Dissecting EPIC League with Mark Averbukh, Epic Esports Events Product Director

EPIC League was the last major online tournament of the year for Dota 2 and while for the Russian fans the event was a success, for most of those who followed the one-month long competition on the official English broadcast, the epicness was found more in the name and in the games played.

EPIC League has also kept the headlines through the months of November and December with various problematic choices made by the organizers.

  • Read also: A messy ending of the Epic League group stage brings tiebreakers and confusion over playoffs and play-in stage spots

We wanted to get past what surfaced on the social media related to the controversial Just Error invite and how allegedly the tournament organizers kept all the participating teams uninformed about their decision. We were interested to hear directly from the source how the prize pool distribution was decided, what is the concept behind paying a small amount of money to the tier two teams and if some of the tournament format concepts will be kept in place in the case that EPIC League is to return with a new season.

In order to get answers to a series of straightforward questions regarding all the drama that EPIC League sparked, we reached to Mark Averbukh, Epic Esports Events Product Director, who was open to discuss all the controversial topics with us.


Before I dive into the more controversial topics I’d like to ask when did you decide to do these leagues, have you also looked at them as a good practice ground for a possible DPC League next year.

No, our products are very different from how VALVE currently sees the DPC online regular season. The EPIC League is an independent, complete product, and the online DPC season is a prelude to the main show – Major or TI. The EPIC League does determine the strongest team, and the online part of the DPC shows only who can become the strongest in the event that will come after that.

From a tournament organizer perspective, what did you discover as being the biggest challenges in running an online event for such an extended time-frame?

The length comes from the total number of matches. Initially, the first division sports project was supposed to end on December 20, with two, not three matches per day in the first division. Our schedule lets the teams prepare for the upcoming matches better, and creates tense anticipation for the audience. The hardest part was to schedule 45 matches, so that the final games would matter. Thanks to the experts from the sports department and some luck, we really made it, and the last day of the group stage did have a major influence on the playoff.

While, of course, EPIC League should be looked at as a third party tournament, with no DPC implications, the qualifiers conundrum with Just Error was still something that made people raise a brow. I’ve seen Yellow Submarine’s manager, Dmitry “Korb3n” Belov post on where he stated that the teams playing in the qualifiers weren’t officially informed about who would be the team replacing NAVI in the decider series until the qualifiers playoffs started.

Could you walk us through this issue and tell us why did you guys wait so long before sharing with the teams who is the last invite?

Participants of the Omega League playoff stage received invitations to the first division of the EPIC League. After Evil Geniuses refused to get take part, we handed over the slot to NAVI and were ready to put the second team in qualification to the first division without an additional match. At the last moment the manager of the new roster (404) sent us a request for participation in the tournament. 80% of this roster were players from Omega League playoffs, and we leant towards giving this roster the place of NAVI in the qualifiers.

However, we had a rule: two teams from the same organization can’t participate at the same time. Three of 404 players had contracts with back then, so we had to wait. As soon as we received confirmation that the contracts would be voided by November 11, we informed the participants about who will play with the second team. This is one reason.

The second reason: we wanted to avoid unnecessary publicity while we were still waiting for the decision on the contracts, while the media materials for the announcement were being prepared. I don’t want to blame anyone, but in 1,5 hours after we gave the information to the teams, emphasizing its confidentiality, the information was already on social networks. This disrupted our plans for the public announcement. Maybe it’s a coincidence, and someone else is to blame for the leak.

I understand that many do not agree with the decision to replace NAVI with 404 and, of course, they have their right to do so. We do our best to make the tournament as amazing as possible, gaining more views and drawing more attention. Sometimes you have to make tough and unpopular decisions to make a better product.

Moving into the actual broadcast execution, it was an obvious difference between the Russian and English production value. And if we compare EPIC League with OMEGA League, the difference was quite big. Why was the English stream neglected?

