Doing TFT Esports Right
Recently there have been a few Twitlongers in the TFT community. This post will mainly focus on how the Competitive TFT scene could have been an exciting way to continue to engage players, ultimately leading to less burnout and higher retention of players.
Although a lousy tournament format is disappointing for top players, I will be touching on how esports affects the community in respect to Riot's bottom line/profits. To be clear this post reflects on Riot as a corporation not the individual Devs at Riot or producers over at GiantSlayer. My disappointment in Riot's management of the TFT scene should become clear once it is realized that fewer games, less prizing, and low viewership aren't inevitable, but actually a cycle that can be broken out of.
I will start off with my belief that if Riot invested more in their scene, then MOST complaints about tournament format, low EV, soloQ burnout, and/or bad balancing will naturally be solved. The least relevant one, bad balancing, mainly affects more competitive players, and is currently exasperated by the fact that players are expected to demonstrate superiority over half the field in only 6 games.
Currently there is an almost Catch-22 situation where Riot refuses to invest more into their tournaments unless viewership and profitability improves, which cannot be improved without investment. Thus, all complaints about high elo TFT are preceded by the question "Do fans actually want to watch Competitive TFT?" I only find it unfair for a game to be declared unpopular to fans before the game company itself decided to put their best effort forward into the scene. While not having a dedicated spectator mode itself is already crippling, I will be mainly touching on low-hanging marketing initiatives that could easily change the tide of Competitive TFT.
For simplicity's sake I will only be reviewing the NA TFT esports scene. Nothing I mention here really differs on the global scale (in fact global esports tournaments benefit from economics of scale); I just simply have access to very clear data for NA as shown (Reddit post from which this data was pulled):
By averaging the number of ranked players (players who've played at least 5 games) throughout Sets 4-6 in NA, we get about 1.4 million players. The failure to market to these players is by far the biggest tragedy. Assuming we only send out emails to players who have played at least 5 ranked games in the previous set (this could be extended to 5 ranked games in ANY set) we'd have at least 1.4 million emails sent out to possible viewers interested in watching TFT esports. This could be extended to emailing all players who've played at least 5 games sometime after TFT's inception, a minimum of 2 million players (with a slight discount due to smurfs).
Proving this need is quite simple as creating an email is a relatively cheap initiative with little cost. To counterargue how spammy emails are and to prove its effectiveness, I've included this talk by Chris Zukowski detailing how he fared by introducing a 9 day email campaign for new users in his indie game. From my own experience, I find gaming emails the least spammy, and most exciting thing I receive from a company (compared to B2B software that I have no intention of using showing up in my inbox).
With that said, here's my current assessment (other than email marketing which I already mentioned) of how well Riot has performed at utilizing each funnel to its fullest to advertise Competitive TFT.
Successfully Posted: Twitter Reddit
Missed Opportunities: Discord Website Article YouTube
Discord: The Innovation Cup was posted in neither the Competitive TFT Discord or the Teamfight Tactics Discord (which Riot relinquished partnership of a while back for reasons I don't know why). Although it isn't something Riot directly controls, any marketing arm would at least ask (especially since Riot's TFT tournaments are highly RELEVANT to both Discords and Riot can easily give concessions to these Discords in the form of more RP/in-game content to giveaway to their users). I ended up asking the lead events coordinator of the TFT server myself after the event. They stated they were open to the idea, it was simply a matter of more work setting up the channel and pinging the appropriate parties. (Note: There are reminders to sign up for the Innovation Cup, but they are posted in self promotion and tournament promotion channels more fitting for recreational/third-party tournaments)
Website Article: Although I don't want to directly comment on SEO as it actually requires a substantial effort, there are still tons of reasons why you'd want an article on your own website hyping up upcoming tournaments. They can be linked to in a marketing email, provide press with updated news on tournaments, and remind viewers of the tournament itself! As of this post the last TFT esports related article came out 3 months ago. A stark contrast is this video about 100T was directly linked on the League of Legends esports page 1 month ago.
YouTube: I don't really understand what's happening. Patch reviews on Mortdog's channel and tournament streams landing on GSTV's YouTube. TFT sets/in-game content announcements seem to show up on the League of Legend's channel. How there isn't a dedicated channel combining all three of these like for Valorant is beyond me.
Esports improves a community's retention. Making sure your marketing to your players is on point should be a huge priority. I know countless of viewers who no longer play League of Legends but will still tune in for Worlds to watch their favorite teams.
Lastly, I'll touch on why I put such an emphasis on retaining a community that hardly spends on in-game content(assuming TFT's profitability is a reason for Riot's lack of investment).
While retaining players, selling more in-game content, and gaining sponsorships are all major metrics for every esports scene, Riot's advantage is their ability to upsell players (The entirety of Set 6 looks like a promo for Arcane). Through Valorant, Arcane, and Riot's upcoming MMO and fighting game, keeping a large number of players invested in the Riot ecosystem is highly desirable. I'd be extremely interested in how many new players each Riot game come from an adjacent game in the Riot ecosystem (Just think of how much Valorant's success piggybacked off Riot's reputation with their League of Legend's scene). If anything it's a huge reputational disappointment for one of the pioneers of esports to provide such a poor experience for TFT players (No spectator mode, lacking marketing, failure to provide a fun tournament experience).
Hopefully at this point I've proven that at the very least investing more in TFT esports is worth a try! I won't try to dictate or backseat the entirety of how tournaments should be setup or what needs to be prioritized, but I hope this post shares some of my disappointments in the scene and what improvements I believe should be made.
Finally thank you all for getting this far! One of the most important data points for Riot is seeing how many fans and players are still attached to the scene. Expressing dissatisfaction is one way to show that we as a community care and want to see TFT esports succeed.