eSports

Ubisoft’s Che Chou on Getting Back to the Core of Esports at the Six Invitational – The Esports Observer

On a cold weekend in February 2020, the best Rainbow Six Siege teams in the world gathered together in Montréal, Canada, for the latest edition of the Six Invitational. Fans of the game flew in from all corners of the world to cheer on their favorite teams, take pictures with cosplayers, and connect as a community.

During the event, Che Chou, Ubisoft senior director, esports, spoke with The Esports Observer about big plans the company had for the future of R6 esports. North American teams were in the process of relocating their players to Las Vegas for an in-person league, regional infrastructures were to be overhauled – it was set to be the biggest year in Rainbow Six Siege esports history.

It has now been more than a year since the R6 community was able to come together in person. The LAN league in North America was put on hold shortly before its launch as the world went inside to endure the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking with TEO again, Chou recalls the difficult phone call he had to make to team owners on that day. “We were all very disappointed that we couldn’t fulfill the vision for the LAN league last year.”

Like most esports, R6 soldiered on throughout the pandemic, returning to online competition and canceling any planned in-person events. Ubisoft remained committed to the game’s regional competitions, but something was missing.

“I think we had great production,” Chou said, “…but we had no international competitions. That’s the lifeblood of Rainbow Six, the regional rivalries. I think we just reached regional competition fatigue – the same teams playing each other again and again.”

He noted that international competition is at the core of esports, and that doing so in-person is a must. “Without the spectacle, without the energy, it’s not really esports to me.”

The R6 community seems to align with Chou’s view of things. Earlier this year, Ubisoft was finally able to debut its LAN league for North America. That in-person spectacle and energy brought a surge of viewership to the esport, according to Chou, with viewership growing 300% compared to 2020 and the full Stage 1 of the R6 esports season generating an average minute audience of 67K.

Now the international component has finally returned. All week long, teams from across the world have been battling each other in Paris, France, at the 2021 Six Invitational. The event was still forced out of its Canadian home and usual February date due to the pandemic, but the competition has been no less fierce in May. Chou noted that this iteration of the event has seen surprising upsets and an elevated level of competition from new regions. 

While the year without live events was a challenge, Che noted that it came with some important lessons as well. The complex nature of operating a competitive ecosystem brought home the symbiotic nature of the relationship between publishers and the teams competing in their leagues. “Ubisoft and the pro teams, we’re in a partnership. League decisions, league development, it’s not just purely me or purely Ubisoft. It’s combined with all the pro teams that are playing. One of the things that I really value now is the dialogue we have with teams. We have monthly calls with them…because what we’ve learned is that when you don’t do that, problems arise, and that they are stakeholders in this venture and so we need to make them feel included.”

Chou described the last year as learning this lesson in a “trial by fire.” Due to the constantly changing nature of the pandemic crisis, Ubisoft had to make many decisions on the fly, and would occasionally realize after the fact that a decision could have been made better had the company consulted more with pro teams. “Tough lessons, but I think going forward we have a really good relationship with the teams now.”

A core part of building that relationship has been R6 Share – a robust revenue-sharing program launched last year which provides 40 teams from around the world with a stake in the sale of themed in-game items.

“R6 Share is critically important to the ecosystem of Rainbow 6. Teams obviously appreciate it, but what we’re seeing is that audiences also love it. These skins do very well, I think because players just love to have them…they just do well as products.”

Despite the apparent success of these products in Rainbow Six Siege, these sorts of revenue-sharing programs remain something of a rarity in esports. Until this year, outside of its enormous prize pool Dota 2’s battle pass did not directly support esports teams. Apex Legends recently announced a crowdfunded prize pool program, but there were no accompanying team skins. Outside of franchise systems, most esports provide few direct methods for teams to generate revenue outside of tournament prize winnings. To Chou, however, such initiatives are the natural evolution of a game committed to esports competition.

“To me, it comes down to the commitment of the dev team that started Rainbow Six Siege. That commitment out the gate was ‘we want to make a hyper-competitive game that is esports-ready.’ Extrapolate that vision out, and it would make sense logically that you would arrive at the conclusion that you need to support the teams that are playing your game. If you want to commit to esports, then that’s just a necessary step that you realize at some point – that it is a symbiotic relationship.”

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