After a couple of co-produced events (Beyond EPIC & Omega League), we analyzed our experience with the partners and made a new proposal for them concerning the EPIC League, but for some reasons we did not come to a compromise.

Then we considered several other options, including full-fledged English broadcast studios in Moscow, Kyiv and Riga. Unfortunately, the second wave of the pandemic had already begun and we could not guarantee 100% safety for talents in a local studio. We discussed with BTS renting their studio and attracting local American talent, so we could avoid flights and reduce risks. Unfortunately, some days of the EPIC League overlapped with BTS’s own events, when their studio had already been booked. So we had to improvise even further.

We’ve settled on a virtual studio and, I want to apologize to all English-speaking viewers for we had to take this step, depriving them of some show that was available for the Russian viewers. We will definitely fix that in the future.

Is Epic Esports Events looking into how the English broadcast can benefit from more attention and better production for a future League?

Good broadcasts and great broadcasts are different in viewers’ opinions, a little bit – in final performance numbers and a lot – in total cost. It is worth noting that despite its virtual studio, the EPIC League got more views than the Omega League. This is hard to ignore when we are defending the budgets for the upcoming events with the stakeholders. Being the one responsible for the quality of the product, I will do my best to be sure the broadcasts are great and our products cause a wow effect, as we have during the scenes and intros of EPICENTER.

Another hot topic is the prize pool distribution. We should obviously look at Division 2 in any league format as a platform meant to help the tier two teams sustain themselves. Yet, in the EPIC League, the 7th and 8th placed teams earned $1,250, that’s $250 per player, but what’s more troubling is the amount of games they played for that money, 20 games which translates into $2.50 per game.

So, my question is, if you are to organize another season of EPIC League in the near future, will you guys look into a different prize pool distribution?

I closely follow all the news related to our and other products, and of course, I know about the suggestions from Ben Steenhuisen. I believe there is sense in them, but they should be implemented in tournaments from Valve, and not in commercial TO. This can be done in two ways:

1) we change the distribution of prize money – take them from the best teams and give them to the weaker ones;

2) we increase the total prize pool so these teams get good money for their placements.

With all due respect to Ben, at the moment I do not know how any of these scenarios can be implemented in our next products due to the very fact that we are running a commercial event, not a charity.

If you look at the very definition of the word “prize”, it becomes clear that it is received for certain achievements. Perhaps in the short term paying in accordance with the number of the maps played will have some positive effect, but one way or another it will reduce their desire for improvement. If you pay for the process, not for the result, this affects the motivation to achieve the goal. And there can be only one goal in a tournament – to win.

Finally, I’d like to ask you about the tournament format and more precisely about the promotion and relegation system. Considering that, except for the invited teams, everyone else earned their spot in Division1 / Division 2 via qualifiers games, why did you feel the need to have a promotion and relegation system inside the season?

I’m sure the ability to move teams between divisions in the same season is a great idea. This is our answer to the speed of changes in the Dota 2 scene, where teams can appear and disappear in just a few days. When after a new patch a team can instantly get much, much worse results. The discipline has its own rules and we are forced to look for solutions. We could have made it without the second division, but I think this is important for supporting tier-2 teams, giving them more practice and challenge the best in matches with the first division.

Would you repeat this system in the future?

Of course, if we have such an opportunity. We even consider introducing the third division to give practice of competition to more teams.

At the end of our interview, I’d like to ask if you can share with us some of the Epic Esports Events plans for Dota 2 scene moving into the next year.

Unfortunately, it is now quite difficult to plan for 2021, because it is not known how the DPC and Major will go. I hope that by Valve’s scheduled tournaments, the borders and flights will be ok and we will begin returning to normal life. For now, we are taking a short pause for a thorough elaboration of our next tournament.

Thanks for taking the time to discuss with us all these topics and your willingness to answer some uncomfortable questions. I wish you a happy New Year and I hope that we will all be able to finally return to the LAN schedule next year and celebrate the games we love.

Thanks for the interesting questions, I hope you and your readers find the info useful. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!

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