The Less Glamorous Side Of Esports

The Apex Legends Global Series’ first LAN of the season is over. TSM were worthy winners, with the players acknowledging their coach, ‘Raven’, with his unconventional inspiration taken from 20-year-old MMOs, as the difference-maker who turned their fortunes around. However, it wasn’t easy, as TSM’s arch-rivals NRG matched them step for step, exceeding them at times, pushing them all the way to the end.

However, TSM’s journey was made slightly smoother by the fact that they played every one of their matches on the main stage, in front of the London crowd. There will undoubtedly be conspiracy theories swirling, questioning whether competitive Apex’s golden boys got preferential treatment when it came to being showcased on the main stream, but the only thing we know for sure is that their ALGS experience was more comfortable than it was for most.

In the Group Stages, which made up the first one and a half days of competition, matches were played simultaneously. For instance, to kick things off, Group A versus Group B was played on the main stage, in front of the crowd at the Copper Box Arena, and broadcast on the PlayApex Twitch channel. Group C versus Group D was played on what is known as the B-stage, with no live crowd, none of the lights or showbiz pizazz, and broadcast on the B-stream, hosted by energetic Apex casting Jack ‘NiceWigg’ Martin and Athanasios ‘MrGreekGod’ Alestas on the former’s Twitch channel.

However, the lack of the live London crowd that inspired so many players was only the beginning of the B-stage problems. “B-stage is absolute trash,” Pioneers player Casper ‘Gnaske’ Præstensgaard tells me. “I have my mouse levitating above my mouse pad because I'm so high up – the chair can’t go down and the desk is too low.”

He shared pictures of his mouse hand on Twitter (you can see one below), showing that the positioning was far from optimal, and yet unfixable thanks to the poor quality staging. At times, it seemed that he didn't even have a gaming chair to sit on. The main stage, to contrast, is filled with high-end Herman Miller chairs thanks to a healthy tournament sponsorship, which unsurprisingly can be adjusted to your height and the height of the desks. Even on the main stage, though, coaches’ chairs were far less comfortable, and they weren’t even allowed to switch for a vacant Herman Miller when their players were not present.

With an uncomfortable setup on the B-stage and no crowd to hype you up, the going was tough for some players, but XSET’s Brandon ‘oh Nocturnal’ Singer told us last week about his experience in the freezing cold Covid Isolation Booth, which amounted to a tent in a warehouse, which was “infinitely worse” than the B-stage and was so cold he “could see [his] breath in front of [his] face.”

Fans are impacted by this too. I sat next to reigning champion Rhys ‘Zer0’ Perry’s father on the first day, who had made the trip from Australia to watch his son play. However, Zer0 was on the B-stage for two of DarkZero’s three Group Stage games, so his dad had to sit in the main arena and watch on an iPad he brought with him. I heard the same story from many fans, friends, and family over the course of the weekend. If the ALGS is set on not allowing anyone into the B-stage, likely due to the increased costs associated with that, it could at least show the B-stream on one of the seven big screens inside the Copper Box.

It’s clear the ALGS runs on a tight budget. While we were watching beautiful panning shots of the extravagant main stage, other competitors were struggling to compete in the poor conditions elsewhere. Five minute walks to toilets didn’t help things either. But Gnaske has an idea for how to improve things at future events, if EA was to take on the additional costs.

“I think they should make LAN one more day,” he says, “And make it so that [the group stage matches] don’t overlap.” Apex Legends has one of the most exciting esports formats in the world with Match Point – even the players themselves are warming to the once-controversial system – and a little more funding for its tournaments will go a long way towards legitimising the esport, drawing in bigger crowds, and welcoming players to stick around.

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