eSports: The Gamers, Creators and ViewersMar 9, 2016 | 1 Votes by Aethyna 10 rate eSports have taken the world by storm and in its wake, it has blazed an entire new section in the gaming industry. Find out what eSports have currently become and what it has in store for the future!
The eSports phenomenon has taken the world by storm in recent years, mainly due to the huge popularity and competitiveness that surround a number of MOBA games, such as League of Legends, DotA 2, Heroes of the Storm and SMITE. Not to mention, the types of games in eSports also include other competitive MMO games like Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty, HearthStone: Heroes of Warcraft, Alliance of Valiant Arms, Rocket League and World of Tanks, as well as non-MMOs like Starcraft II and FIFA.
In its wake, eSports have blazed an entire new section in the gaming industry, allowing for the emergence of other new industries, including Twitch. In fact, due to its popularity and reach, it is almost impossible to not have heard of eSports, especially if you happen to live in certain countries like Korea where eSports have been made into one of the nation’s national sport!
Amazing as it seems, it can be rather hard to devote our entire time on eSports-related news and events. Thankfully, from our trip to Casual Connect in Amsterdam last month, we are fortunate enough to sit in a lecture - delivered by Mohamed Fadil, the Head of Competitive Gaming at Wargaming no less! - which talked about what eSports have currently become and what is possibly in store for the future.
According to Mohamed, one of the main reasons behind eSports’ success, besides the internet, is because the games, particularly the MOBA games and Wargaming games, are free to play. Although there may be some games that can be used as are proofs that the statement is not exactly true, I can see why Mohamed attribute the success of eSports to the free to play market. There have always been smaller gaming tourneys and competitions since even before the birth of the internet, and the events were only known within each game’s respective communities.
However, once video games started to go online, larger gaming events like the 1990 Nintendo Championships, were held. The events were almost exclusively organized in the US though. It is not until we’ve reached the 21st century before eSports really took off, and large tournament organizations such as Major League Gaming and Intel Extreme Masters were established. It is also during these growth phrases when the first MOBA games, namely DotA 1 (2005), League of Legends (2009) and Heroes of Newerth (2010), were released.
Of course, you know how the story goes – MOBAs became massively popular with the most popular MOBA (DotA 2, obviously) hitting more than 12 million players logged in during its peak – LoL comes in second with around 7.5 million players at peak play time. Even the famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) CS:GO has only managed to reach around 800 thousand players tops.
Out of this huge player base, only a handful is able to make it to the top and participate in various leagues and tournaments. Naturally, the majority of the players and fans of the game will be jumping at the opportunity – any opportunity – to watch their favorite players in action. From there, eSports have also grown large enough to trigger the proliferation of video game streaming and the rise of game-specific video streaming platforms. With the emergence of Twitch, Hitbox and YouTube Live, players at home are able to tune in to watch their favorite professional players strut their stuff in their respective games. Of course, from there, it is only a matter of time before charismatic yet average gamers start up their channels too. They may not be very good players, but they are entertaining to watch and well, that is a story for another day.
That being said, the viewership of eSports-related events and streams ballooned so rapidly due to the very high engagement that the viewers felt when they watch others play competitively. From the viewers’ perspective, they may not be able to reach that kind of skill in playing their favorite game, but they sure as hell can watch pro gamers duke it out and root for the gamer they like, while learning a thing or two in the process. Due to this, Mohamed advised developers to work together with these content creators, as well as to try to convert pro gamers into content creators by perhaps giving them some form of initiative, such as team funding. Games should also provide in-built tools to help these creators in producing their content. After all, being a developer, you’ll be helping them to help you promote your game to a wider audience.
Not to mention, unlike TV viewers, stream viewers are not passively digesting the content. They engage with the content creator via the real time chat/ messaging system which was built into many streaming platforms. Citing one of Wargaming’s more prominent streamers, Mohamed also mentioned that one of their clever content creators have also managed to raise funds for a charity by asking his viewers to donate during one of his streams. How awesome is that?
Besides streams from players, eSports have evolved to a point where it mimics traditional sporting events as well. They have their own rather extensive media coverage, and some larger events, such as the famous The International DotA 2 Championships (or known to eSport fans as simply The International), even have their own online show with commentators and epic team intros. eSports also monetize themselves and perhaps that is why plenty of dedicated eSports organizations have cropped up over the years. For instance, the Electronic Sports League (ESL) sells a variety of gaming merchandises featuring iconic players and teams, as well as popular eSport games and events.
Furthermore, the game developers themselves have also cashed in during these events. One of the most famous examples is The International’s annual Compendium – an electronic, self-updating booklet that allows fans of the game to complete challenges, make predictions and follow the event closely. The people behind the Compendium even added stretch goals to further encourage their fans to purchase the e-booklet. In fact, from the sales of the Compendium for 2015 alone, DotA 2 has raised over 18 million cash prize and that’s only 25% of the total Compendium sales. And this amount did not include the profit they have raked in from the sales of The International tickets ($99 each for a 6-day event. Online tickets are of course a whole lot cheaper) or the other merchs they might have sold.
Well, it is, after all, a rather lucrative market. However, the curious part of you may wonder - Why is this so? Well, Mohamed has a theory. The viewers of these eSport events want to spend money to watch and buy souvenirs. They, like any major sports fans out there, want to be a part (or at least feel like a part) of the eSport tournament and they are willing to shell out a substantial amount of cash just to express their enthusiasm.
Due to this, Mohamed mentioned that Wargaming doesn’t even need to charge for tickets. They instead earn their revenue by ‘monetizing’ their players, fans and viewers’ enthusiasm by offering exclusive tanks and cosmetics in-game instead. Along with the help from various content creators’ promotional efforts, Wargaming has managed to successfully host one of their biggest eSport events to date, the World of Tanks grand finals, last year. By using this form of monetization system, Wargaming is able to give more profits back to the players, in terms of higher cash prizes at various competitive events or invest them into the game to make it better, which will also increase value to the players themselves.
Of course, eSports are not entirely without its flaws. Purported match rigging and a variety of other unsportmanship-like incidences have been running rampant, and these problems have not only been plaguing games like CS:GO. For a fan of eSport, it can be rather embarrassing and disappointing when things like that happened.
Anyway, since eSport is so huge and all, should developers develop games that are focused on eSports? Mohamed seems to think that that’s not a very wise choice. According to him, eSport may be potent to make your game last for years to come, but the most important thing in a game – any game – is definitely the core gameplay. For the future of eSports, Mohamed said that he envisioned the rise of mobile eSports, especially with cross-screen games like Hearthstone leading the charge. If mobile eSports work out, it’ll allow developers to tap into a new group of potential viewers, fans and video game streamers, and well, give rise to a whole new branch in the eSports’ rapidly growing industry.
To round up his lecture, Mohamed offers a few helpful suggestions for developers and eSports organizers that may help eSports grow further. He suggested that organizers or developers should increase the amount of local competitions before building up to bigger championships. This is important because from these local competitions, new talent can be found, and this will, in turn, increase the number of professional gamers in the eSports industry. Since you have more participants due to increasing number of pro gamers, you can then organize bigger and better eSport competitions. The cycle comes full circle, and you can just rinse and repeat to make that circle even larger.