Getting teams to go to Intel Extreme Masters Oakland has been a struggle. Whether it’s NA teams like Counter Logic Gaming, Immortals, or Team SoloMid stating that they wouldn’t attend (and then reneging on that in the TSM’s case) or only mid-tier teams from other major regions making their way to the tournament, most fans are disappointed by the lineup at the premier offseason tournament.
In the past, IEM tournaments have been big deals. In a LoL world lacking in international tournaments, they were a rare opportunity to see teams from around the world face off against one another.
So what happened this year? What changed?
WHY IEM IS IMPORTANT
To know why that’s a problem, we’ve got to break down why IEM is important.
Historically, Intel Extreme Masters has been one of the most important tournaments in Western esports. It’s been around for nearly a decade, popping up in 2007 with $100k+ prize pools in an era where most organizers were offering far, far less. ESL worked to ensure the future of esports by bringing reasonable prize pools and high production values to esports as a whole.
IEM was an early adopter of League of Legends esports, starting with tournaments in 2011 while the game was in its infancy. Many of the early star teams of League of Legends got their starts at IEM, including Moscow Five, Team SoloMid, and Counter Logic Gaming.
Today, it’s a place for teams to test out new rosters, find rare international experience, or get in some competition before the season starts. It would be a shame to see ESL move away from League of Legends because of lack of interest in from fans.
Less money, more problems
The easiest – and most simplistic – answer is that money elsewhere is simply better.
The prize pool for the League of Legends tournament is $100,000 with the first place team bringing home just $50,000. In esports and particularly League of Legends, that’s not a lot of money. The prize pool World Championship this year, for example, was over $5 million. The LCS itself has a prize pool of $100k per split.
For a tournament looking to draw the best teams in the world, $100k certainly doesn’t seem like enough. As evidenced by tournaments in other games, the best way to draw in the highest talent is to pay the biggest bucks. Right now, IEM Oakland isn’t doing that.
When teams are considering going to an international tournament like IEM, you can be sure they’re talking to each other to find out who else is going. Typically, for a top-tier team, it’s only worth the trip if they’re going to compete against the highest level of competition.
And when teams like CLG or Immortals saying that they’re not going to go, what incentive do others have to go? Hell, the lone Korean roster attending is Longzhu Gaming, a team that missed the LCK playoffs two splits in a row.
As soon as those announcements came out, it’s not unreasonable to think that any teams with invitations sitting in their inboxes would reconsider heading to the Bay Area. Especially for international teams, why travel so far just to play against teams you’re expected to crush? It’s a lose-lose. You win, it was expected. You lose, it’s an embarrassment.
Roster swaps mean broken schedules
The biggest problem IEM Oakland has is its timing.
Coming just weeks after the World Championships wrap up and mere days after many contracts end for pro players, it’s tough for teams to even put together a full five-player team. TSM, for example, lost Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng after Worlds and had to replace him with the guy that he took the ADC job from in the first place: Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, now of Immortals. Immortals, for their share, seem to be in roster disarray, possibly leading to their decision not to attend.
Thanks to the current Riot system of set seasons, rather than a series of year-round tournaments, the months after World and before Spring Split are the time in which most teams are readjusting their rosters for 2017. And the Bay Area IEM lands right smack in the middle of that time every year.
Problem is, there’s not really any other time to host the tournament. Riot’s leagues take a week off to allow teams to go to IEM Katowice every year, but would they be willing to let teams go to IEM Oakland in the same way? There aren’t really any other times in the year where every region is in the offseason, so this is the only time the tournament can really happen.
Unfortunately there aren’t many. IEM Oakland in a tough spot, and the only way to really ensure its future is to make some tough decisions.
If they increase the prize pool for League of Legends, they run the risk of not being able to afford future tournaments. If they move it to a different time of year, they won’t be able to get teams that are playing in their respective regions for the season. If they wait until teams solidify their rosters, they still won’t be able to get anyone to travel out due to proximity to the regular season starting.
The only real way to save IEM is to convince teams and fans that it’s important. The more fans to watch, the more teams will be incentivized to attend and the more ESL will be willing to spend on it. We just have to show up.
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Taylor Cocke wants IEM to go on forever. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcocke.