The pay-to-view model and eSports

Before the insanity of MLG Dallas began this past Friday, the North American StarLeague (NASL) announced the beginning of sales for season 1. As an incentive, a 20% promotional code (lowering the price from $25 to $20) was also put in place. While I remain undecided on whether I will eventually pay for access to NASL’s HD stream and VoDs, I found the results of a poll on TeamLiquid.net to be very telling of the entire nature of an eSports pay-to-view system.

These are probably not the results NASL was shooting for.

Currently, I pay several online producers for content including access to MLB.tv so I can watch games out-of-market and GSL. These, and the several other services to which I subscribe, provide valuable content to me worthy of my expenditures. The real question with NASL is can they do they same?

To justify a pay to view model, producers must provide regular, exclusive, quality content. NASL already has two of these three requirements set. Their player list, though much debated, gives them a unique offering of games while their schedule ensures there will be a plethora of content available. The last remaining piece of the puzzle is the quality of content.

Set to be produced in a studio in Los Angeles, CA, the eSports community has been unimpressed with NASL’s offerings thus far. The much hyped showmatch between EG.IdrA and Liquid`Jinro was nothing to write home about and, although only a placeholder, NASL’s current website does not invoke a lot of confidence from fans. The bottom line is there is a lack of trust in the content producer by the content consumer. Whether or not you believe this distrust is too severe, the fact it exists must be recognized, accepted, and dealt with appropriately by the NASL staff.

When 55% of a 2,000+ person sample say they won’t pay for your product, actions must be taken, especially when the amount on money that is on the line. Discount incentives are great, but in reality I would rather pay an extra $5 for a product of known quality rather than blindly looking to save a buck. This is basic value proposition: the consumer can accept to pay more for high quality goods and services, less for lower quality, and average for average quality.

My recommendation to the NASL is simple; take more steps to build that trust back with community. As for exact strategies, NASL could attempt something similar to what MLB.tv did last year and offer their service free for the first week of the season. This approach lets people get a good feel for the product being offered and when it becomes pay to view again, they are more likely to purchase.

Hopefully, NASL recognizes this and doesn’t just move forward with operations as if there is not a problem to be addressed. The reality of the situation is when content providers fail to deliver on expectations you wind up with a 500 page thread of angry customers, and more importantly, most likely losing money.


Edit: Props to MLG for just announcing they will give out free HD stream passes to those who purchased MLG Dallas HD passes. Ideally, MLG should have been prepared for the heavy traffic, but actions like this really go a long way in building that trust between producer (MLG) and consumer.