‘Chiu on This’ is a short and regular opinion blast
Burnout is a huge problem that for the most part cannot be solved in franchised esports. There are multiple reasons for this, so let’s start with the very top and go down. The two biggest franchised esports out there now are League of Legends and Overwatch. Both games have a heavy emphasis on patching to make the game new and fresh for the casual player base.
For the professional though, this generally means far more practice than is typical of games without dramatic patching, the most notable example being CS:GO. While there are changes to the game, none are as dramatic or meta shifting as in League of Overwatch. As that’s the case, there is less mental strain on the top pros in CS:GO to adapt to a patch compared to their counterparts in the League or Overwatch. This part of the game will never change as the game devs are incentivized to cater towards the more casual player base and thus burnout is unavoidable here.
However there is a counter-example to this, namely Dota2. That game also has a huge number of patches, however there are two major differences between Dota2 and League/Overwatch. The franchise league model and the Korean esports involvement.
The franchise model demands two things. For players to constantly be playing and prepping for games week in and week out. Secondly, it also demands that players leave their homes and to play in specific areas. In an open circuit, Dota2 players have choice as to how hard they want to go at any particular time. Where the franchise model is a continuous line of games, the open circuit games come in waves. There is a tournament over the weekend and then nothing for a few weeks. That allows for a lot more freedom to decompress from mental strain and to get back into it when the next tournament comes up. This also allows for Dota2 teams to take breaks whereas their counterparts cannot. For instance, OG won TI8 and have taken the first Major off. It is impossible for a top team in League to take off the first split of LCS as the game devs, league, and teams need them there for advertisement and exposure. This, much like game patching cannot be fixed unless the league itself wants to start reducing the amount of games (which Overwatch has done, though that was also in part due to the increase of the amount of teams).
The third point to look at is the involvement of Korean esports in League and Overwatch. Their player base is gigantic and they make up a large percentage of top players across the world, regardless of region. As that’s the case, burnout has already been systematically implemented into them through multiple means. In terms of natural culture, Koreans favor the hard work ethic which makes for long hours of study (or in this case practice). In Brood War, KeSPA took this system and refined it to its maximum output where that forced spectacular peaks of individual form for players at the cost of their longevity in terms of career. However, unlike other scenes the amount of Korean players vying to come up through the scene is enormous, so they’ve never been punished for training players through this system. If we look at it cynically, a team org could do something like push their players to practice 10-12 hours a day knowing that even though their careers will be shortened, they can always be replaced by the next batch of Korean players. While it’s hard to say how much of this has translated over into Overwatch, we know that in the earlier years of League of Legends, copying the Korean structure of practice led to a lot of burnout as well. It’s hard to say how much of this effects international teams with Korean players, but we’ve seen multiple breakdowns in the Overwatch League teams where the Korean player was sidelined because he wanted the team to practice more because they weren’t doing well. Though as an org that wants to be competitive, it’s hard to know when to push the players or when to pull them back in this regard. Even more so when the Korean player also happens to be the star of the team.
When you look at these three different layers of the franchised models, it’s hard to point to point to an area that will help decrease the amount of burnout. In the first case, game devs will never stop patching the game. In the second case, the franchise models have been set in stone (though Overwatch did create an offseason and lower the amount of games). In the third case, it’s certainly possible, though it depends entirely on the makeup and staff of the team.
The only solution I can think of is on a personal level. Players have to emulate the career of sOAZ from League of Legends. This is a player who has consistently figured out how to deal with the long grinding seasons of franchising and still peak at the right moments in the split (playoffs, MSI, and worlds) and deliver top performances. Overall though, I just don’t see how burnout can be slowed down from a structural level since most of the things that cause burnout are incentivized on that level.