The moment that the 2018 Esports Roadmap was revealed at February’s Rainbow Six Invitational event, the excitement from both players and fans was palpable. A departure from recent seasons’ unpopular bracket-like structure towards a longer, double round-robin format showed stability and predictability. It also promised fairness and consistency, with all teams getting the opportunity to play against every other team in its region every week over a prolonged period. The larger sample size of matches would, in theory, let the best teams separate themselves from the pack.
Additionally, a potpourri of major and minor tournaments (like Dreamhack Austin 2018 this past weekend) were sprinkled throughout the schedule, providing additional opportunities for teams to compete for cash prizes. These are the exact qualities that professional players and esports organizations have long craved in a season format -- especially true when assessing whether investment of time, money and energy in Rainbow Six Siege’s competitive scene is worth it.
Rather than rip the band-aid off with an immediate switch to six month seasons, Ubisoft opted for a two-and-a-half month bridge season using the older format. This meant that any teams that met the misfortune of relegation to Challenger League would sit on the sidelines for six months. Even worse, Challenger League seasons were limited to only three months, meaning qualified teams would need to explore other league opportunities like CCS (Community Championship Series) in order to stay on top of their game. As Counter Logic Gaming and Motiv8 found themselves at the bottom of the table (and eventually lost their relegation matches, leading to CLG's departure from competitive Rainbow 6 for the time being), the rest of the Pro League teams collectively exhaled -- their spots in the “dream season” were secure.
As it turns out, that sense of relief was quickly replaced with anxiety and frustration once orgs started to receive more information about the format for Season 8.
On a Friday evening in Atlantic City, before the start of the weekend’s LAN Finals matches, players and coaches were briefed (under non-disclosure agreements set to expire at the completion of both the esports and Para Bellum panels) by the development and esports teams on the proposed changes rolling out next season as part of Ubisoft’s Esports Roadmap. This did not go well.
A chorus of concerns crescendoed to an uproar as many players reportedly disagreed with the direction that Ubisoft had decided to take for Season 8.
Just a couple of days later, during the broadcasted esports panel in between matches on Sunday, Ubisoft walked back some their originally proposed changes. They clarified that they were trialing some concepts, and that they were open to feedback. When asked for comment about the decision not to move forward with the suggested changes that media and players were briefed on earlier that weekend, Ubisoft’s Community Developer Justin Kruger said, “We are not afraid to rollback proposed changes based on feedback from pro players or the community.”
Brand Director Alexandre Remy, one of the top executives for Rainbow Six Siege -- and specifically a key shot caller for esports related decisions -- expanded upon Kruger’s statement. He let SiegeGG know that most of the changes were welcomed, but players expressed concern particularly with one of the proposed concepts, and that that they were “going back to the drawing board” to incorporate the pro players’ feedback.
Fast forward a few weeks, and we now have learned about those finalized changes. SiegeGG covered them in detail when they were publicly announced.
The most significant alterations involve Ubisoft’s restrictions over the map pool and bomb site locations. The map pool is now reduced from nine to seven maps (Bank, Consulate, Border, Coastline, Oregon, Villa, and Clubhouse). Additionally Ubisoft will not permit teams to play the same map on consecutive play weeks, effectively limiting the available maps to just five prior to the ban phase. The objective rotation parameter (playlist rules dictating when a team can replay a defensive bomb site that they’ve already won) is also increasing. This means that per the competitive ruleset, teams will be forced to choose a third bomb site after two successful defenses before returning to the initial site they defended. The manner in which map and site bans have functioned since the dawn of Rainbow Six Siege competitive play has potentially lulled pro players into a false sense of security that they are not expected -- or required -- to master all active maps or potential bomb sites. Season 8’s alterations turn that assumption upside down.
In terms of preparation, players and coaches also need to factor in the new pick and ban system rolling out this season. One might imagine a nightmare scenario in which teams find themselves on an unfamiliar map, holding a foreign bomb site, while also absorbing counter bans to strat-driving operators like Hibana and Mira. Not only is this a time burden as far as preparing for different permutations, but the freneticism of so many layered variables could actually result in less deliberate and strategic gameplay that some viewers appreciate.
