Worlds Unlocked explained

Mush 2023-09-26 02:02:32

Riot has recently announced "Worlds Unlocked".  The bundle comes in digital and physical form and promises to help you "experience Worlds like never before".  

John Needham's promise

  In April 19th 2023 John Needham, the president of Esports at Riot Games, posted an article at the LoL Esports website called Building the Future of Sport at Riot Games in the midst of the Esports Winter, a little over a month before the now infamous LCS Walkout. The post essentially functioned as an assurance from Riot towards the teams that they were working towards finding new ways to make esports a viable business for the organizations that were a part of the Riot ecosystem. It didn't actually offer any solutions or immediate pathways, but promised a lot of things for "2024 and beyond". As we now know, two LCS teams have already jumped ship and we're not even done with 2023 yet. We'll see how many make it to 2024, much less beyond. The earliest promise on the horizon was what was described in the article as a "Virtual Pass". Here's a screen capture of the excerpt in question:

Image via Riot Games

Let's compare this list of items with the ones present in the Worlds Unlocked bundle:

Image via Travis Gafford

The bundle of digital products and unique physical products is definitely here. The only sponsor that is mentioned anywhere is Mercedes-Benz with the "Kiss the Ring" emote. There is nothing pointing towards an improvement in the "online Worlds viewing experience" and there is no mention of any of the money going the way of the teams participating in the World Championship. For reference, the Digital-only part of the bundle is priced at $65 USD.  

Comparisons with similar concepts from other titles

  John Needham mentions Dota 2's The International Battle Pass directly. That system is much more complex than a simple bundle and would take too long to explain here. It's also been dropped by Valve this year, so that point would be mute. The crucial detail I'd like to highlight is, the Battle Pass was an interactive way for fans to increase the prize pool of The International to ridiculous levels. It reached a peak of over $40 million USD in 2021, nearly twenty times Worlds 2022's prize pool. Yes, the system has been removed, but Valve is already working on a dedicated update with content which "will still contribute directly to the prize pool". And, although this change was announced in June, the update is coming to this year's TI, not in 2024/2025.  

Image via Valve

Another example of a "Virtual Pass" is Blizzcon's Virtual Ticket. The example I'm using here is the one from 2019, the last year that Blizzcon was held in a "conventional" way. The Virtual Ticket cost $49,99 USD and brought you multiple cosmetics for all Blizzard games. These were exclusive to these tickets and most couldn't be acquired (and still can't) through other means. In addition to this, you'd also get access to a considerable amount of exclusive content in the conventions live streams. Needham's article implies that Riot was aiming for something between these two. We know that the company is a fan of the Battle Pass approach that was present in Dota 2, but Riot has a lot more in common with Blizzard as a company now than it does with Valve.  

Riot explains

  Esportsheaven contacted Riot Games requesting for comment. Thankfully, they got back to us quickly. We asked them if Worlds Unlocked is the realization of the "Virtual Pass" mentioned in Needham's article. A Riot Games spokesperson confirmed that this is indeed the case. When asked if any of the money made from these bundles would support the teams at Worlds directly or contribute towards the prize pool of the tournament, the spokesperson answered the following:
  • There is no revenue share to teams for the first edition of Worlds Unlocked. This initial release is meant to be a ‘proof of concept’ to gain learnings on products and offerings that resonate with our fans that we hope to apply to future versions.
As a final question, we inquired if there were additional features coming to Worlds Unlocked (we highlighted proview and livestream-focused additions specifically). The Riot Games spokesperson confirmed that "in this first edition of Worlds Unlocked, it's just the features that have been announced".  

Worlds Unlocked is a start, but it could've been more

  It is good to get some answers to these questions, but the "proof of concept" is a missed opportunity. Revenue sharing with teams is a complex system to implement, so it's understandable that they're not doing that in the matter of a few months. Why couldn't the bundle contribute to the prize pool directly, though? Even if a very small percentage of each purchase went towards the Worlds 2023 pool, it would grow way beyond any record we've seen in LoL so far. For example, let's compare Worlds 2022 with The International of the same year. 25% of all Battle Pass sales were added to the tournament's prize pool, bringing it to a total of $18 million USD. 25% is quite a big chunk, but the Battle Pass bundles available ranged from $9,99USD to $44,99USD, much lower values than that of Worlds Unlocked. Even with a range of 5% to 10% of the sales going to the prize pool, we would expect a number at least as large as $18 million USD being reached, but it could go much further than that. Here are TI2022's and Worlds 2022 prize pools side by side:  

WorldsImages via Liquipedia

  Dota 2's TI has a much more top-heavy split of the prize pool, giving 45% of the money to the winner, while Worlds gives 22%. Even with this disparity, top 16 teams at TI 2022 made a minimum of $283,931 USD. In Worlds 2022? They made $50,062 USD. It is good to finally see Riot working towards a path more sustainable for everyone involved, but Worlds Unlocked is a good step forward that could've been three or four steps instead.  
Featured Image courtesy of Riot Games. Check out our LoL directory for more content like this. If you liked this piece, check out the author at @Mushwrites.

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