Although esports events like IEM Sydney (which took place this past weekend) often take place in the same large-scale venues oft-demanded by both traditional sports and concerts, the amount of logistics involved goes well beyond either.
Speaking at a panel ahead of IEM, ESL Vice President for Pro Gaming Michal Blicharz starts things by admitting that “running esports events is extremely complicated.”
Compared to the complexities of both sporting and musical events, Michal says that esports events like IEM Sydney are so much more difficult to handle logistically.
“In a sports event, you turn on the lights in the stadium and open the turnstiles - and you can play. It’s more complicated than doing a concert because you build a stage and everything. [Then] you’ve got the audio and lights and everything but on top of that you have to add the network, the PC equipment and all the technology – and that’s very fragile.”
There are literally hundreds of things that could go wrong.
Drew Camilleri, Community and Events manager at Hive Gaming, wasn't on the panel with Michal but he tell us that that "from a technical standpoint, esports is the hardest because there is so much that is in lieu and so much that could go wrong or might go wrong."
He says that with traditional sporting events "your game is a ball."
"You don't have to worry about tech delays, patches and runtime."
"You look at Friday - we had two matches with overtime and the games didn't end until 11:30. You have no idea. You can plan around it for better and worse but even then you've got two overtimes for two matches?"
"We had staff who had to stay up until 5AM to make sure everything is running."
During the panel, Michal also emphasized the notion that a big part of ESL’s reputation in the esports events space comes from their ability to stick to the schedule.
“If someone is tuning into watch a match at 4AM, the match has to start at 4AM”
He says if it doesn’t, even the most dedicated esports fans will stop tuning in.
Michal says that ESL have had to develop and implement several processes to ensure that they - and Intel - are able to ensure that events like IEM start on time.
“A gaming PC, first of all, needs to run all the games properly. And then you have to take into account Windows updates, game updates, Steam updates, maybe mouse driver updates."
"All these things change the environment all the time and suddenly a machine that was stable a week ago – for no fault of hardware – is not stable the next week.”
The hype around the rise of esports has always played up the global dimension. Many of the teams competing in this year's IEM traveled several timezones to get to Australia. After all, you can’t have a tournament without players.
And there are specific challenges facing when it comes to flying esports players around the world.
There’s a physical dimension to esports that many tend to overlook. In addition to the physical strain of travel, there’s a great variability between which countries recognise the value or merit of esports and those that don’t.
A country like South Korea (regarded by many as the homeland of esports) or China might be more welcoming to esports athletes than others – some of which may have no clear policy around the notion of an esports VISA system akin to the one extended to traditional athletes.
Erik Anderson, Head of Esports for FaZe Clan, says that “organisations like ESA and lobbying and everything will help push things farther along to clear what is the equivalent of something like a P1 VISA – a short term VISA for players to fast-track them.”
"Our Counter-Strike team will probably play in something like ten different countries this year. We had an easier time getting our team to China than we did to Australia.”
Unfortunately, this logistical hurdle doesn’t always get resolved in time.
As a result, this year’s FaZe Clan roster was two team-members down due to VISA issues. Both Dauren ‘AdreN’ Kystaubayev and Nikola ‘NiKo’ Kovač were unable to attend IEM Sydney 2019 and the organization (which emerged victorious at last year's IEM Sydney) had to play with two temporary stand-ins for the first day of competition. As a result, the 2018 winners were knocked out early.
Still, despite the poor result, Erik is optimistic about these logistical issues improving in the future.
“I think that it’s going to get there over time. The regional level is going to figure out their stuff and that’s going to have to expand to global and I think in the next few years it’s going to be a lot easier.”