New Eden Open – Future or Fail?

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss the New Eden Open tournament.

And so, the New Eden Open tournament is as I write this just a few matches away from its conclusion.  And this is pretty much my first post about it.

Did I just not care about it?  No, I’ve been following the news on it all the way through.  And I have watched most of it as well, I missed day three and some of day four due to a family member going into hospital (they were discharged over that weekend and are doing well) but I’ve seen most of it.

A lot of people have been wary of or highly critical about the NEO, and there have been some good reasons to be.  The run up to the tournament was not smooth.  To the point of being a bit of a train wreck.  This is the first ever EVE event where you could win a cash prize for competing.  It is CCP’s attempt to foster a stronger E-Sports community aspect to EVE, as such a thing could increase interest in EVE over the years to come.

I am, cautiously, in favour of this.  I don’t think that a cash prize tournament poses any significant threat to the sandbox game than 50 unique ships as a prize does.  Both bestow great potential wealth upon the winners but don’t inject huge sums of ISK into the economy (although offering ISK prizes I’d argue is a bit of an issue, inflation etc).  Having two annual CCP-run touraments does increase the chance of expensive stuff going boom and this I approve of.  I enjoy watching them too, so its all good.

The question then, is how does this tournament stack up compared to recent alliance tournaments?  For my money, Alliance Tournament X was certainly the best show in recent years, and probably the most enjoyable tournament of them all apart from those matches I FC’ed for Ushra’Khan way back in AT5.  We won two, lost one, and our fourth match that I was not flying in we got bitch slapped.  Unfortunately I was largely responsible for what we fielded.  My bad. 😉

As I said, the run-up to the NEO was pretty terrible.  32 team slots to be auctioned for plex.  CCP was going to start the bidding at 20 plex, but community pressure forced that down to 10 plex, a little embarrassing maybe, but ok.  Bidding time came round and bids started high around the level of ATX bidding (which was for 64 slots) of 40 or so plex.  40 plex was the cheapest slot I heard of selling in ATX, but I didn’t pay that close attention tbh.

At the start of bidding, CCP declined to declare how many teams had registered, so the first few bids started high on the assumption there was a lot of competition.  Half way through bidding a dev casually mentioned that information.  It turned out to be less teams than most had expected.  Bids dropped off sharply.  Slots started going for the minimum 10 plex bid.  Several slots failed to sell at all. That was something no-one had expected I think, I know if I had then I might have gotten a team together for the hell of it.  CCP had to revise the rules and give multiple (randomly selected) teams a first round pass to make the brackets work.

So, why did that happen?  An under-subscribed tournament in MY EVE?  I don’t think that has ever happened, certainly not in recent history.  There seem to be two major reasons.  This three week event has straddled American Thanksgiving.  There are more USA players in EVE than any other nationality and Thanksgiving is a huge deal over there, even if the rest of the world doesn’t care about it.  It is a reasonable assumption that a fair chunk of players opted out of the competition knowing they couldn’t commit to it over their families.  Should there be an NEO II, I expect that CCP will try very hard to avoid that particular clash next time around.

The other reason is I think simply that the NEO is NOT an Alliance tournament.  My wife, who does not play EVE at all, has watched several Alliance Tournaments with me, completely by her own choice.  She has said what many players have been saying; “I don’t recognise the teams”.  This was always going to be a pitfall for the NEO.

The point of the NEO, as I see it, is to place the focus on smaller groups of pilots and from that on to individual players.  The NEO is intended to create PVP celebrities and demonstrate pilot skill over political figures such as say The Mittani, or notable FC’s who command large numbers of pilots on a grand scale.  To achieve this, you need to get away from viewers focusing on the big alliance names and the format which allows any of hundreds or even thousands of different players to compete in any given match over a single tournament.

The price is that this first NEO was always going to have a line up of teams that no-one knew much or anything about.  Ergo, the viewers have less to immediately connect with and alliance leaderships had a bit less to be excited about.  Although members of your alliance could compete, they would not be representing your alliance in the same way.  That makes the whole thing less prestigious to a certain mind set.

CCP’s hope therfore is that we will see teams returning for subsequent NEO’s and so build up that team identity aspect, giving us more to root for next time out.  Time will tell.  I do think that CCP should have put much more effort into revealing who the teams were at the start of the tournament.  Over the final weekend we have seen graphics showing most fielded pilots, most flown ships and so on that did a good job at showing who the surviving teams are.  We needed more stuff ‘like’ that earlier on.

CCP really should have pushed teams to provide information about themselves that could have been used in the first couple of weekends.  It is really important for this type of event that players/viwers identify with the teams and participants.

Which vaguely brings me to the next point.  For me the opening weekend felt like a very restricted show.  We only saw three faces on screen for the whole time, and the matches were rattled through in rapid succession.  I think that the pace should have been slower, the commentators should have rotated a little and time could then have been taken to explain who the hell these teams are.

The final weekend has been filled with a wide variety of CCP people talking mainly about the Retribution expansion which launches this week.  Fair enough, this is usual EVE TV fare and for the most part an entertaining watch.  But there have also been some long, long delays between matches and not all of them down to technical issues.  I get the feeling that a few matches could have been pushed back in the schedule to pace things out a little more evenly.

Yeah…the techincal issues.  There have been a lot of those through out the NEO broadcast.  Greenscreens, delays due to match cameras, adverts not playing (not a great loss, heh) and busted microphones.  There was a demo of the new targetting UI which I thought was a great idea but badly undermined by CCP Karkur’s faulty mic distracting everyone involved.  Which was a real shame, as it looked like they had a good presentation lined up.

So there has been a lot of things gone wrong around the tournament to detract from it, and some teething troubles down to this being a start-up event (player recognition).  But I think the matches themselves have been a real success.

I really like the banning rule used foir the NEO.  Each team captain picks two ship types they don’t want to face and both teams have to make do without them.  That really shakes things up and forces teams into thinking flexibly with their setups rather than churning out the same old thing every time.  It adds to the meta game and tactics quite nicely, I expect to see it used in AT XI.

I have also enjoyed the double elimination format.  I have found it confusing as hell at times, as did the commentators (repeatedly), but it does a great job of challenging teams to show the depth of their skills and tactics.  It also eliminates the ‘dead matches’ of the alliance tournament’s group stage.  In ATX we repeatedly saw matches played between two teams that could not progress regardless of the outcomes, not so in the NEO; every match counts.

So the question that remains to be answered; should the alliance tournament move to the same format, or retain its group stage to differentiate the events?

For me, the NEO has been a success, but with many caveats.  I hope that it returns next year with polished presentation and a much better organised sign up process.

EDIT – Just as Soundwave was wrapping up the tournament and thanking their sponsors Own3d, the feed abruptly cut to black.  I laughed and cringed.  Whelp. 😉

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