As we know, Esports have hit the mainstream. No longer are Esports played in some stuffy convention out in the middle of nowhere. Staples Center, Madison Square Garden, played on TV. You name it. However, Esports has had another unknowing side-effect. That side-effect being a massive push for more and more games to be competitive. Is this sort of thing healthy?
When you consider Esports, you usually consider hyper-competitive or strictly PvP based titles. League of Legends, DOTA2, CS:GO, all games highly lacking in the single player aspect and aiming for the most competitive, hardcore crowd. With the profitability and rise of esports, however, we are seeing an even larger push for games to make their mark on the world stage in the venue of the electronic competition.
Consider the teaser trailer for Nintendo’s new console, the Switch.
Notice how they market Splatoon? The venue and the symbolism obviously harkens to Esports. Nintendo of all people! For a short history lesson: Super Smash Brothers, Nintendo’s most competitive title, has had both its creator (Masahiro Sakurai) say that “only playing (Smash) competitively has no future” as well as attempting to shut down Melee at EVO. Yet now, Nintendo has caved and is putting emphasis on the desire for Esports!
Just last week, we also saw the news that Team Liquid signed a pro player for the new Civilization game. There was a rush to secure Overwatch teams, everyone has their eyes and ears out for the next major Esport to exist. Like the heading suggests, it harkens back to the days of the gold rush; Everyone is rushing to get the gold, building towns (tournaments) overnight to try and get rich quick.
The gold rush analogy isn’t complete, however, without the side-effect of the ghost town. Just as everyone is rushing to be the next great Esport, the pool of professional games gets larger and larger. It’s no secret that previously run tournaments, such as EVO, have seen such problems. Certain games will get the limelight because of sponsor dollars and crowd participation. Others appear once and then die off in a corner.
Now let’s expand this idea to the world stage. League, DOTA and CS:GO are the killer king, the killer queen and the killer prince. These three games have a stranglehold on the scene and you WILL be competing with them. You can always aim to be a tier two Esport like Hearthstone or (at the moment) Overwatch, but that may not be so profitable. Thus, you have a massive echelon of Esports to go through to carve your own niche.
The second problem many games encounter is the audience. For some games, it’s just not there. Battleborn had its sights set on becoming an Esport powerhouse. It even had some potential considering its MOBA-esque format. Viewership wasn’t there. Even if Battleborn hadn’t been as catastrophic as it had been, would the player-base have the same interest? Would there BE viewership to capture?
Corpses on Everest
Gamers are not infinite. They are a limited resource. People interested in pro scenes even less so. Companies must understand that every hat you throw into the ring has to compete with another, more established, bigger hat that ate other hats. Your game is either going to thrive, take viewers or players away from another game, or it’s going to die a slow death with smaller and smaller viewers and prize pools.
I wouldn’t discourage companies from trying…IF they have the game for it. More often than not many games will attempt to be an Esport despite having no business. Sure, a company could strike gold and make it to the big time, but that would be one company (Riot, for example) out of a thousand other failed projects. (S2, Gearbox, any of the hundred MOBAs that sprung up to get a piece of the pie.)
My faith in new games, as one may expect, is fairly low. It becomes even lower when I see a game that has no established competition suddenly attempting to grow a huge brand. For example, Civilization might have an emphasis on player-versus-player. The counterpoint is that Civ games often last hours upon hours. Is it unreasonable to believe that viewers won’t wish to dip-out after one two-hour game in a best of five? Is it unquestionable to think that competition would have to be drastically changed to suit and support viewership?
Companies are free to do as they wish. If they honestly want to try and go for that big Esports pie, I cannot earnestly tell them to stop. I can, however, question the decision. With all the news surrounding Esports, we still only see very few games at the top of the totem pole. Companies might only see the dollars that Esports can bring in, sure, but they should always be asking themselves a simple question:
“Would I watch the Barbie Dream Adventure World Championship on Twitch?”