There has been a steady climb in the eSports industry over the last several years that’s undeniable. With many games capturing the attention of new fans and cementing the love of long-time gamers, the rising popularity of eSports looks to continue skyward. Will this rapid growth cause issues within the eSports world?
As with any major change, I suspect there will be growing pains, but with how many monumental changes are happening at once will the pressure break the back of eSports as we know it?
Games such as League of Legends had found a foothold and exploited their momentum to cause an incredible spike in interest. So much interest in fact, that CBS has signed a deal with Team Solo Mid (TSM) to follow them throughout season 3. Showing the daily lives and training regiments of a professional video game team would have been unfathomable and shot down by every executive only a year ago, now similar series are being contemplated by several gaming companies. Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) is producing a full-length documentary about their organization and history. The buzz and anticipation in the League of Legends community is palpable. This, of course, isn’t even mentioning the explosion of LoL activity in Europe, Asia, and even South America. For a game that only a few years ago didn’t exist, League has made a huge impression, but will the success last?
With an emerging market into unclaimed revenue and a distant ceiling Riot Games (maker of League of Legends) seems to be trying to secure their piece of the pie. Riot started the League Championship Series (LCS) which involved contracting teams and paying them a salary to participate in weekly games, much like a professional sports schedule. The contract locks teams into the LCS by not allowing them to play in third party sponsored tournaments, which was the norm in season 2, and still is for many of the “amateur” teams who didn’t win LCS contracts. There is a huge gap in North America and Europe between LCS teams and everyone else when it comes to fans. Most of that gap is caused by stunted exposure on the part of non-LCS tournaments. Less viewers equals less fans, less fans equals less support, less support equals less money.
StarCraft on the other hand has been a competitive gaming staple for years. Even back in the days of Brood Wars (released 1998) StarCraft was pushing the limits of what the public believed was possible in eSports. The game was received especially well in South Korea where a successful professional scene was established. Now, with Heart of The Swarm (the newest game in the StarCraft franchise) on the horizon, will there be a change in the operation of the competitive scene?
StarCraft’s pro scene differs vastly from that of League. Many players are a part of a team (such as Evil Geniuses or Team Root) and play several hours a day, but the game is played individually. With all of the tournaments and different leagues across the globe, world-wide fame and fortune can be won in a couple months of solid play. The availability of tournaments and the sheer amount of players makes for a very wide community, a strategy that seems completely different than that of League of Legends.
Of course, there are competitive scenes for many games, Street Fighter, Dota, World of Warcraft, Quake, Counter Strike, ect, but every game seems to differ from the next in organization. Will there one day be a set standard that is accepted by all games? I doubt it. There is too much money to be made and too much history to ignore. But that brings me to the question not yet answered, will this burst in popularity die out, and will eSports plateau?
There will obviously be a slowing in growth eventually. Only so many people enjoy competitive gaming. The number of viewers and players who are interested and support the movement is massive, so once the rise begins slowing the name of the game shifts from attracting fans to retention. Many people become disenchanted and disinterested with a facet of life once they feel it no longer benefits them. If people are fans but not players themselves, what is there to keep them interested?
I, personally, play many of the games popular in competitive play: StarCraft 2, Counter Strike, and League of Legends. I enjoy watching eSports because I can appreciate how difficult the games are and see the skill level of pro players, but those who don’t have prior knowledge will most likely fall away quickly.
I call it the soccer effect (yes, soccer. I am American). Other than those who grew up playing soccer, an extremely small percentage of Americans enjoy watching the sport. Die hard fans talk about how beautiful the game is and give standing ovations to defensive plays which, to those who aren’t trained in soccer, looks like a very simple task. I fear the same outlook will be had by those who are looking for entertainment, and not full immersion into the game.
The best advice I can give is this: Be open and accepting of those new to eSports. They may not have the understanding and knowledge you do, help them. Answer questions. Be a good ambassador of gaming. We all know what it’s like to be left out, but we don’t want to associate our passion with rejection. Besides, more fans is better for all of us.
Where do you think eSports are headed in the future? Let us know in the comments below!