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During this weekend’s $500K USD Six Major Raleigh 2019 tournament, Ubisoft announced a series of changes to its revenue-sharing pilot program for Rainbow Six Siege. Seven new teams were added to the program, joining seven organizations (out of 11) held over from Phase 1 to create the new 14-team lineup for Phase 2.
Additionally, Ubisoft changed the approach of the gradually evolving pilot program, now effectively assigning each organization a different operator (player character) in the tactical shooter. Each team’s pack will feature branded items for one particular operator, along with a universal weapon charm that will work with any operator. As before, each team will earn a 30% cut of revenue generated from sales of its pack, with 30% of that share specifically earmarked towards the players.
“It feels like we’ve reached that kind of maturity where we can support more teams, and we felt very comfortable with that number,” said Wei Yue, product manager at Ubisoft Montreal, during an interview with The Esports Observer at the event. “We are also increasing our efforts in terms of game items. For Phase 1 of the program, we had 44 items, and will be increasing that up to 84 items.”
Ubisoft initiated an entirely new process for picking its partner organizations for this second phase, opening up applications to teams that currently competed in Rainbow Six Siege and others that were interested in joining the scene. Additionally, Ubisoft brought in third-party consultants to help determine which teams offered the best opportunity to help grow the Siege esports ecosystem as part of the program.
It’s far from the kind of significant franchising approach seen with the Overwatch League or the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), but it’s a way for Ubisoft to further dip its toe into the world of team partnerships and revenue-sharing opportunities to support the ecosystem. According to Yue, the publisher has been taking feedback from teams as it grows and expands the pilot program, and in time, the “pilot” branding may no longer be necessary.
“I’d say franchising is one of the many systems out there, and we’re testing the waters with the pilot program. As the name actually says, it’s a pilot program,” he said. “Now that we have announced Phase 2, we are focusing on that, but we are already looking at maybe Phase 3 in the future. And hopefully, we’ll change [the] name one day and not be a pilot program anymore.”
Changes Ahead for 2020
That’s one of many prospective changes on the horizon for Rainbow Six Siege, and the others may be even more visible to both teams and fans. Che Chou, Ubisoft’s senior director for esports, joined the company in January after serving as Blizzard Entertainment’s global director for Hearthstone esports. He sees Rainbow Six Siege esports as something that has grown gradually and organically, and as something that has a lot of potential for further evolution.
“My assessment of the Rainbow Six ecosystem—coming in fairly fresh like six months ago—was that we’re really fortunate to have an esport that’s been built for three-and-a-half years on organic community growth,” he told The Esports Observer. “It’s been built on a steady cadence of communication and trust, with our player base, and I think the dev team has done a fantastic job of really sticking to a constant release schedule that has really resonated with the community. Every quarter, you know the game is going to change up. I think that flow has really worked for us.
“What we have right now are solid foundations for an esports ecosystem. Our viewership, our player base—none of it is accelerated or purchased. It’s all just organic growth,” Chou continued. “That said, I think we have lots more room to grow and to improve. Wei’s team, my team, as well as the European team, are all discussing our new structures for 2020.”
Chou wasn’t ready to make any announcements for the 2020 season, but he spoke to some of the high-level changes and improvements that they’re hoping to make. One is to “streamline the storyline,” he said, noting that Rainbow Six Siege esports has a lot going on between its global and regional elements and that it can be difficult to follow as a fan. Consolidation doesn’t seem to be the plan, however, as Chou went on to explain that Ubisoft actually wants to do more with “regionalization” to improve content for various local and regional fan bases.
“Our main product, the week-to-week Pro League—it’s something that was created three-four years ago,” he said. “Esports and entertainment have evolved in terms of how we tell that story, so we are looking at: How do we better serve our regional communities and regional audiences to create catered content for them that means more to them? I think it’s about both creating better content, but also making an effort to grow viewership as well.”
Ultimately, the goal is not to create a closed, franchise-style system for Rainbow Six Siege. Ubisoft began working with more third-party organizers to hold Minor championships this year, and Che said that the door will remain open to prospective partners. However, as Ubisoft seeks to streamline the narrative and develop more regionally-minded content, the publisher will remain steadily involved to maintain a sense of quality control around the ecosystem.
“In that effort, we will be more hands-on. Our goal is still to always make sure that we have an ecosystem, and that means that partners can come in and work with our IP. If they want to produce stuff around Rainbow Six, really it’s just a conversation,” he said. “I don’t think that we are ever going to be fully closed, but I think in this new regional system, we do want to be more hands-on with quality and storytelling. That’s the balance.”
Ultimately, Chou said, Rainbow Six Siege esports is helping to fuel the continued success of the game, which launched in 2015 and has gradually built momentum through added content and a growing competitive scene. This is a long-term play from Ubisoft, potentially for many more years to come.
“Financial stability is always top of mind, obviously, but I think the reason why this esport exists is because it’s the most effective way for us to engage this audience. The reason why there’s an esport at all is to really support the game,” said Chou. “We want to game to be around for over a decade. The esports program is right now the most effective way to activate around this audience, so why not?”
Editor’s note: Interview conducted by Trent Murray
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