GM of Machi Esports on the Path to Pro gap widening -- calls for Blizzard to better support the leagues that feed OWL.

Machi Esports is a Taiwanese team in Contenders Pacific with a full Korean roster.  They finished 4-1 in their group.  I was able to speak with both JUDO and their General Manager, Ethan Liu and get their thoughts on Contenders Season 2.  My last article focused on JUDO's thoughts on past and upcoming games.   This article will focus on Ethan's replies on the state of Contenders Pacific and what Blizzard can do to improve it.

How is your team structured being that it's a Taiwanese team with a Korean roster?

The way Machi Esports was structured is that JUDO and Schwi are original Korean players from our first season of OPC around early Summer/Spring. We rebuilt the roster around our two Korean players. Right now, they are here in Taiwan. The other four Korean players are playing from home in Korea.


JUDO noted that the team is young.

We have a lot of young players on our team. Schwi is 17-18. StapFaJN is 16. For their loss against MS KR, they played against old pros and weren't ready to play at that level and played a little bit more scared.

For Season 1 PAC, were all the teams playing in Taiwan? Do you prefer that Season 2 is like this as well?

There was a big change between Season 1 and Season 2. Season 1 used to be a LAN tournament played in the Blizzard Stadium and required all teams that wanted to compete to be here in Taiwan.

For Season 2, they changed those rules and it became an online tournament. From their point of view, it's to reduce the cost load for Contenders teams so they don't have to get a training facility and housing in Taiwan. But for Machi Esports, everyone was already in Taiwan playing on LAN.

Many have issues with Season 2 being played online due to ping issues, but it seems there are pros in regards to cost for team owners. How do you weigh the pros and cons?

This answer will be very different from the player-perspective and the GM-perspective. From my perspective as a GM, there's pros and cons to everything. Just in general with revenue share or the monetization system of the Contenders program itself, moving it online is a much more viable option just due to not the teams themselves not making much off of Contenders. There's no subsidies or anything like that being provided for teams to allow them to sustain in a foreign country.  So that's a good move.

One of the things they noticed from Season 1 Contenders was that a lot of competitive teams due to funding weren't able to come to Taiwan so they gave up their spot. The option to go online was actually a good thing to bring in more competitive teams, but as far as for the players are concerned, it definitely doesn't give them a level playing ground. 


" ...the skill gap between OWL and Contenders is widening.  It's not actually getting closer. "

Are there things Blizzard can do better to support Contenders Pacific?

Lots. The way they run these Contenders programs, we really hope they have a unified system. Before they launched Contenders, Pacific was set up to be its own primary major region. Because of Contenders, it felt like any team that committed to Overwatch was being downgraded from a pro scene to a standard scene. They pulled a lot of funding for it. A lot of teams that were investing into it backed out. Some of the bigger name teams in Taiwan like ahq e-Sports Club and Flash Wolves have pulled out.

We feel they've lost a really good opportunity because Contenders could have been a very good example of how to support a Southeast Asian esports scene. Pacific is so disconnected.  The thing is that each individual country is not big enough to support its own game. So what we wanted was a more unified Pacific region that could wrap in Japan, Australia and create a market size that teams are really looking for.  So the original idea behind Pacific Contenders was actually very, very good but it was executed a little poorly.

▲ A view from Blizzard Arena Taipei.

Our hopes is to have a clearer path in how these Contenders teams can work closer to OWL teams (which they have been talking to us about); that we have better ways to showcase our Contenders players abilities.  Based on what we're hearing from our Contenders teams, the skill gap between OWL and Contenders is widening. It's not actually getting closer. If OWL is so out of reach, a lot of these Contenders teams may never be able to actually reach the dream goal of making it to OWL.

For a number of Contenders Pacific teams, they're seen as an amateur hosted team.  Just a group of friends playing from home and whatnot.  If Blizzard really wants to see pro-level development with funding for coaches and training facilities, we need a see a little bit of money injected back into the scene instead of having the teams solely rely on themselves.

In regards to overall sponsorship value, Contenders viewership isn't really there because we're not the main league. Everyone wants to watch OWL, not Contenders. What ends up happening is that sponsors lean towards OWL teams, while Contenders teams don't even get to discuss those options with sponsors.


" If Blizzard wants to see their game shine and take a forefront... they need to remember that OWL is supported by the leagues that feed it. "

Was it random that Group A ended up having 5 teams with full Korean rosters?

I actually complained a little bit to Blizzard about it, asking how Group B had no Korean teams.
But it's due to the way Blizzard sets up; they are drawn in from open qualifier and the placements they placed from last season. Some teams got acquired placements.  I think MS KR was a buy-in team. They got their ranking from whatever placement the previous team got. In that situation, by happenstance, it lined up that 5/6 teams in Group A were Korean and no teams in Group B are Korean.

I put a word out to Blizzard asking if that's right. They said they used this formula that pushed the teams out.  They said they can look at the formula in the future, but that's what they came up with.


Why do you think there are so many Korean players coming into Contenders Pacific?

The reason there's a lot of Koreans is because they are fully invested in the game.  Korean players already have primary games they're invested in, such as LoL, SC or Overwatch.  There are no other games in Korea. That's why they have such a deep talent pool.

A lot of other games are taking precedent over other regions and a lot of these problems stem from the stability of those local regions.  So for countries like Taiwan, the players kind of fade out because the Path to Pro is so distant.  There's no consistent road to Pro. Even becoming the 1st place team in Pacific won't guarantee that 1 or 2 people will make it to OWL next season.  So for the players, they question if it's even worth it.

If Blizzard wants to see their game shine and take a forefront, they're doing a lot of good work with OWL scene, but they need to remember that OWL is supported by the leagues that feed it. Contenders also needs the support, structure, and unification for the same types of opportunities.  The Contenders program is evolving and they say it's gonna get better, but at this time, it hasn't evolved enough where most players can make a decent living off it. A lot of kids choose not to invest their time into it anymore.


Any final words for Western audiences watching PAC?

We hope people keep an eye on this region. Pacific tends to have good talent and we hope that our kids get an opportunity to get noticed. That's my biggest thing - all these guys are working really hard to get a chance to play in the big leagues. We want to give them an opportunity and a platform to make themselves shine.  Pacific is doing its best.

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