Since its announcement, the World Electronic Sports Games have been shrouded in controversy. Founded in October in a collaboration between Chinese media corporation Alibaba and Ukrainian eSports organizer Starladder, WESG set out with the goal of making an eSports tournament with “Olympic standards.”
The tournament, which will culminate in a world finals on January 12th in Changzhou after a series of offline events, features Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Starcraft 2, and Hearthstone. One of its biggest appeals is its massive prize pools; $1.5m for Dota and CS: GO and $300k for Hearthstone and Starcraft. With LAN qualifiers across the globe, major sponsor support, and huge prize pools, WESG seemed to be one of the largest scale events ever created in eSports.
However, WESG’s legitimacy as a tournament soon came under fire. Its first questionable move was to limit teams to only one country per lineup in both Dota and Counter-Strike. There could be more than one team per country, but only one country per team. This was seen as severely limiting the competition of the tournament, as top tier teams in both games often included players from more than one country.
In CS:GO, top 5 teams like OpTic and FaZe Clan were unable to attend due to this reason. In Dota 2, this was even more egregious. Because of how common it is for European and North American teams to be a mix of several countries, Some of the best teams in the world, such as OG, Virtus.Pro, and Digital Chaos were barred from entering the tournament.
As a result, the level of competition for both games has fallen far below Olympic status. Virtus.Pro will be the only consensus tier 1 team attending the event, as many have pulled out in favor of practicing for the upcoming major. In Dota 2, the level of play is even worse. The favorites for the event are mostly tier 2 European teams like Cloud9 and Alliance.
Even teams able to qualify for tournament pulled out. The pool of Chinese teams is noticeably weak despite the event being a Chinese tournament. Not a single team that qualified for the Boston Major is attending the event, despite 7 of them meeting the one country requirements. This is not the kind of world stage competition you would expect from a tournament with an Olympian goal.
The second wave of controversy came after the announcements of the groups for the CS and Dota events. Many accused the Chinese organizers of favoritism shown towards Chinese teams, putting top Chinese teams in easy groups with mostly no-namers and top European teams all in the same group.
This would not be the first time that advantages had been given to Chinese players at a Chinese event. Another Chinese eSports version of the Olympics, World Cyber Arena, gave direct advantages to Chinese players in a Crossfire tournament in 2015. The direct Chinese involvement in this event from Alibaba makes this even more suspicious.
For example, take a look at 2 groups for the CS:GO portion of the event. In Group A, Virtus.Pro, EnVyUs, Epsilon, and .Russia, all packed into one massive group with no Chinese teams. This has the top 3 placing European teams all in one group with no teams from the MEA or Asian regions.
Then take a look at group B. Group B features a Finnish team with no results except for small LANs (iGame), a Kazakh mix, a Colombian mix, the best Chilean team (rEAK), the second strongest Chinese (Cyberzen) and strongest Hong Kongese team (ENZO). Clearly, Group A is significantly more difficult. Virtus.Pro and EnVyUs are the only top tier teams at this, and putting them in the same group is insane. Epsilon is also strong, this is a team that has beaten the best Chinese teams on their home turf twice now, winning both PGL 2016, and WCA (World Cyber Arena) 2016.
.Russia is another one of the better teams at this event. They finished a surprising 2nd place at the European qualifier, defeating Virtus.Pro twice to make their way to the finals. They’ll be playing without 2 of their best players, WorldEdit and electronic, who pulled out to practice with their team for the upcoming ELEAGUE major, but DavCost and S0TF1K aren’t bad as replacements, and they should still be a strong team. The fact that one of these teams won’t make it out of groups, while the top Hong Kongese team, which would get destroyed in Group A, likely will, seems a little bit fishy.
Outrage soon spread. Respected members of the community, such as Olofmeister, NBK, and Anders condemned the lack of seeding in the group draw and the seemingly Chinese-favored groups that it yielded. An open letter was written by .Russia captain hooch to WESG, complaining about the groups and beseeching for more transparency from the organization.
So far, WESG has not responded, leaving many asking for better communication. If the group draw really was just luck, you would think that WESG would put out a quick response to hooch’s letter. So far, WESG has not elicited a favorable community response.
After the failure of the World Cyber Games and World Cyber Arena, one would hope that WESG would finally get the formula right. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Despite a large prize pool and involvement of a prestigious Chinese media corporation (or perhaps because of it) with rules that limited the competition of the game without actually improving the Olympic aura around the event, seemingly biased groups with no seeding, and little community interaction, WESG is set to be another failed experiment at a gaming Olympics.