For most international viewers, the V4 Future Sports Festival will be much like any other small LAN. A handful of tier 2 teams and a simple format, duking it out in an odd locale for a surprisingly large chunk of change. It’s mostly meaningless in the wider context of CS:GO esports and its ongoing narratives, but perhaps an interesting escapade for an afternoon when nothing else is on. For someone who’s living in this country, dialed in to both the domestic political proceedings and the world of Counter-Strike, it’s more of a case of wasted potential and torched taxpayer money – six million euros’ worth, in fact. Why spend all that money to hire Redeye and co. if you still spell esports with a hyphen on your website?
Politics and Counter-Strike are like oil and water: they don’t particularly mix well. This is why it’s so jarring to see a well-funded event organized with specific governmental goals in mind and an active political presence in the branding. In case you weren’t aware, V4 refers to the Visegrád Four (also known as the Visegrád Group), a loosely aligned political bloc of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary aimed at advocating for their common interests in European politics, and this tournament is a part of their joint endeavor to support esports in the region. Though government support behind this kind of an enterprise is nothing new by itself – most notably, RFRSH received the "Initiative Award of the Year" in Denmark for BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen 2017 and the country’s prime minister made a cameo appearance next year with a fancy speech –, such explicit political branding is extremely rare, especially with this kind of a prize pool attached to it all. This is not your regular (e)sporting event.
In fact, the first iteration of the V4 Future Sports Festival and the corresponding conference was earmarked for a 2 billion forint (circa 6 million euros) subsidy. How often do you see this kind of money funneled into such a project directly by a national government? No similar data point was made available for this year’s event – despite the fact that the Hungarian Tourism Agency acts as its main sponsor –, though the downscale in both the prize pool and the prestige of invited participants indicate a reduction in available funds. Meanwhile, Vodafone’s local subsidiary supported a domestic Hearthstone tournament with a total prize pool of 200 000 forint (circa 600 euros) – and a promotional video with 609 views at the time of writing. That’s what the market can truly handle over here, not the 6-million-euro pet projects.
There’s nothing wrong in itself with the notion that a government treats esports as an emerging field with strategic importance, but there isn’t much beyond the bluster. There’s a good argument to be made that Hungary has the most underdeveloped esports scene in the region, both in terms of events and infrastructure, not to mention actual accomplishments in the pro scene. Slovakia has GuardiaN, Romania and Ukraine both have TI finalists to their names – the list goes on. Meanwhile, we have DeadFox to look up to, teaching us by example how to play all the despicable spots – and Vizicsacsi, who finally made it to Worlds in League of Legends after falling short for so many years. The top-level earnings also paint a bleak picture, even if you only compare them to the neighboring countries.
The burgeoning domestic esports scene is also marred by a multitude of scandals in CS:GO – of course, the corresponding events were too low on the esports ladder to get attention elsewhere. However, it’s still a fact that Hungarians cheated in qualifiers for WESG and the ELEAGUE Boston major, plus DeadFox himself was previously on an international mix team which was disbanded under contentious circumstances because of matchfixing allegations. Best of all, one of the players of the Hungarian team (hussaR) at the V4 event also has a VAC ban to his name from the past.
As such, it perhaps doesn’t make a lot of sense for the outside observer that Budapest would host a well-funded esports event, even if it otherwise fits the city’s expanding touristic portfolio. The government is actively lobbying for a multitude of sporting competitions across the calendar, with a fairly decent success rate: recent years saw the capital host the Division I Group A of the 2018 Ice Hockey World Championship, the 2019 FINA World Junior Swimming Championships and it’s also slated for a set of EURO 2020 matches, with more to come in the next decade. Then again, this is the country which siphoned off 110 000 euros of EU funding for a “lookout tower” that was 40 centimeters tall and almost 2 million euros for a 4D cinema with 9 seats in a village with six registered residents, so it’s perhaps worth keeping a perspective on anything which involves large-scale construction projects and consultancy fees. (You can find an English writeup here about both stories with cross-links to original local reporting.)
Last year’s event was opened by the former Hungarian minister of sports, Tamás Deutsch, who stated that this event would put Hungarian esports on the map. The stats suggest this hasn’t been the case. (Also, one has to wonder why it’s specifically Hungarian esports this is meant to support considering this is a joint V4 endeavor, but we’ll let that slide.) Not many events compare with this in terms of prize pool – even most of the bigger ESL- and DreamHack-sponsored occasions only had $250 000 on the line last year while the V4 event offered $610 000 to fight for –, but the viewing figures don’t justify the expenses based on a simple comparison with just a handful of other events.
The event is technically organized by Esportmilla, a civil association aimed at improving the quality of Hungarian esports. Their name refers to the lofty goal of recruiting a million people in support of the cause – one which has ironic echoes with a local movement which tried to do the same for the freedom of the domestic press. In both cases, the overall followers are nowhere near the targeted seven-digit figure: Esportmilla has 20 600 followers on Facebook – despite the aforementioned 6 million euros allocated to the project. Just as a quick aside: the association wasn’t even credited as the organizer for a while on the event’s website last year, leapfrogged by a government-friendly company called New Land Media Kft.
