It’s an esports world, and we’re just living in it.
It might have seemed liked hyperbole to say this a few years ago, but it’s become impossible to ignore the mammoth impact esports have left on gaming. Game developers can’t shrug about esports now that finals of last year’s League of Legends world championship pulled in 36 million daily views across the globe and distributed $6.3 million in prize money. Market researcher Newzoo predicts the esports gaming market, which grew to $493 million last year, will hit $1.1 billion by 2019. Given this monumental attention media-wise and economically, as well as a 100 percent viewership growth rate over the past few years, it’s only natural that we’ll see development ideas championed in the esports arena creep into other genres of the game development space as they seek to capture these eye-popping numbers for themselves.
More esports will spawn
Blizzard recently announced that over 25 million people play Overwatch (a team-based shooter), capturing the attention of the entire gaming world. Simply put, that’s a huge number that no developer can ignore — nor should they. And this has all happened for a game that debuted less than a year ago. Thanks to the humongous player bases for Overwatch and League of Legends, developers are going to increase their efforts to lure in esports and competitive gaming aficionados by making their own efforts.
With news of more big-name investment dollars going into esports — particularly a new effort between the NBA and 2K Games to launch an esports league — more game developers will look to take on the big guns of the esports scene themselves. For evidence of this, you don’t have to look any further than the current stiff competition between multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) titles League of Legends, Smite, Heroes of the Storm and Dota 2. It’s already a big, competitive field — but that won’t discourage future game developers. If anything, it will inspire them to try and take a piece of the pie for themselves. After all, it’s an industry that thrives off competition.
Even with this growing number of esports-eligible titles, we’ll continue to see the gaming community in the driver’s seat, determining which developers get to rake in the profits while the rest watch from the sidelines. That’s because audiences play such an integral role in esports — users choose these games in part because of the communities they’ve fostered. Without a community following, new esports titles will simply collect dust in the virtual corner of the game industry.
Increased focus on competitive, yet collaborative gameplay
Esports still occupies an interesting space in the gaming world — by simultaneously exhibiting and rewarding both collaborative and competitive gameplay and behavior, rather than only competition. The idea of working on a team to defeat another in video gaming can trace its roots back to the days of Counter-Strike and Halo, but the blend of teamwork and combat has really gotten its focus and biggest push with the rise of professional esports.
You’re going to see more games try to strike this balance of collaboration and competition going forward. Sports games will have the easiest transition, especially if they depict team sports like football and basketball, where camaraderie and competition are celebrated arm-in-arm. But it won’t stop there: look at the rise of multiplayer modes attached to single-player adventures like Uncharted 4. You’ll see that multiplayer aspect take more and more resources and get more attention. The single-player adventure will be your introduction to the game’s world and lore — and then the multiplayer matches will take you to where the true game begins.
More frequent updates to games after release
Most esports games have frequent balance patches every two to three weeks as new content gets introduced and existing content is tweaked to make the gameplay fair and keep each character a viable option. These patches not only drive home the idea that these games are living, breathing developments, but also highlight increasingly frequent communications between developers and gamers. These changes get publicity for the game title in question: Many YouTubers and social media users will comment — sometimes vehemently — if their favorite characters are buffed (increased in power) or nerfed (decreased in power).
But expect to see this in games where you might not have expected to see “balance patches.” They may not come as frequently as every two to three weeks, but game developers have definitely taken notice of the ability to change the game on-the-fly to address glitches or unpopular parts of a game. Even narrative-driven games like Final Fantasy XV are getting patches now: Square Enix has confirmed that it will decrease the difficulty of the game’s much-maligned Chapter 13 by granting additional powers. Internet content delivery systems make these kinds of patches possible — but their role in esports titles have popularized them and brought them to the forefront of gamers’ and developers’ minds.
Taking esports tournaments to the next level
VR and esports are two of the most talked-about developments in game design right now, but we’re not at the point where we’ll see competitive gaming on VR. Esports is a field where games are won and lost in a second. That requires the quickest in lightning-fast reflexes and utmost precision — and not even the most high-end VR devices can deliver on that just yet.
But that doesn’t mean that developers aren’t thinking about the marriage of VR and esports, and therein lies that critical first step. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends tournaments were streamed live to VR devices last October and November. This doesn’t point to a development of a VR-focused esport title right away, but it does show conscious thought toward how to bring two of the hottest parts of game design together.
So yes, it’s tempting to say that it’s an esports world, and we’re just living in it. As game designers take notes from an increasingly huge wing of video gaming that draws in millions of both dollars and players, we will start seeing the results of their note taking pop up more and more in games outside of the esports space. After all, game development is all about building off of good ideas and making them more unique to you, your game and the gamers who are in it to win.
The Dean of the College at Cogswell College, Jerome Solomon has 17 years of industry experience in both video games and Hollywood, including credits on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, The Godfather video game, and Avatar.