Can any game get the crowds and money that games like League of Legends command…?
There is currently a huge interest in esports. It’s the number one growth industry in the world, currently growing at 40% year-on-year. Global revenue is expected to hit at least $1.4 billion in 2021 and possibly as high as $2.4 billion. Esports has been around longer than most people think. It just didn’t have the global status it has now. The earliest known video game competition took place on 19 October 1972 at Stanford University for the game Spacewar, but it was not really until the the new millennium that esports started to go global and it’s arguably only in the last decade or so that it’s really moving into the mainstream.
Most people now know that esports means competitive video gaming, but it’s still unclear to many what makes a game a good esport game. This can make it difficult for brands to decide which esports to invest in. It can even make life difficult for developers who have a great concept, but also want the reach and revenue that comes from producing a game that’s going to be played at tournaments and streamed by top influencers every day on Twitch and YouTube.
The first thing to take into account is that there is not one golden formula. When speaking to Spencer Owen of Spencer FC at the FIFA eWorld Cup Finals 2018, we discussed one of the biggest issues brands and outsiders have when entering the world of esports; they treat it as a single entity. Esports and the games themselves are both very diverse. The reason one works is not the same as another. However, there is one key word that can help you notice the patterns that make a game become a good esport: Accessibility. Admittedly ‘accessibility’ by itself is rather vague, so let’s break it down into several questions.
Is it easy to understand?
Many games range in their complexity and that’s not to say that the more complex ones cannot be esports, but an easy to understand game is a great starting point. CEO and Founder of Edge Esports, Adam Whyte, remarked, ‘I remember when I went to ESL One Cologne. Most of my previous esports experiences were with Blizzard titles such as Hearthstone, HoTS and Starcraft 2, but the amazing thing about CSGO is that it’s incredibly intuitive. It’s the kind of game you could show your grandmother and she’d understand what’s going on’.
Is it easy to play?
Unless there is something severely wrong with the controls and button mapping, a game that’s easy to understand will also be easy to play. The problem is, what if it requires a top-end PC to run? You won’t necessarily lose an audience of spectators on Twitch, as the influencer playing the game is likely to have the money for that, but you are limiting your player-base. Games like CSGO and League of Legends don’t need much to run on. In fact while I was at the Red Bull Gaming Sphere for the Enemy of Boredom ‘Creating a Riot’ League of Legends event, I heard someone say, ‘You could run this on a potato’. Of course the main reason for this is how long those games have been around, which leads us on to our next question.
Is the game worth investing in as a player and spectator?
If a game and its players don’t receive long-term support, then it’s never going to be a good esport. CSGO and League of Legends have had amazing continual support from developers to keep things balanced and fun. They listen to their audience and they hold great tournaments and events either by themselves or through platforms like FACEIT. They create leagues and promote teams that help both players and fans feel that it’s all worth the time. Of course newer games know this too, a recent example being the new Overwatch League launched this year. Its success speaks for itself.
Is it easy to buy?
A game doesn’t have to be on all platforms, but it certainly helps. What may help even more is to make a game cross-platform. There’s probably no better recent example of this then the juggernaut that is Fortnite. You don’t have to invest in a new console or PC to play the game at all. The other thing that has made Fortnite such a success was the choice to release the battle royale mode for free. That’s what made the creator a billionaire. League of Legends is also free and this makes the game so much more accessible. Developers and publishers should not be afraid of this as there is a lot of money to be made from the in-game cosmetics and other microtransactions. Fortnite made $296 million in April 2018 through in-app purchases alone. EA Sports now make $800 million a year on FIFA Ultimate Team. We suspect they may start releasing the base game for free in the future in order to pull in an even greater audience and more revenue. And of course the money made from becoming a successful esport increases that revenue greatly though branding, tournaments, franchises and merchandising.
Is the community welcoming?
Nothing feels worse than a game having a toxic community, so having a large and welcoming community is a huge help when trying to grow a game as an esport. FPS gaming communities are infamous for being mean to say the least, but there’s no doubt that the relative friendliness of the communities for games like Team Fortress 2 have kept such games around for so long. This is not out of the control of publishers, tournament organisers and teams. By promoting player welfare, communicating with and moderating the communities, a lot can be done to make them safer for pros, new players and players in general. And it seems to be working. Speaking at the Dublin Games Summit, ESL’s James Dean noted that esports fans are generally less tribal than fans of traditional sports and will show support for other fans when their team is knocked out.
Is it a good brand?
It would seem that esports is moving more towards an American, franchised model. Riot Games have done it with their EU and NA leagues, and The Overwatch League now has 12 teams such as the Houston Outlaws and our home favourites, London Spitfire. That obviously gives these games a enormous boost of investment and long time viability and they’ve already been a proven success with sold-out stadiums, massive prize pools and huge global audiences. Furthermore, with clothing companies and sponsors getting on board selling branded merchandise, esports is becoming a lifestyle brand as well. As esports moves into the mainstream this helps it become not only for hardcore gamers, but also more accessible for people that want to join up and be part of the movement.
But at the end of the day…
Asking all of these questions can help brands, developers, organizations, players and even spectators determine whether a game is accessible enough, would make a good esport and be worth their time and money. However, the real question at the end of the day is ‘Is it fun?’. A fun game naturally draws players and spectators, which eventually draws sponsorship and support. A fun game that grows with the community and whose players and spectators are supported by the industry has a great chance to become an esport, as long as it remains accessible in every sense of the word.