All of that said, perspective is important. For one thing, while there are valid concerns with the new changes, complaints over viability of sites and maps should also consider the updates coming with Para Bellum. The new content has seen positive early reviews from players, casters, and even the SiegeGG team. Tom “Shas” Lee, PENTA Sports coach, said he was “very excited for Villa; it looks like a very dynamic open map for defenders and attackers alike.” Para Bellum is rolling out today.
Kafe, Skyscraper and Chalet will all be dropped from the ESL map pool, while Clubhouse has received a significant buff that rebalances previously unpopular sites like Cash Room and Master Bedroom. Teams that excelled at the maps rotated out of the active pool appear slightly concerned, while other teams that typically banned those maps seem optimistic.
Shas had more nuanced feedback regarding limiting the map pool:
I must admit I’m very sad to see the map pool limited but I understand the rationale behind this given all the changes occurring this season...I am somewhat worried that although we will likely see a higher level of play and cohesion from teams on the smaller map pool; we will also see an acceleration of the META where it reaches a stale plateau.
Finally, the pick and ban system, while introducing complexity, could conceivably revitalize maps and specific bomb sites that were previously seen as impractical. With regards to this change, Shas was “super excited for this as a coach. It will allow a much greater depth of strats to come out in the games and gives us coaches a hell of a lot more theory-crafting to do. I also expect that the fact that each teams line-up is revealed before the round to result in a much faster early game in addition to a lot more competent setups in both attack and defence.”
Other coaches, of course, felt differently about these changes.
The goal of any change relating to Rainbow Six Siege’s esports program needs to consider and balance what viewers want to see, what players can fairly and realistically manage and what Ubisoft can practically sustain from a resources perspective. When the same maps, sites, and even operators are selected repeatedly -- especially now that each team will play every week with the new schedule -- Pro League runs the risk of viewer fatigue with repetitive maps, gameplay and strategies. The “Boregon” meta, if you will (clever double entendre referring to the monotony of repeatedly seeing Border and Oregon).
One constant narrative throughout the lifespan of Rainbow 6 as an esport is that Ubisoft makes rash decisions without consulting Pro League members. In this case, at least, that is not entirely accurate. After teams heard the proposed changes during their briefing before the LAN event and reacted, the most contentious proposals were reverted due to the efforts of Ubisoft and ESL staff who lobbied internally for reconsideration. That said, earlier involvement with more pros at the table while these changes were still under internal deliberation may have avoided that episode altogether.
However, in parallel there’s the ongoing concern that the information presented to players about these upcoming changes was provided under a non-disclosure agreement. The public discourse and dissent that erupted during the LAN Finals weekend was only possible due to players breaking their non-disclosure agreements, which is implied from the leaks and conversations that surfaced on social media.
Leaks are also problematic because facts are often misconstrued, incomplete or exaggerated. In this particular case, merely providing “impressions” of embargoed information could be considered a breach of their non-disclosure agreement depending on the terms. And yet, players openly shared their opinions of unannounced changes on social media. With loyal and impressionable fanbases, this often means individual players can pit public opinion against Ubisoft even before a proper judgment can actually be made.
If players cannot be trusted with private information, it seems difficult for Ubisoft to engage them in these sensitive and important decisions designed to improve the pro league experience.
It’s good news that Ubisoft revised its original proposal -- the large changes coming in Season 8 are still unlikely to please all parties, but at least key members of the competitive scene were consulted before it was too late. For a large company, Ubisoft perhaps deserves recognition for its agility in responding to feedback after months of planning, though ideally those months of planning include direct collaboration with pros.
Every decision will not be perfect on the first attempt, but the only way Ubisoft can improve its batting average is through mutual trust with the pro community. It’s in the best interest of professional players to act, well, professionally and honor their commitments as far as non-disclosure agreements, otherwise they run the potential risk of exclusion from major decisions in the future and seeing more poorly vetted changes.