In a exclusive interview with Games MEA, Andrew Haworth, Director of Production and Operations at BLAST and Commissioner for BLAST Premier talks about holding the BLAST Premier World Final at Abu Dhabi with an aim to elevate the experience even further at this year’s event.
Can you share the experience of organising the BLAST Premier World Final and how different is it from other BLAST tournaments that you host?
The BLAST Premier World Final is the culmination of our entire Counter-Strike season, which brings the world’s best eight teams together in the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi to fight for the lion’s share of a US $1 million prize pool and the crown of being the champions of 2023.
What makes this event truly unique is the fact it’s the culmination of an entire year’s worth of training, hard work and preparation from our teams and their players, this alongside the tournament having our biggest prize pool of the year and being hosted in the special setting of the UAE, makes it an event you don’t want to miss.
How do you ensure smooth communication and coordination among different teams and stakeholders involved in the tournament?
There are a number of key stakeholders involved in ensuring an event of this stature runs smoothly, including the following teams: team relations, esports operations, event operations, security, technology and the venue among many other key stakeholders.
Ensuring we have a clear and coherent chain and channel of communication is key to addressing any issues that may arise. Examples of this include having daily in-person meetings before each day’s action begins and having active group chats (WhatsApp, Discord and Slack) that allow for live updates.
How do you handle unforeseen challenges or technical issues during a tournament?
When dealing with technical issues during tournaments, it is key to search for the route of the problem and find a solution as quickly as possible so we can limit the length of the technical delay. Involving our technology team, esports operations, events teams and production team is key to ensuring we are keeping the players and viewers updated about when we are likely to have a solution and how quickly we can get back to action.
There is no doubt that there will be technical delays in tournaments, this is unavoidable but ensuring these delays are as minimal as possible is the key to hosting a smooth and enjoyable event for all.
Can you explain your process for selecting venues and setting up the necessary infrastructure for esports tournaments?
BLAST Premier has a rich history of hosting memorable events in iconic locations and arenas around the world. With a global audience and passionate fanbase, we have taken our events to all corners of the world uniting Counter-Strike and esports fans in the process.
Ensuring the location and arena is able to host a tier one esports event is crucial. One of the first things we consider when assessing the suitability venue, is its ability to host an esports event, which is very unique when compared to other more traditional events.
The venue needs to be able to provide the complex technological requirements needed to host an esports event along with having the correct space, infrastructure and functionality to welcome fans and house all the broadcast, lighting and staging needs. With the Etihad Arena for the World Final as an example, we have a world-class modern arena that has everything we need and more to make sure we can deliver next level entertainment.
How do you promote and market esports tournaments to ensure maximum participation and viewership?
When looking to garner interest and awareness of our events, whether it be getting more viewers online to watch our global broadcast or securing more bums on seats by selling tickets, we aim to reach different audiences through targeted marketing.
These audiences can be put into three different categories: esports fans, casual gamers and entertainment and sports lovers. Ensuring we have a clear and precise plan on how to reach all of these audiences is key to maintaining strong audience and viewership numbers while growing both Counter-Strike and esports.
This approach will be adapted depending where we are in the world, whether it be Abu Dhabi, Copenhagen, Washington or anywhere else in the world. Each location and country has its own unique way so we need to ensure we tailor our output to reach these audiences wherever they may be. Last year’s World Final proved a huge success with over 6,000 fans attending across both days and we hope to further build on this in December.
What steps do you take to ensure fair and competitive gameplay during tournaments, and how do you handle disputes or rule violations?
Competitive integrity is of the utmost importance to everything we do at BLAST. Our esports operations team have the most important job when it comes to this area of our tournaments and events. This team will be monitoring everything happening on and off the server to ensure there are no competitive breaches.
The BLAST esports operations team will regularly be in communication with the teams, coaches and players to ensure all rules are being followed and enforced. These breaches are then found and flagged to ESIC, who we work with to quickly establish how serious the offence is and what level of punishment is required.
How do you evaluate the success of an esports tournament, and what measures do you take to gather feedback and improve future events?
Evaluating the success of an esports event doesn’t come down to one metric, we look at a number of factors to determine whether we deem it a success when reflecting afterwards.
These different areas of consideration can be boiled down to the following: viewership, attendance figures, fan/community sentiment, player/team feedback, competitive tournament storylines, press coverage and commercial interest and revenue generation.
Assessing all of these metrics is done through a variety of methods, whether it be surveys, brand and press tracking tools, formal and informal conversations with various key stakeholders and a number of detailed reports.
How would you describe the efforts of Abu Dhabi to become a leading hub for gaming in the world?
There is no doubt that Abu Dhabi is making great strides in their efforts to grow gaming and esports in the region. 91 per cent of UAE residents between 18 and 64 said they play games at least occasionally, which highlights that impressive growth. Initiatives such as AD Gaming, who focus solely on growing esports and gaming in the region are hugely important to continuing to do this and aiming to be a global gaming and esports hub.
How important is your partnership with AD Gaming, and how crucial that is for the World Final?
The partnership with AD Gaming has been a decisive factor in bringing the World Final to Abu Dhabi and ensuring the first event was a huge success, with over 6,000 fans attending the biggest ever esports event to be hosted in the Middle East.
AD Gaming’s dedication to establishing and growing gaming and esports in Abu Dhabi has been hugely impressive and successful in achieving this. Since being established in 2021, AD Gaming has brought over 70 game developers into the capital, providing them world-class industry support to fuel their success stories from the Emirate whilst generating countless opportunities for local and international talent, both now and in the future in this booming industry.
This year’s World Final is the second time the event is being hosted in Abu Dhabi as part of a three year partnership with AD Gaming in the hope of growing esports in the UAE and Middle East. Bringing more world-class events to Abu Dhabi and the UAE is crucial to maintaining this growth and AD Gaming’s commitment remains unwavering.
What are your plans for the 2023 World Final and what can players and fans expect from finals?
Last year’s World Final in Abu Dhabi showcased the very best of esports and gaming. The event not only saw the best Counter-Strike players in the world competing against each other but it provided an interactive gaming experience for fans to engage and learn about gaming.
Our ambition for this year’s event is to elevate that experience even further. We plan to do this by offering a wide variety of world-class entertainment experiences, showcasing the very best of esports with a variety of gaming experiences as well as the education benefits that the sector provides. We hope to shine a light on the brilliant world of gaming and esports in a fun, informative and engaging way.