Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Case Against Top-Heavy Prize Funds

The Intel Extreme Masters World Championship is a 3-day $100,000 winner-takes-all Starcraft 2 tournament. It is to my knowledge the first major tournament outside Korea with such a top-heavy distribution of the prize fund
There are two big tournaments that I am currently following with great interest: the IEM World Championship in Katowice, the culmination of the Starcraft 2 Intel Extreme Masters Season VIII; and the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2014, the winner of which gets the right to challenge world chess champion Magnus Carlsen to a match for the title later this year.

The FIDE Candidates Tournament 2014 is a massive three-week double round robin tournament in which 8 of the world's leading chess grandmasters determine the challenger for Magnus Carlsen for the upcoming 2014 World Chess Championship. The Candidates Tournament is also one of the most lucrative tournaments on the chess circuit.
One thing I noticed is that the distribution of the prize money differs greatly between the two tournaments. At IEM Katowice, the winner gets $100,000 while all other 15 players including 2nd and 3rd place get nothing.
The Fide Candidates Tournament distributes the prize fund of 600,000 EUROs (~ $832,000) more evenly. The winner gets 135,000 Euros, and last place still receives 25,000 Euros. The tournament is a 3-week commitment though. The winner, of course, also gets the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world chess championship. The loser of that match is going to receive at least another $500,000. In other words, winning the FIDE Candidates Tournament is worth $675,000 easily. So in a sense the tournament is pretty top-heavy, too. However, even 25,000 Euros for last place is not bad at all for 3 weeks worth of work. And participation in this tournament most certainly increases a player's market value. I am not sure if that's true to the same extent for the SC2 tournament.

Despite his rocky start into the tournament, Armenian "Super Grandmaster" Levon Aronian is considered to be the likely winner of the FIDE 2014 Candidates
I just googled "SC2 dying" and got 422,000 hits. I have always thought that this "bullshit" about "SC2 dying" is largely just people bashing the game, trying to turn this into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
At the same time though I don't understand the reason behind this extremely top-heavy prize fund. It seems to me that a vibrant professional SC2 community is in the best interest of Blizzard and all sponsors (like Intel) that try to make money by selling products and services to the community. The more buzz there is in the professional community, the more exciting the big tournaments are to watch for fans like me, and the more exposure sponsors get for their products. But by making these tournaments so extremely top-heavy in their prize money distribution, the organizers make it very difficult for almost all SC2 professionals to continue staying in the game. 
I check about once a week, and whenever I do, there seems to be a new story about a pro gamer retiring, usually citing a combination of lack of interest and financial reasons.

Another - slightly less important reason - why I think the distribution of the prize money in Katowice is wrong is that there is such a big element of chance involved in winning a major SC2 tournament. Luck of the draw, a constantly changing map pool, patches, technical difficulties such as lag are just some of the factors  beyond the skill of the players that have a huge impact on the outcome of the tournament, and that turn the whole event into a lottery to some extent. If skill is just one of many factors (though arguably still the most important), it doesn't make sense to me to reward only one player for getting through all the "randomness" of the tournament. If the IEM tournament was to be held again in 4 weeks, the winner could very well be someone else. If the FIDE Candidates Tourney was to be played again, the winner would most likely be the same. 

And I'm not convinced that any player is going to try harder in a winner-takes-all format, no matter how much the casters hype this tournament.
As a former Terran, I would have liked Polt or Taeja to walk away with the $100,000 from IEM Katowice. Unfortunately, that is no longer going to happen.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Chess in Advertising - Part II

A few weeks ago Chessbase published another collection of tv ads featuring chess imagery:

Another typical example how chess imagery is used in advertising
Most of these commercials follow the general themes I've discussed in previous articles such as this one:

However, as I was watching the commercials, I realized that there's hardly any women in them. Just like in professional chess, where there's not that many female players in the world's top 200, and none in the top 10, in most chess-themed commercials women don't seem to play a role either. I never really thought about this before, but I'd expect to see more women in these commercials because in marketing it is a well-known fact that in many families, the women make the purchasing decisions.