Philip Skogsberg – Challengermode – Building National Esports Leagues

Towards the end of May, Challengermode announced a network of esports leagues in Europe titled National Esports Leagues.

Aimed at the grassroots level of competition – initially in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and League of Legends – this is a big step forward from the online competitions the company has been offering since 2014.

To delve further into the thought behind National Esports Leagues, also referred to as NEL, we spoke to Philip Skogsberg, Co-Founder and CMO of Challengermode about the announcement.

Esports Insider: What made you shift focus from online tournaments to regional leagues?

Philip Skogsberg
Philip Skogsberg, Challengermode

Philip Skogsberg: This is not so much a shift in focus as an evolution of our mission, and a continuation of our strategy – structuring the non-professional esports ecosystem and making it more accessible to regular gamers.

We will still be doing online tournaments (in fact, we are announcing some new community tournaments soon), Challengermode is online and digital-first. With the automated competitive gaming platform we’ve built, it just opens up so many opportunities to do things that haven’t been done before, or at least not at the scale that we envision.

ESI: What went into your decision to kick off NEL in Scandinavia and the Baltics?

Philip: We considered a few aspects, such as where we currently have the biggest presence, strong partners as well as where we think national leagues can make a bigger impact locally. Scandinavia and the Baltics are also in our geographical backyard, so to speak.

“The NEL project is not restricted to the EU, and the idea is to make it global eventually”

ESI: When do you expect to run leagues in other European esports hotspots such as the United Kingdom? Will the nation even make it into your program due to Brexit?

Philip: We’re launching first in the Nordics but plan on rolling out in other countries including the UK by end of 2018 or early 2019. The NEL project is not restricted to the EU, and the idea is to make it global eventually.

ESI: Are there any plans to offer games beyond CS:GO, League of Legends, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds? These three titles are the games currently available on Challengermode itself, so we can see why you picked those for the launch of the NEL.

Philip: Yes, absolutely. All the games we will offer on Challengermode in the future will be included in the NEL.

ESI: Has Riot Games outwardly shown any support towards the NEL at all? It’s well known that they’ve been taking more control over tournaments in recent years.

Philip: Challengermode has spent several years building a relationship with Riot, including working with them alongside our partners DreamHack to support the Nordic Championship [now part of the Riot ERLs]. The NEL is designed to act as a grassroots development bed and stepping stone for structured tournament play within the European region. Up-and-coming talent or even fairly new players can learn how to play in a professionally run and structured environment, paving the way to higher tier league play, including the ERLs and of course the Riot LCS.

We have discussed this with members of the European team from Riot Games and they understand that the NEL is not designed to be a competitor to their franchised EU LCS but rather a training ground for fresh talent, as well as an opportunity for players to emulate their heroes and get the ‘Pro Player Experience’ offered by Challengermode.

“The pro-level will have a steady supply of contenders that will fuel the ecosystem”

ESI: Did you have any specific esports tournaments in mind when you decided on the format of these leagues? I know it was stated traditional sports was part of the model you followed.

Philip: We had several goals in mind when designing the structure, primarily we wanted to make it possible for teams of any level of skill to find their place within the competitive scene of their favourite game. Today, if you ask most regular gamers, they have no idea how an online tournament works, or how one would go about competing to become a pro. Compared to regular sports that have established organizations, leagues, local teams and all the rest, esports is far behind. Moreover, the Leagues will be the answer to the question: “How good am I, really?”. It will set the standard for national and regional esports competition.

By using a division system and a seasonal structure, a team doesn’t have to win every season to make it worth their while to continue playing. And playing in such a permanent, well-funded and long-term competition, teams and players will be readily able to invest their time and effort into the games they enjoy the most as they know that their efforts will be rewarded. As a result, the pro-level will have a steady supply of contenders that will fuel the ecosystem – from the bottom-up and then back down.

ESI: Can you reveal any of the partners that you will be teaming up with to deliver the regional competitions?

Philip: DreamHack is the one I can reveal now. We are already in discussions with tournament organizers in several other European countries or regions and have even received interest from countries in South America already.