final is sure to be tense as the two best teams fight over the $6,000 top prize, but even the losing team will go home with a respectable $3,000.
The price of entry
Some of the initial player excitement for the tournament was dampened by the revelation that teams would have to buy their spots with PLEX. The minimum entry fee is 20 PLEX, worth around $350 US, but entrants may have to pay more than twice that as the spots are auctioned to the highest bidder. PLEX can be bought in-game for around 500 million ISK each, but since someone had to pay cash for every PLEX on the market, each PLEX used to buy a spot represents cold, hard cash in CCP's pocket.
The average bid to secure a place in Alliance Tournament X was 38 PLEX, not counting slots that were sold in a lottery or bids under the new minimum requirement of 20. If the same demand holds true for this tournament, we could be looking at entry fees of between $350 and $665 US per team for a total revenue for CCP of $11,200 to $21,280. The bitter veteran in me doesn't know what to think of this, but that's realistically about the break-even point after factoring in the prize money and the cost of running the tournament. And if there is some profit left over, would that even matter if we get an awesome televised tournament out of it?
Where could this lead?
Developers from the tournament team haven't been shying away from the profit question on the EVE forum. CCP Navigator stated that "EVE tournaments are now monetized" and that it's a big deal that could lead to bigger and better tournaments in the future. CCP Sreegs wrote that an entry fee is needed to ensure teams take the tournament seriously, and CCP Soundwave clarified that the entry fees will be used to cover costs rather than to bring in money. Considering that the team is planning three weekends of professional studio coverage with paid commentators, HD livestreams, and no advertising, I fully believe it.
CCP would be very lucky to have a few grand left after running a tournament like this even if it's hugely successful, which is a drop in the ocean for a company that brings in millions per month in subscriptions. The goal here seems to be to make the tournament break even to prove that it doesn't cost CCP extra to run, which would open the floodgates on a whole series of tournaments with different rule sets and sizes. I could definitely see this getting huge, with a lot more than a standard team-based knockout on the table. We might see small-stakes frigate destruction derbies for newer players, thousand-man televised starbase wars, or even DUST 514 tournaments with ships duking it out in space to provide war logistics and air strike support. To be honest, I can't think of a better advertisement for EVE than that.
writes Community Manager CCP Navigator, "we want to expand e-sports to become a really big deal in EVE Online and allow players access to a host of tournaments of different sizes with a range of prizes."
I approach the New Eden Open with a cautious optimism, as it could be the start of something really big. We might see competitive seasons and smaller tournaments that involve players of all skill levels. We'll definitely see people betting on the outcome of matches, and EVE's political and spying metagame is sure to poke its head in to cause some lovely controversy. Most of all, though, I think I'm just looking forward to seeing expensive stuff exploding in HD.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.