The eSport market has grown hugely over the last ten years. Television rights, sponsorship, and the rise of tremendously popular streaming services like Twitch have led to a genuine phenomenon that is just as lucrative for games publishers as it is for the players who compete for the massive cash prizes. Every gaming company must surely wish for their title to become an eSports hit, and yet relatively few make the grade. A game can be extremely popular but still not cross over to the eSports market.
A successful eSports vehicle requires all the qualities that make a video game a success with regular consumers, plus that extra something. So how does a game become a valuable eSport commodity in a highly competitive market?
In its broadest sense, an eSport can be defined as a game played competitively for cash prizes. The definition includes games that aren’t usually thought of as classic eSports. For instance, casino games like online poker and others are available at NetEnt Casino, where anyone can play games of skill or chance, sometimes against other players, and potentially win real money rewards. It also includes popular competitive video game activities like speedrunning.
Classic eSports, however, that attract millions of remote viewers and are sometimes watched live in large arenas or stadiums, are generally multiplayer video games that have already proved popular with the playing public. The big four are League of Legends, DOTA 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Overwatch, with the likes of Fortnite, World of Warcraft, and StarCraft 2 also very popular.
Players and supporters
Ultimately, whether a game makes it as an eSport has very little to do with the efforts of the publisher or developer. It relies on players emerging from the crowd who have the skill, the charisma, and the drive to compete for money and attract a sizable audience that wants to watch them. To some degree, eSports communities emerge spontaneously and need to reach a critical mass before corporate interests decide it’s worth getting involved to take the game to the next level.
A game must be fun to play. That is a requirement of any successful game, but for a game to grow into an eSport, there must be something that keeps players coming back for more. Ideally, there is always something new to discover in the game, or at least the potential of something new just around the next corner.
Simplicity and complexity
The kind of video game that makes a good eSport often has a straightforward premise with more complex variations coming in as the game progresses. If the game is too complicated at the start, it puts new players off, but if it stays simple, it risks becoming boring. This also means that you don’t need too much skill to start playing but playing at a competitive level requires a greater degree of skill, which can be developed through continuous practice.
A comprehensive skill range is crucial in eSports. There must be room for some players to be significantly better than others and for there to be enough difference between player ability at the very top end to make ongoing competitions work. There must be room in the game to develop skills to a high degree to become incrementally better the more one plays. Dedication, aggression, and competitive spirit should be seen to pay off, as well as natural ability.
Good to watch
Attracting players is only half the battle, however. Unlike an ordinary video game, an eSport must also attract passive spectators, which means a game must be fun to watch as well as fun to play. Simple fighting games are ideal in this regard, as the viewer can share in the excitement while watching two opponents battle it out. If there are too many participants, this can become confusing and hard to follow in the massive multiplayer armies.
Specific spectator tools can help, allowing viewers to shift perspective, as can a clear focal point. For instance, you don’t watch every player during a football match; you just follow the ball. An eSport needs a similar focus if it’s going to hold the audience’s attention.
With the popularity of eSports growing all the time and the possibility of it being accepted as an Olympic event very much on the table, it’s no wonder more gaming companies want in. There’s no way to guarantee a video game will translate, but developers are certainly keeping watchability and competition more in mind than they would have done a decade or more ago. Just as in the eSports themselves, there are winners and losers, with big money resting in the balance.
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