Professional Esports Association Attempts To Differentiate Itself In Increasingly Crowded Landscape

Written By Will Green on September 15, 2016 - Last Updated on January 22, 2018

[toc]The formation of the Professional Esports Association earlier this month means another esports league is entering an increasingly crowded, competitive space, filled with both opportunity and plenty of opposition.

The competitive Counter-Strike: Global Offensive body has certain characteristics that set it apart from other leagues.

It is believed, for example, to be the first league to consist only of American organizations. It says it will distribute profits evenly between players and owners. It will also compensate casters.

As a result, the league will attempt to distinguish itself from a growing list of established CS:GO organizers.

Not all esports leagues are created equally

The PEA faces diverse competition across the professional CS:GO spectrum from a variety of leagues. How it works within and around these leagues, and what it can offer organizations that these leagues don’t, could be critical to its success.

Just as professional organizations exist under the same name and logo across many different esports (e.g. if the franchise “Cleveland Cavaliers” referred to separate NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL teams all under one parent organization), esports leagues themselves can take many different forms.

The divergent and at times random quality of each organization—in terms of their games, their goals, and their structure—means comparing organizers with one another on their face can be difficult.

Here are some examples illustrating not just the unique goals and nature of PEA’s competition, but also the apples-and-oranges construct of the various esports organizations that make up the PEA’s competition.


The PEA is a professional esports league that runs events involving only North American organizations across just one title, CS:GO, and is also a body concerned with equitable player representation and compensation.

For a traditional sports corollary, this would be like if the NBA and the NBA’s players association were the same thing.


ELEAGUE is a new CS:GO league that grew out of a joint venture between Turner and WME/IMG, televises games nationally on a weekly basis, an holds competitions out of a studio in Atlanta.

It is also hosting the finals of an Overwatch tournament.

This would be like if the NBA had no officially recognized players association; ran multiple seasons of the same basketball league in the same calendar year; involved teams from all over the world but still only hosted games in North America; hosted and operated the finals of a football tournament.

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ESL is a multinational company that runs many esports leagues, comprised of events all over the globe, across several titles including CS:GO, and works very closely with WeSA, a player’s association focused on both game integrity and players’ rights and representation.

One of ESL’s leagues, ESL Pro, will abide by whatever regulations WeSA promulgates. It is also a partner of the Esports Integrity Coalition, an integrity group.

This would be like if the NBA was a company with several leagues across different sports, not just basketball; involved teams and competitions based all over the world, not just North America; was affiliated with a players organization that advocates for players across all sports, not just basketball; had one of its leagues abide by what regulations the players organization develops.


Dreamhack is a massive annual Swedish digital festival with concerts, gaming expositions, and live pro gaming tournaments across several titles including CS:GO. Tournaments are held both at the festival, but also elsewhere around the world over the course of the year. It is also a partner of ESIC.

This would be like if the NBA was a sports manufacturers conference that had the best sports equipment in the world and so it started hosting tournaments, not full leagues, at the conference involving several sports; was affiliated with a players organization that advocates for players across all sports, not just basketball, whose regulations it has not formally agreed to adopt; used the success of the original, annual conference to host other tournaments around the world across many sports as part of other conferences. 

Major League Gaming

Major League Gaming is an organization that runs multiple esports tournaments in North America involving teams from all over the world, across many titles including CS:GO. It was recently purchased by game developer Activision Blizzard and has no officially recognized players organization.

This would be like if the inventor of basketball, James Naismith, purchased a league that held basketball tournaments, but also tournaments across many other sports; the league’s events only occurred in North America but involved teams from all over the world; the league had no recognized players organization. 

PEA challenges could include established brands

While it might seem frivolous, comparing the different organizations offering CS:GO is useful because the seven founding North American organizations that make up the PEA also compete in each of the above leagues.

If the PEA can stand out from those organizers by offering a better-compensated, more equitable experience for teams, there’s a chance American organizations could choose to take their business to the PEA more exclusively.

In order for the PEA to do this, it would have to capitalize on organizations’ discontent with other tournaments and leagues, and win organizations over from more established brands.

But even if an organization was unhappy with a tournament organizer, the costs of not competing in a certain widely respected tournament or league might outweigh the benefits.

Valve a potential roadblock

Perhaps a more pressing issue for the PEA is whether game maker Valve will allow it to exist as a league.

As ESBR’s Joss Wood notes, the CS:GO developer is in a position of absolute power and could change the terms of its software licenses at any point, rendering the PEA unable to even conduct a league.

Valve has signaled no intention to do this. But if the PEA’s aim is to distribute all profits amongst players and teams, Valve may decide it wants a cut of the action.

In that case, the PEA would be forced to either pay up, or move along.

No adopted standards or practices, yet

It is unclear if the PEA and its member organizations will adopt the regulations for best practices being developed by some of the leading integrity and player representation bodies, including WeSA and ESIC.

The PEA will have its own committees, including a rules and grievance committee. The theme of self-reliance and construct of self-governance inherent in its formation could make league less likely to join a self-appointed integrity body.

WeSA announced Wednesday that the ESL Pro League for CS:GO will be the first league to adopt the regulatory standards WeSA has yet to develop.

If other leagues, including the PEA, don’t also opt in to the same regulations, CS:GO runs the risk of having the same teams in the same esport abiding by different standards and practices simply based on the event organizer.

Each of these leagues are conducted simultaneously, often over the course of months or a full calendar year.

Confusion could emerge if two concurrent events, such as ESL One Cologne and ELEAGUE Season 1 from this past year, involve the same teams playing the same sport but abiding by different organizational, integrity, and player protection rules in each event. 

Another detail possibly discouraging the PEA from opting into regulations developed by WeSA? There is no overlap between the nine founding organizations of WeSA and the seven North American founding organizations of the PEA.

A potential impetus to host larger events

It’s also unclear where the PEA plans to host its competitions, and on what size and scope those competitions will take place.

An emphasis in recent years on larger, live-event based competitions could incentivize the league to “go big.”

The PEA’s formation came just days before ESL announced a partnership with venue operator Anschulz Entertainment Group.

The deal ostensibly allows ESL to expand its live events capacity to include the large portfolio of major arenas AEG operates.

VentureBeat reported the partnership will give ESL access to AEG’s infrastructure for marketing live events and selling tickets, and allow for the development of new tournaments in Asia.

ESL declined to comment to EBSR on the deal and AEG did not respond to requests for comment.

Upcoming ESL tournaments, like ESL One New York at the Barclays Center, and the Intel Extreme Masters 2016 at Oracle Arena, were already slated to take place at AEG venues.

The deal could also have an outsized effect on esports betting.

More esports spectacles taking place at arenas like London’s O2 and Los Angeles’ Staples Center could draw the eyes of more live spectators and television and online viewers.

Because betting volume on esports events rises proportionately with the size and scope of the event in question, these types of events could help fuel larger CS:GO handles at regulated esportsbooks like Pinnacle and SkyBet sooner rather than later.

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