Monday, 21 February 2011

NASL: The good, the bad, and the speculation

So the bomb has been dropped: NASL is upon us. But after the initial explosion, survivors are left squinting bleary-eyed into the dust. For a lot of people, myself included, the announcement of America's potential answer to GSL has raised more questions than it answered. So, while this blog is based on little solid information and a lot of speculation, i'll attempt to break down the good and bad of what we know so far...

GOOD: "$400,000 in prizes over the course of three seasons." - Enough prize money to attract the best players. I guess nobody's surprised about Idra's homeword journey by now.

GOOD: “Daily matches, commentated live from a full studio.” – GSL is currently the hottest thing in esports, based on this format. If it ain’t broke…

BAD: “With people like JP, hopefully DjWheat, perhaps Day9. These people haven't been contracted but that's the idea.” – while that sounds good on the surface, the lack of certainty is worrying. I’d hate to have to watch with the sound of because of TotalBiscuit or that lispy guy from RageQuit.

BAD: “Part of the reason why a guy like Husky or HD or TotalBiscuit is successful…” the rest of this sentence is irrelevant. Just mentioning those two names anywhere near an event like this is worrying.

GOOD: “But at the same time, I'm going to feed professional grade commentary in the sense that I understand the game at its deepest levels.” – PHEW. Thank God.

BAD: “Every player is going to turn in a profile including a picture, but also answer some questions. Basically we're going to have back story.” – Bleh… this seems a bit tacked-on. I like the idea of pre-match statements from ESL but they never really worked as intended and the best ones were usually the ones that took the piss. This will have to be really well done or else it’s a waste of time.

GOOD: “Every team is going to be maxed out at five players.” Great! Encouraging competition and openness; excellent.

GOOD: “Every player is supposed to be backed by a $250 refundable fee. Essentially what it is, is every time they're rude or they're late or any kind of unforeseeable problems occur they'll be penalized $25 or $50 and that comes out of the refundable fee.” – This sounds fantastic. Lack of professionalism is one of the biggest things that sets Western esports back and hitting players in the wallet is a great way to combat that.

GOOD: Five divisions of ten players, played over nine week seasons. – League style play is obviously the best way to define the best player, but groups leading into the finals are a close second. Two players will progress from each group, making a total of ten. Five more will qualify from a playoff, how this will work exactly is unknown at the time of writing. Five is an awkward number for brackets, though.

BAD: “…able to enter a 1,000 man open tournament and then the number one player from that is in the final sixteen.” – Holy what the fuck?! That seems like an awful mess. This definitely needs to be re-examined by NASL. Firstly, a thousand being reduced to one single slot seems… random. You obviously can’t do best-of-three double elimination with so many players, but the flaws of best-of-one series’ are well known. Secondly, after all the hullabaloo over the invite/vote system that determines who will be in the main league, it seems strange that a complete random could make it to the LAN finals without even playing in the weekly season.

BAD: Lack of clarity. – Maybe it’s just my reading comprehension failing at 2AM, but this seems very, very unclear. Reading back that last paragraph, it seems hard to believe that a spot in the finals could go to someone who didn’t even play in the regular season but that’s what seems to be implied.

GOOD: “We're already sold on three seasons. The money has been budgeted and secured.” Anyone who knows their esports history knows how important this is (Hi, Clikarena, Hi, CPL). Usually I don’t care too much about the financial side of things, but at least this is somewhat reassuring.

GOOD: “It's all insured and backed by Blizzard, that kind of stuff.” – Oh right, ‘that kind of stuff.’ That’s a bit less reassuring, but assuming the Blizzard part is true and ignoring the “whatever” attitude, this is definitely good news.

UNSURE: “But [the production is] definitely a grass roots effort in the sense that we're not hiring out.” – I want this to be cool, and be all indie hipster-cum-SC2. But after watching the Clash of The Titans stream tonight, I’m not 100% sure about this one. On the plus side, they can only improve on that.

GOOD: “A whole season we're looking at maybe $20 to $25. For about fourteen weeks of pure content from this league we think that's remarkably accessible.” – I’m inclined to agree with the latter statement. It seems pretty reasonable to me.

ALARM BELLS RINGING: “Excited business minded individuals that want to get involve.” – Could this be that dreaded ‘mainstream?’ Hopefully the vagueness of “all this stuff” means no.

BAD: “There would be people in their moms basements that would mumble otherwise perhaps, but that would be my take on it.” – Insulting potential fans aside, I’m not sure about this guy’s attitude. I get that he’s the community figurehead guy but he hasn’t impressed me in the way he presents himself on-stream. There’s a reason Day9 and DJWheat are so sought-after.

GOOD: “One of the core sentiments of the league is to be player driven and that would not be a true sentiment if we were in direct conflict with an already established organization like MLG.” - While I’m not MLG’s biggest fan, what InControl says here is obviously true. Having more competitions is a good thing.

BAD: “But I can with confidence say that from my perspective this is the biggest announcement in Western eSports.” – Hyperbole and bullshit detector is going crazy right now. This whole “esports in the West is just beginning” shit really pissed me off. Even if it turns out to be true, there’s such a thing as modesty. Imagine how dumb this will sound (it already does, but bare with me) if it all goes tits-up. I’m starting to hope the guys behind the scenes have a bit more about them than the guy out front doing all the talking. Oh right, yeah, this is American, where everything is LOUD AND EXCITING or no-one cares.

Overall, I make that ten goods to seven bads. Not a resounding victory, but definitely cause for optimism. I’m not so sure that InControl is the best frontman for this and the league/playoff/qualifier format needs looking at again, especially the open qualifier. But if this genuinely turns out to be America’s GSL then I guess I can forgive the hype. While esports has been alive and healthy in the West for ten years, despite what TLers seem to think, NASL coming to fruition could really be the best thing that has happened to it.

But please, fix the open qualification!

Source interview:


  1. I agree with all your points whole-heartedly. While I am all for a big NA tournament, I do not have faith in the people responsible at this point in time. It all seems to disorganised, haphazard and vague, kind of frustrating because this should be an amazing thing for eSports, but instead its being overshadowed with doubt that it'll be more than throwing money in the wind.

  2. At worst, the Open Qualifier slot seems like a first round bye for the top seed after divisional play. At best it leads to a quirky and fun underdog storyline.

    As for the application videos, I think they'll lead to some interesting and just fun stuff for the community, and not so much be taken all that seriously. At this point, I'm pretty sure 40 of 50 are, for all intents and purposes, already selected. They'll fill the rest in based on applications, voting and whatnot.

    As for iNcontroL... He's a smart and funny guy. He's well spoken and confident. Sometimes he seems so eager to talk, to say anything, that he says things I think even he regrets later. I hope going forward his PR is done with someone else involved as well, a foil to his more uppity comments.

    And this is an interesting blog post, good things to think about. I think they are, in many ways, looking at the explosion of Professional Poker as a model for how to grow this to a larger audience. The daily shows building up to a 'final table' of sorts. Building up the characters involved as well. I'd also not be surprised to find their reluctance to speak to the sponsor/backers has to do with investment by some current poker professionals, though I have nothing to back that up.

  3. I have to agree that the daily show thing is my favourite part of all this, especially since they're planning to re-broadcast at a good time for Europeans.