Making WePlay's Academy League into a 'breeding ground' for future stars
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Original Reporting

When Tier 1 Counter-Strike teams called up two WePlay Academy League players after season 2, that was WePlay realizing their vision of providing opportunities to foster and grow young talent. When two new teams decided to enter the league ahead of Season 3, that was the kind of growth that WePlay’s head of esports Eugene Luchianenco said will help develop the scene as a whole.

Following Ilya “m0NESY” Osipov and Ádám “torzsi” Torzsás‘ success and the addition of Spirit Academy and Eternal Fire Academy, WePlay’s Academy League has many eyes on it as season 3 starts rumbling into motion. The online group stage is already underway and a LAN finals will cap off the season from Feb. 11-13 in WePlay’s Kyiv, Ukraine Esports Arena.

To offer a glimpse into WePlay’s origins and their plans for the future, here is a conversation with Luchianenco, lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

WePlay Esports got its Counter-Strike start right before the COVID-19 pandemic. How did that affect your growth?

“Our debut CS:GO tournament took place at the beginning of 2019. It was WePlay! Lock and Load, an online competition that lasted four days. That year, we managed to hold three events in this discipline right before the pandemic hit.

I would lie if I said that COVID-19 did not affect us and our development strategy in any way. It’s hard to keep up a steady pace when the whole world suddenly grinds to a halt. However, our team didn’t just sit on our hands — we used this time to rethink our approach to work and think of possible steps and plans for the near future. In 2020, we even held another CS:GO tournament — WePlay! Clutch Island. Yeah, all the teams played online, and only talents were present in our studio, but it was not a problem for us to gather 145,000 peak viewers and get more than 2.6 million hours watched.”

Eugene Luchianenco, head of esports at WePlay Esports
Eugene Luchianenco, head of esports at WePlay Esports. | Provided by WePlay Holding

Now that CS is returning to more LAN tournaments, what are WePlay’s plans for the future in CS:GO?

“Today, CS:GO is one of the priority disciplines for us in the context of further development — we see that this scene offers a lot of opportunities for growth and cooperation. We are willing to create new projects in this discipline, as well as contribute to the existing ones.

For the past six months, our team has been actively working on our new product, a CS:GO tournament for up-and-coming esports players — the WePlay Academy League. It is a new format that aims to provide a breeding ground and learning platform for future esports stars. We believe that such a project will not only help individual players achieve more in their careers but will also contribute to the development of the CS scene, so the Academy is a kind of a strategically important project for our company.

This year, WePlay Esports started broadcasting other CS:GO tournaments in Russian. For example, our studio was the official Russian-speaking broadcaster of the PGL Major Stockholm 2021, and our stream became one of the most-viewed broadcasts in the world, second only to the English one. We also strive to take our place in the race for the media rights to top tournaments. Our team has already managed to establish a partnership with tournament operator BLAST for the RU broadcasting of the current and upcoming BLAST Premier season. This is just a part of what we have planned — I don’t want to spoil the surprise now.”

Russian-language broadcast of PGL Major Stockholm by WePlay Esports.
Russian-language broadcast of PGL Major Stockholm by WePlay Esports. | Provided by WePlay Holding

How did the WePlay Academy League develop? How did the team feel about the success of Season 2?

“The idea to create a league for academies came to us while working on another tournament, the WePlay! Forge of Masters League in 2019. We saw that today, unfortunately, academies did not have all that many opportunities and platforms to learn and showcase their performance — esports organizations were cautious about making a newcomer part of their main rosters, and tournament operators do not allow putting up several rosters for one competition.

Various esports organizations suggested that we work on such a project, and we agreed. Since then, we managed to hold two leagues, which resulted in several players making it to Tier-1 squads and shining at major tournaments. This is a huge success for our team in and of itself. It’s a pleasure to see that what you are doing benefit the community in such a short time.”

How difficult is it to grow WePlay Esports in CS:GO when there are already so many established tournament organizers?

“For many, the very notion of a competitive environment carries a negative connotation as it represents competition, struggle and constant stress. However, we see competition as an incentive to become better and create something unique every day. Regardless of the size and specifics of the market, as well as the number of players already involved in it, there will always be a place for those who put a new experience on the consumer’s table.”

WePlay Academy League Season 2
WePlay Academy League Season 2. | Provided by WePlay Holding

How would WePlay Esports pitch a WePlay CS:GO major to Valve?

“There is no single concept of how we would pitch a major. Each one of our offers is different from the others — it depends on the request, working conditions, and the features and preferences of the community at a particular moment in time. Our employees analyze what’s currently trending among esports fans, what resonates with them, which topics are the most relevant, and at the same time creatively fit into the format of the event. Then, we kick off brainstorming and create a vision of what we want to see in the end. We have already had the experience of working with Valve on DPC Major in 2021, WePlay AniMajor. It took us forty days to set everything up and create a successful and colorful event. Our team appreciates CS:GO at least on the same level as Dota 2. So, Valve could evaluate this event by the way we conducted the last one for them.”

Coby Zucker is Upcomer's resident CS:GO writer. He's also played League of Legends at the collegiate level and is a frequent visitor in TFT Challenger Elo. He's a firm believer that Toronto should be the next big esports hub city.
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