There are a wide array of different computer and video games, but only a few actually become esports. The games that make it often share common attributes, which are well described by Riot Games Play-by-Play-caster Daniel Drakos in SportsPro “A huge skill curve, so that you can appreciate what it means to be a top player. And something that changes, something that’s very dynamic so that it’s evolving as you watch it.”
There are other attributes that are needed for games to become successful esports as well, mainly a healthy player base, clear competitive elements, fairness and funding.
1. A Big and Healthy Player Base
The early adopters of an esports scene tend to be the game’s own player base. For a game to become a successful esports, there needs to be enough active players interested in watching the competitive matches. Moreover, there needs to be a player pool large enough for athletes to emerge who can compete meaningfully against each other in competitive play.
2. Clear Competitive Elements
A lot of games have huge player bases, but only a few become esports. This is mainly due to the fact that they aren’t competitive enough. According to Business of Apps, Minecraft has 131 million active monthly players and is one of the most downloaded games in the world. Despite its success, it isn’t competitive enough to become part of the esports scene. There needs to be a clear winner and loser in the game.
Read more about the most popular esports.
This is one of the many reasons why women are seen less in esports. Games with larger female player bases tend to be less competitive than the ones currently seen in the esports spotlight. Read more about it here.
3. A High Learning Curve
The old saying “easy to learn, hard to master” rings true when it comes to games turning into esports. CS:GO is a prime example of this. The game is easy to learn in terms of maps, objectives and weapons. Truly mastering it however, requires immense amounts of time and effort. S1mple, NAVI’s CS:GO protege, is considered one of the most mechanically talented CS:GO-players in the world. He has put in over 16.000 hours in the game. This gives an idea of how high the skill level is at the top of the ladder. It also gives the professional players who put in the time and work value for their efforts, since a newcomer simply cannot win based on pure luck or chance consistently.
4. Dynamic and Changing
The game needs to have an air of freshness. There needs to be something that’s changing from month to month, or season to season. Otherwise, the game can feel stale and lose its momentum as an esports. For example, Overwatch 1 and Overwatch League held great popularity within the first few years, but are now on a steady decline of both viewership and player base. Much due to the fact Blizzard Entertainment hasn’t introduced a lot of new elements to the game, which has bored the player base.
On the contrary, in Dota 2, changes to the competitive field roll out continuously. The meta is also dynamic in the sense that Valve adds new heroes, items and tweaks to the map on a rolling basis. The players need to adapt to the new changes, which makes the gameplay more interesting to watch as new hero-picks and strategies emerge. In Overwatch, such changes are implemented, but on a slow-moving basis. Many Overwatch-fans might still remember the GOATS-frenzy that went on for months. Even though the game used to be more dynamic with different viable compositions and strategies, it hasn’t really evolved in recent times.
5. It Needs to Feel Fair
The essence of esports is for teams to showcase their expert knowledge of the game and all it entails. Be it the map, weapons, accuracy, strategies or counterplay. However, some games, in the Battle Royale genre (Fortnite and PUBG) in particular, have struggled with this. One foundation of the Battle Royale games is that players spawn in different locations on a huge map. The goal is to be the last team standing after killing off the other teams by finding better weapons on the map. Moreover, there is a circle closing in which minimises the playable area. If a player stands outside of it, they take damage and eventually die off. The circle, as well as spawn points and weapons locations, are mostly randomised. This aspect might make the game fun to play and accounts for a lot of strategic adaptations and plays. However, it also makes the game more luck-based. If an esports team only manages to get pistols in their starting location, while the other team gets snipers, the first team can instantly be killed off solely based on luck. This aspect might make some games less adaptable as esports, since games can be won purely based on luck instead of skill.
Nevertheless, Battle Royale-games have found success in the esports scene and are still enjoyed by a huge fan base. Read more about the success of mobile based Battle Royale esports.
6. There Needs to be Enough Funding
The last aspect of games becoming esports, and perhaps one of the most important, is the amount of funding available. Esports acts as a way for professional players to utilise and showcase their expert knowledge in the game. It’s also a superb marketing tool for the game itself due to the viewership and publicity. However, this doesn’t come for free. Deep pockets are required to run a tournament-type event, as expenses arise from hiring casters, signing teams, getting equipment to venues and advertising costs. It’s hard for smaller game developers to find a spot for their games in the esports scene, even if their games hold all the aforementioned qualities.
Esports is an ever evolving landscape with a dynamic and growing audience. Some games that have made it into esports stay on top of the viewership ladders year after year, while other titles get swapped out constantly. Time will tell which new games make it into becoming successful esports, and which ones will eventually fade away to become another Quake.
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