It’s also worth mentioning that this is not just a CS:GO event: multiple tournaments are held across different gaming titles. 2018’s “festival” also featured League of Legends and Clash Royale alongside FIFA (this time, it’s Fortnite that boosts the numbers) and even companies like Nintendo and Sony had a booth alongside opportunities to try out then-new games like Far Cry 5. The star of the show this year? Hide the Pain Harold in the flesh. I wish I was kidding.
Despite all that, the V4 Future Sports Festival received little to no coverage in the gaming press either in 2018 or 2019. This could at least in part be due to the fact that their press office fails to respond to any queries – at least that’s what happened in our case when I tried to reach out through local intermediaries! Based on local reporting, the attendance rate was pretty abysmal last year despite making the event free for everyone. Clearly, this is not a money-making exercise: even world-class TOs struggle to monetize their events in an effective manner, and the free entry coupled with the invitation of popular teams to an event with zero prestige pretty much guarantees a sea of red ink for this one.
Let’s take a look at the website:
You hired Redeye and couldn’t even be bothered to spell esports correctly.
The lack of expertise also shines through elsewhere. Part of the V4 Future Sports Festival is a conference where ”renowned experts from the country and region will talk about e-sports and the relationship of sports and e-sports”. These experts include "the first Hearthstone winner of the Hungarian National Esport League" who works "as a Junior Consultant for the Global Sportconsulting team of KPMG". There's also "a sports and esports manager for the Hungarian Esports Association and also he is a part of the Educational Comitte there. Also he is the leader of the esports department at SAS Budapest, which is an alternetive school for talented children. Besides that he owns the Healthygamer brand, where he is trying to conquer malicious stereotypes about gamers and trying to encourage them to live a helathier life".
The quotes are, of course, verbatim. They will have a chance to air their opinions in the confines of a five-star hotel overlooking the Chain Bridge. I could go on and list another dozen examples of bluster in broken English by people with no recognizable achievements in the scene, but I think you get the point. With all this money spent on a project that's supposed to improve regional esports, why not invest some of it in getting some real keynote speakers? Even the members of the talent pool know more about the business and media side of the industry than these people combined.
Speaking of which, the CS:GO event talent also has a Hungarian shoehorned in for representation's sake. Balázs “Draulon” Lengyel will appear on the desk as an analyst. He is a former content creator for Unikrn and BIG’s current head of social media. Since he has no dedicated Liquipedia page, I used the site’s search function, which also failed to show any other broadcasting credit beyond 2018’s V4 event. However, his social media timeline shows that he was indeed part of the broadcasting crew of SuperNova CS:GO Malta in 2018… as an interviewer. Whether that had anything to do with his position at BIG – the first team to be invited to the event – remains a mystery, but there are little to no other credentials to explain why he was picked for the role.
I’m not even trying to rag on the guy: from what I’ve seen of his written work, he seems like a decent writer indeed: well-informed, capable of writing coherent sentences and also blessed with an understanding of the CS:GO scene. However, none of this qualifies him for an analyst role alongside people like Thorin and natu, and if you’re spending top money to bring in the best international talent, this is simply just a downgrade of the broadcast – and, again, makes the concept behind the V4 Future Sports Festival all the murkier.
How exactly is this meant to support Hungarian (or regional) esports? It doesn’t establish the country as a great host since it relies on its own meaningless brand instead of cooperating with an ESL or a DreamHack. If the goal is to feature the best of the best in Budapest, why are MiBR and NiP coming this year when FaZe Clan and mousesports were the world’s #1 and #3 last year? Of course, that was likely just fortunate happenstance since the selection was clearly based on the nationality of players: FaZe had GuardiaN, mouz had STYKO, HellRaisers had DeadFox. If the goal is to rep local esports figures, no matter how far behind the elite they are, why spend all this money on the appearance fees of international talent and teams? If you want to create a sustainable ecosystem for competitors, why go for one top-heavy event with just one spot for a Hungarian qualifier? This approach doesn’t fulfill any of the goals above, except for certain people’s pockets – at least that’s what was alleged in the local reporting around the inaugural edition of the event.
So how do others do it? Considering how Ukraine’s esports accomplishments trounce anything the V4 countries have to offer, I thought it could be interesting to take a look at the website of the Ukrainian Federation of Esports. Their projects include Dota and LoL tournaments across 67 institutions of higher education, an academy dedicated to streaming and commentary, a project aimed at “the systemic approach of Ukrainian business to esports”, the world’s first Dota 2 tournament in Turbo mode and a fully automated tournament platform called ESM.zone. You’ll note that a massive event with mediocre teams is conspicuous by its absence.
There’s so much more to discuss, so many little moments of incompetence I could use to highlight the amateurish nature of the whole ordeal. However, this is perhaps my favorite. Just watch this little video as they reveal the groups for the tournament, the camera crew failing to catch up with the speaker, who then goes on to announce that “Mouse Esports” are in Group A alongside Virtus.pro.
Enjoy the show today. We’ve sure paid the price for it already.
Photo credit: HLTV