One subset of the Game Industry that is gaining popularity for some time would be E-Sports: Where gamers can play a variety of titles professionally earning them big money and the developers massive exposure.
With the recent DOTA 2 tournament big enough to get an airing on ESPN 2, we figured it would be a good time to talk a little about what E-Sports is and some considerations if you want to aim your title to this crowd.
When it comes to E-Sports, competitive games are the ones that draw the most people and have the biggest prize pots. Currently, the most popular genres are fighting, strategy, FPS and MOBAs for tournaments.
Despite all the games of each genre, there are only a handful of each that make it to grand tournament settings. For fighting games, the big names at the moment are Street Fighter, Injustice, Smash Brothers Melee and Marvel vs. Capcom. This year we did see some other titles like the recently released Killer Instinct and smaller tournaments based on niche series like Skull Girls.
Strategy games at the moment only have one big name and that would be Starcraft 2 by Blizzard, but that is a big enough name. Starcraft was one of the first games to become an E-Sports craze and a major title during the run of the World Cyber Games.
Last but not least we have the MOBA genre which by now everyone knows the two biggest names: League of Legends and DOTA 2. But as we talked about in our post examining the MOBA market, there are plenty of new players coming.
The E-Sports market has been around for a number of years and there have been several major organizations spring up that any designer needs to know about.
The longest standing organization for E-Sports was the World Cyber Games. Popularized thanks to Starcraft, this South Korean based organization held yearly tournaments for big prizes for over ten years. As of 2014 however, with the changing markets the WCG has cease all future tournaments.
That leaves us with two other groups that most gamers know about. EVO or Evolution Champion Series is the biggest fighting game tournament in the world and has annual competitions. The fighting games that we mentioned above were all featured at EVO and the competition draws people from all over the world to it.
Major League Gaming or MLG is the other major company and has done a lot to legitimize the E-Sports scene. Players can sign up, find teams and sponsors and the whole site has streaming of games for viewers who want to see things in action. While EVO is mainly a yearly competition, MLG runs multiple tournaments a year, broken down into seasons. MLG also doesn’t just stick to one genre or game, but runs a variety of tournaments for vastly different titles.
As E-Sports continues to grow, it has left game makers with some unique considerations when it comes to designing games.
The E-Sports Market:
Games that are popular among E-Sports are different compared to mainstream or casual offerings. To go into detail about the game design present would be too big for this post, but we can talk about some of the broad differences.
First is that despite the classic 80s movie: The Wizard, E-Sports has grown around competitive based games as opposed to single player offerings. The genres we mentioned at the start grew in popularity thanks to their competitive atmosphere and the skill level needed to play professionally.
If this really is a prime time sport why is it not on TV? I think our generation of fans is pretty unique in the sense that they’re not consuming their content via TV. I think even when our fans have TVs they’re watching LCS streaming via PC or something – Not the typical cable subscriber.
They’re using Netflix, Hulu, or streaming through their Xbox. TV’s not a priority or a goal, but if it happens it will be a natural byproduct of what’s happening. — Dustin Beck, Riot Games
An interesting side effect of the E-Sports popularity is how many designers are now adding modes and options exclusively for E-Sports play. Spectator modes, announcer options, twitch upload functionality and so on. This makes your game easier to be watched by people and can help it in the E-Sports market. These elements are important for group based titles or those that have a lot going on like strategy games or FPS.
Why Aim for the E-Sports Market?
The E-Sports market may have grown separate from the Game Industry, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t capitalize on it.
Creating a game that is not only popular to play but to watch can mean a lot of money and recognition for your studio. Street Fighter has become one of the most popular brands from Capcom and the success of it at EVO gives the game a much longer shelf life. This has also provided Capcom with a huge group of dedicated fans who look to each new iteration with anticipation
Unfortunately, while studios like Capcom and Riot Games have made a name for themselves, it’s a lot harder for new companies to enter the E-Sports Arena. No matter what you do, how you pitch your game or even design it exclusively for the E-Sports audience, ultimately the fans will decide whether or not to accept it.
Smash Brothers was intended to be a casual party game, but the hardcore took a liking to it and turned it into one of the more popular competitive games sitting alongside Street Fighter and Call of Duty.
E-Sports has certainty changed over the last two decades and moved from being a completely hardcore experience to one that can be watched by a casual audience. It will be interesting to see if by the end of the decade whether or not E-Sports will make their way to TV networks. We already saw DOTA 2 broadcast on ESPN 2, but it’s hard to tell if the home market is ready for it.