Something happened this week that will change the history of the world forever! No, it wasn’t Donald Trump becoming the 45th president of the United States. Even bigger than the election was what happened at BlizzCon. While that might be a matter of opinion, I’m sure this is receiving unanimous applause from gamers everywhere… Blizzard has officially made eSports a real profession!
On November 8th, Blizzard released a Heroes of the Dorm documentary titled “A New Hero: The Rise of College eSports” which followed the amateur college event’s 2016 finals. The tournament, broadcasted live on ESPN 2, single-handedly brought about a change in the way colleges view interactive entertainment as a competitive sport. Many schools (including the Heroes of the Dorm champions ASU) now have official teams and will be playing in school-sponsored events.
This is huge- for what many considered a niche is now attracting traditional sports backers like Mark Cuban. However, that’s not the big news. This documentary might bring more light to an event that changed the course of eSports, but this week Blizzard has announced Overwatch League. The Overwatch League is a great addition to the also recently announced HGC 2017, both of which promise players will receive compensation as long as they make the cut.
Previously, pro gamers made a living off YouTube, Twitch streaming, sponsorships, and prize money. While the very best players who took home these victories made millions, most players struggled to get by, and after a few years as a “pro”, they retired and moved on. This system makes it almost impossible for all but the few to last in this environment long enough to become relevant. Now every pro player will get paid, the added security means players will stay in the scene longer, and fans can follow with the players they like without the fear of them dropping off the map.
The other huge addition is that major cities will each have their own teams. This gives the teams more of an identity than just what country they are from. It will give gamers teams to root for without having to be a hardcore fan or extremely invested in eSports. Traditional sports have proven more bandwagon fans will watch a championship match if their home team is competing for the trophy.
It is no surprise that Blizzard is the one making this push forward in eSports. The very existence of eSports must be credited to StarCraft. Not only was it the first to really catch on as a competitive video game, but the DOTA (Defense against the ancients) mod birthed the MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena) genre, now so associated with eSports. Blizzard also has the most to gain with five of their games all currently being played competitively.
Of course, Blizzard isn’t the only game studio pushing for legitimizing eSports. Over the summer of 2015, I visited Riot Game Studios, and while I can’t say much about my visit there, what I can say is what is public knowledge: that the LCS doesn’t make them any money— at least not directly. Indirectly, the game definitely thrives off the community as well as the competitive scene.
The League of Legends World Championship is the most popular eSporting event ever and had more total viewers than the NBA finals. Now, this is tallying global numbers, and the popularity of eSports in asian countries significantly increases the viewership. That is to be expected though because of how well their teams do in these world finals. This year both teams in the final game were Korean, where professional gaming has been legitimized since the early 2000’s.
While personally I will never play any eSport professionally, I have played in LAN tournaments with my brothers and our friends for over a decade. To this day, we still host an annual Halo tournament in our parents’ backyard.
I am happy to see how much is going into building up the competitive gaming industry, from Blizzard’s announcements to Xbox’s new tournament software Arena.
While I enjoy playing games and even playing in tournaments, I wasn’t always sold on watching others play video games. I mean, isn’t that what we hated about having older brothers or selfish friends that made us watch as they played? …Yes, but this is different. The commentators and, well, millions of dollars on the line give it a weight and sense of legitimate entertainment that strikes a very eerie cord as you start to feel as though it is not much different than watching a traditional sport.
It might seem strange or even stupid to some now, but- really- how different is it to watch some people run imaginary lines or follow arbitrary rules to score points that don’t really mean anything. The difference to me is that since Thanksgiving is just around the corner that means I haven’t played football in just about a year… but I played Halo yesterday.
Personally I don’t understand the kids today who watch endless hours of their favorite streamer play video games all day– the same kids who gave Pewdiepie his power as an influencer. Imagine when those kids grow up, watching others play video games wasn’t a negative experience but instead one of their favorite pastimes. Esports will be the logical progression to where these kids, now grown up, turn for entertainment. This likely won’t be for at least a decade, but it starts today, and it will only get more and more popular worldwide.
I don’t believe it will replace sports, but I do believe it will get as big- perhaps not in the US, but on a global scale. Not every game is created equal, and the more popular games as well as the best looking will rise to the top. First person shooters have the disadvantage of traditionally only showing one player point of view at a time, so I would guess they will finally take a backseat as other games that can display their content better will take precedence. I know this is already a given with MOBA’s being the favorite for eSports as of right now.
I am going to declare it here today, that I think Rocket League is going to be a gateway eSport for the masses. Not that it will necessarily be the most popular, but I believe it will bring them in and in many cases open people up to the idea of watching video games as a sport. The game is universally loved and is cheap enough to be highly accessible. It in some ways perfects the world’s most popular sport by adding in high-action moments and a faster pace. The games are usually five minutes so an entire best of 5 match could last only an hour, with brakes in between games.
The same things that make the game great could also be its downfall though as long, drawn out games are often what builds tension in a traditional sport, and the limited number of actions the player has could produce a ceiling in terms of skill level, making all the pros indistinguishable from one another. Only time will tell, and on December 3rd we will see if there is a trend to my prediction at the World Championship.
Either way, eSports are on the horizon! More people and more money are getting in this ring, and the real competition involves which games become multi-billion dollar commodities and which ones fade into obscurity.