Official Statement: WoW Esports Prize Pool fiasco & more #BlizzCon2019 @Warcraft
As the GM of Method and a long-standing representative of our WoW Esports teams and players, I was asked to make a statement by several of our players regarding a few issues at BlizzCon 2019. These feelings and thoughts are my own, and while they are supported and were encouraged by our players, they may not be shared by all who are signed with the Method organization.
I was incredibly concerned and disappointed when WoW Esports announced that the AWC/MDI Prize Pool at BlizzCon was being fully funded by fans, and no contribution was being made by Blizzard themselves.
WoW Esports competitors have had to deal with earning significantly less than other competitors at BlizzCon for many years, and so it was embraced (enthusiastically) by the players and fans when Blizzard announced earlier this year that the $500,000 (combined AWC/MDI) prize pool would be supplemented by 25% of the total sales from two new toys in World of Warcraft. The split would be 12.5% per esport under the WoW Esports umbrella.
Players and their support teams (whether it was via organizations like Method or their families and friends) began actively campaigning in their streams, social channels, and other means to encourage the sale of these toys. It's impossible to know how many of the $2.6M in toy sales were generated by these players, who thought for the first time that they were going to perhaps have a combined prize pool close to the $1M level that has been standard in other Blizzard Esports. For the record, if Blizzard had maintained their original $500,000 prize pool and then added the $660,000 from toy sales, WoW Esports would have indeed seen a $1.1M+ prize pool.
It is my personal hypothesis that this is exactly what caused the backtracking: Blizzard couldn't allow AWC or MDI to have bigger individual prize pools than Hearthstone Grandmasters, OW World Cup, or SC2.
In a 12-month span that featured the agony of cost cutting and layoffs that rocked Q4 2018 and Q1 2019, followed by the ecstasy of a record breaking Q3 2019 thanks to WoW Classic, Activision perhaps saw a way to cut a cool half million from the BlizzCon budget that would pay out to players in Q4 2019 and preserve the big boy status of it's other esports: Axe their contribution to WoW Esports prize pool.
Regardless of whether my hypothesis is right or wrong, the result was the same: trust was violated between Blizzard and the players/community. It was a bait and switch that left the players and their management teams reeling in the private WoW Esports Discord. Some players immediately took to social media. Others chose to keep their heads down and focus on practice: this was announced just days before BlizzCon.
I want to be clear that I do not think any of the WoW Esports team at Blizzard had any say in this, at all, and they were faced with the nauseating task of sharing the prize pool breakdown news with the players and then acting like nothing was wrong to the best of their abilities. Furthermore they had to face the players in person that same day at the Blizzard HQ for Media Day, and they did it professionally and with as much grace as possible in the face of a lot of outrage and frustration.
I can only speculate that cost cutting from Activision also lead to several other disappointments and frustrations for WoW Esports competitors at BlizzCon this year.
1. Facilities for players were severely lacking.Only one day of practice facilities were provided to players before competition commenced on Thursday October 31. Players were flown in on Sunday, no food was provided (except one lunch) until Wednesday, and players had to scramble to book PC cafes out of pocket, sometimes traveling up to 30 minutes each way by Uber to ensure they weren't sharing a cafe with competing teams (these are not set up to be soundproof, for example). Many teams were forced to practice alongside other teams due to availability. Once the practice facility was open, chairs were uncomfortable, minimal snacks and drinks were provided, and meal options were non existent for those with special diets. Time-based breakfast coupons meant that some teams (and casters) missed that meal entirely if they couldn't show up in their scheduled window to eat.
2. Opening week was deleted, matches were not streamed.
Fans, who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to support these players, could not even watch the opening rounds for AWC or MDI, which were condensed into one day, offline, on Thursday (the day before BlizzCon). Teams had to play these rounds surrounded by other teams who were playing and practicing. Organizations rely on their signed players having visibility during competitions in order to secure sponsorships were left with half the event being behind closed doors. The opportunity for these players to grow their personal brands by having their matches streamed was cut in half - don't underestimate the importance here: WoW Esports does not pay enough, on its own, to be a full time job. Most who chose the path of being a pro player in WoW need sponsorship and/or streaming to support themselves.
Thanks for reading. I must add:
It goes without saying that Method had a blockbuster year. Two World First wins in raiding, one MDI Spring LAN championship and runner up, two BlizzCon World Championships and a runner-up, it's going to be hard to beat 2019, what an insane year. Thank you to all who supported us, including those in the WoW Esports department at Blizzard, those at GCDTV as well as MLG.
GGWP to the dozens of WoW Esports pro players across all teams who gave blood, sweat, and tears in 2019. It's my honor to advocate for you, and thank you especially to those who trusted me to make this statement on their behalves.
Shanna "Darrie" Roberts
General Manager, Method