ESL Challenge League (ECL) presents a new look in 2022

Player Reactions to the new European ESL Challenger League system

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Leagues change. They add new rules, switch their structure, sometimes they even get a new name. They adapt to survive, in esports and mainstream sports alike. The NBA added the three point line in 1979, the NFL got rid of overtime in the pre-season just last year and ESEA Premier changed its name and structure coming into the 40th season. The ESL Challenger League (ECL), as it is now called, has made major changes to its European competition this season, instead of the usual two groups, there are now four. The format of the groups has also been changed from round-robin to GSL meaning that in as little as two matches, your time in the league could be over.

Reactions to the new changes have been mixed, with some people claiming how unfair it is on the new teams each season who have had to struggle their way into the league whilst others see it as a positive due to how busy the European circuit already is. To get a better picture, I reached out to some pro players and coaches playing through the new changes.

Sebastian “beastik” Daňo, in-game leader of SINNERS who placed top 8 last season believes the change is for the worse. Despite being the second highest ranked team in their group and likely to move forward to playoffs, he would rather have the league stay in it’s old format. His team, having not participated in every single large tournament, organized by the likes of Relog Media, in recent months, has helped them have less time commitments.

To be honest I think the old system was way better. It’s still a league and you should be able to compete with everyone so we can see who really deserves playoff, relegation, and demotion. The new system is weird for qualified teams as they are low seed and they will have at least two decent teams in their group. So you grind tons of matches to just get eliminated in two best of threes. I don’t think it’s good.

Adam “Adam9130” Ahmad of the league’s lowest HLTV ranked team, Into The Breach who were promoted with a tough grind to the relegation tournament after initially believing they were back to Advanced for S40, are understandably unhappy with the changes which see them likely relegated to Advanced for Season 41 after placing last in their group. Adam himself has experienced both the old and new system and would rather the league had stayed in a league format.

I don’t like it or think it’s productive for teams, we played almost 40 maps of advanced including playoffs/relegations just to be eliminated within two best of threes, best of threes that we couldn’t reschedule and had to play with me being ill.  Our season is literally over before the season has begun for anyone else, meaning we have to wait three months just to play advanced again to challenge for the same league. Also it’s called a ‘league’ not a ‘cup’ so it really shouldn’t have a cup format.

Guy “anarkez” Trachtman, of Team Finest, is not on-board with the new changes after participating last season and reaching the top 8. anarkez wants to play against the best teams and with FINEST currently being the lowest ranked HLTV team in their group after some serious roster changes, he might not get his wish.

I think it’s not that good, last season we played against like seven different teams and then went into the playoffs. Now it’s like playing against three teams and we need to win like two games to qualify. It’s kind of boring, I must say. So yeah. I would be happy (for it to go back to the old system) to be honest, but for me at the end of the day I just want to play against the best teams possible.

Dion “FASHR” Derksen’s team, ECSTATIC, were directly invited to the league after a u-turn in league policy which previously saw promotion/demotion as the only way to enter the league. Apart from WolfY’s North American adventures, every player on the roster’s last season of the ESEA League ended with them in the Advanced division. This view comes after playing many large online tournaments in the last 5 months whilst also being favorites in their group.

If the team that comes fourth in the group gets demoted instantly, let’s say that’s the case then I prefer the old system more, because one off day and you might instantly be out of premier. Which seems a bit unfair. But the fact you won’t be playing so many best of threes in the evening is better! This will be our first premier season, but with all the tournaments we played at the end of 2021 we were burned out. So I’m happy we don’t have to play that many best of threes anymore in Premier. The old system had games after 19:00 CET. I prefer the new stage because I hate playing late best of threes.

FASHR’s current teammate Adam “WolfY” Andersson, who up until season 37 was playing in the North American division of Premier, didn’t have much to say about the new changes but did add that it is “rough [that] some teams can be out of the league in 2 matches in [the] European [division].”

Sean “eraa” Knutsson understands why other teams are unhappy with the change but prefers the new format that the ECL brings. Having consecutively played in the league with GamerLegion since season 34, eraa is a veteran of the busy European tier two circuit and welcomes the smaller iteration of the league due to the lack of HLTV ranking points it brings. GamerLegion are yet to play a game in season 40.

From mine and my team’s point of view this new system is an upgrade for us due to the fact that now the league is not played as a long season, seven weeks. The format now is GSL groups which basically is less matches to either get eliminated or to qualify for playoffs. And the problem for us in general has been the fact that the matches has been very hard for us to schedule around other tournaments, and with the fact that a general problem was that it barely gave us any points for our HLTV ranking which in the end almost made us consider our participation in our league because of the clashing with other tournaments. Another issue was that we were playing a long season that gave us not so much HLTV points which other tournaments did, had issues scheduling the matches and that led to us not attending a lot of other tournaments and in the end the price of this was us playing yet another league where other teams had a much easier way of entering in other ways like the Turkish league, German league etc. Basically now it’s a lot better for us due to the fact that it does not take up a huge amount of time, and lets us participate in more tournaments. But the risk of dropping out is much easier, which I can understand could be a bigger issue for other teams. But for me personally I’d like to keep the new system.

From hearing the players’ opinions it’s obvious that there are mixed opinions about ECL and whether its new system improves or hurts the league, but the overall takeaway is clear. For teams that have fought hard through ESEA Advanced, this system feels unfair and makes the journey not seem worthwhile but for teams that are playing multiple tournaments in the European circuit and are higher seeded in their groups, it means less games for the same reward. The new system favors the biggest teams at the expense of the lower ranked.

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