GamesBeat: That’s another topic here for us. What about the notion of retrofitting a design for esports or taking feedback after you’re pretty far down the road and changing a game? Is that possible?

Chong: That’s a challenging one. When we were preparing for this, I spoke to our design team a bit further to find out their learnings in developing our esports features for the first Project Cars. We did the best we could with what we knew at the time, but once we launched the esports program, there were a lot of things that you just can’t take into account.

The same goes for when you’re developing software to do events. The feature set you need there is quite different to just doing multiplayer. Those are two separate threads completely with esports. Right now, our software works much better for multiplayer races. When we do large-scale events, there are still some challenges. We have to go back to the drawing board and redesign, for example, the server system, so we can slave all the different player sheets together, all the different factors and rule sets that the players have. There’s a lot you have to learn just by doing.

We’ve had big events where the entire game crashed in front of an audience. It’s very embarrassing, but you have to deal with it.


GamesBeat Next 2023

Join the GamesBeat community in San Francisco this October 24-25. You’ll hear from the brightest minds within the gaming industry on latest developments and their take on the future of gaming.

Learn More
(Left to right) Michael Blicharz, vice president of pro gaming at ESL; Allesandro Avallone, cofounder of Faceit; Rod Chong, Slightly Mad Studios.

Above: (Left to right) Michael Blicharz, vice president of pro gaming at ESL; Alessandro Avallone, cofounder of Faceit;
Rod Chong, Slightly Mad Studios.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Blicharz: If you’re making a multiplayer-only game, you have to realize that if it’s successful, you’re going to have an esport, whether you like it or not. We’ve had companies that never thought about that. Retrofitting parts of the game in order to support enough spectator slots to observe a game was extremely challenging, very difficult for them.

Luckily, now everyone’s thinking about esports and trying to future-proof, so these features can be added down the line. But it was amusing sometimes to talk to developers and learn that certain things weren’t possible in their games. They just didn’t think that the game would take off as an esport, and then they had to retrofit features.

Now, in terms of gameplay, CS:GO is a phenomenal example of how a game was unsuccessful in the beginning. From my conversations with pro gamers, they didn’t enjoy the game at all in the beginning. Valve, through an iterative process, made the game better and better. They listened to feedback and brought the game to a state where top teams are now saying that it’s better than Counter-Strike 1.6. Changing the gameplay is definitely possible.

Avallone: Features like observer mode, spectator mode, coaches inside the game, all these features that make a game competitive are going to be key if your title becomes popular in esports. A lot more companies in the last three or four years are understanding and integrating these features out of the box.

GamesBeat: What about the business model for esports? If you’re starting from scratch, what business model do you have to think about? The usual decision is the question of whether to make a $60 boxed game or go free-to-play.

Blicharz: Hands down, the best model is free-to-play, simply because people don’t buy old games. That’s how it is. The business model itself — if I sell my $50 game to Ale, I’m going to go look for other customers after that. Ale’s dead to me at that point. How many copies of the same game can he buy from me?

With the free-to-play model, that retention is a driver for the company to take care of the existing player base. Of course, we have companies like Blizzard that, out of their company ethos, they take care of the player base regardless of the business model of a given game. But for the most part, free-to-play is the best because the barrier to entry for new players is extremely low, and the game can evolve all the time. There are reasons to put resources into the continued evolution of a game, whereas with a boxed game title — again, there’s a big release, you sell to a million people, and then those million people are no longer customers on the same level as people who might buy the game in the future. That’s not good for an esports title in the long run.

Jaunt and ESL are teaming up to make VR documentaries about esports.

Above: Jaunt and ESL are teaming up to make VR documentaries about esports.

Image Credit: Jaunt

Chong: We’re a boxed product. We’re trying to balance having a triple-A racing title, which also has a healthy community around it, and a healthy esports sim racing scene attached to it, which is continuous and doesn’t erode. Typically, with sales of a console game, there’s a big spike, and then sales drop off. Sales stop pretty quickly.

We have to ask ourselves a question. Why are we doing this? Why do we spend money creating esports features when we could be doing something else? We could be putting more shiny Ferraris in the game or whatever.

Right now, we’ve said to everyone involved — to the publisher, to the development team — that we’re not in this to make any money at all. We don’t care about that. For us, it’s pushing boundaries. We also view pushing into the esports racing space as marketing. Someone earlier said that that’s a traditional way for publishers to look at it. We have buy-in from our publisher. They’re supporting our prize fund and all the partnerships with the different esports organizers.

It’s important for any developers here to — you have to have buy-in across the board from marketing teams, publishers, developers. Everyone needs to understand why they’re doing esports and what it’s for. If you’re doing it for pure marketing, trying to develop a vibrant online community or multiplayer scene for your game — if you get that big base, you can attach esports to it. But you need to know why you’re doing it.

If you don’t have that buy-in, if you don’t have the right organization — for example, if you say, “OK, we’re doing esports, and we’re gonna dump a million dollars in, and people will play it,” but have no community management tools or direct relationships with teams, it’s not going to work. You have to rebuild your organization from the ground up to make it function properly.

Avallone: We’ve seen a lot of competitive games in the past that also have a single-player campaign. Building that campaign is a lot of work. Some companies decide to go with a regular price. Some try to compete by going below a standard price and add microtransactions inside the game, mostly for multiplayer. It depends.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare publisher Activision will give fans a chance to play the game early.

Above: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare publisher Activision will give fans a chance to play the game early.

Image Credit: Activision

GamesBeat: What would you say about having different versions of a game for competitive players?

Blicharz: The key today is to have one experience across the board. When you play soccer, the ball weighs the same, same shape, same size on almost any level. For the design of a game, the key is that it discerns the difference between two good players well enough to consistently find the highest skill level and get the score correctly, but at the same time, it isn’t discouraging new players to come in.

If I go into a game and instantly get destroyed by something like 50 to -3, which is what happened in Quake, that’s not a good experience. It’s not helpful for building a big esports community. League of Legends, for all the criticism it gets from more hardcore communities like StarCraft players, is a fine example of a game where the best team consistently wins, but at the same time, it’s not discouraging at a lower level.

That’s much more important than changing the rule sets for anybody. If I’m inspired by somebody like Faker, who’s said to be the best League of Legends player in the world, I want to have the same tools and the same rules in the game that I play as he does. I don’t want to play a different game.

Avallone: Agreed. When you learn the fundamentals of a game, you have to do it from the start. When you start competing in a game, you’ll do that at a very low level. You do need to have some tools inside a game, platforms to help them get better. Tournaments need to match people at the same level, so everyone still has fun, but they can still learn and become more engaged with the game.

Chong: One thing that’s important, which you touched on, is that you must have a very clear, empirical scoring system, so the best players can rise up and be discovered. A lot of games don’t necessarily have this with their points systems or currencies. If you’re designing an esports title, that’s very important.

Question: How important is it that there’s a chance element in esports games or the absence of one?

Blicharz: Ale would probably say, I think, that he doesn’t want any randomness in a game whatsoever. I think a very, very small random element can create stories, something interesting. In the past, we’ve seen so many games, whether it’s Quake or Painkiller or Unreal Tournament, someone is in control of a game, one point ahead, and then they get telefragged. Suddenly, their opponent manages to get back into a game. Obviously, that’s not very cool for the player who was on track to win the game. But at the same time, something like that can still be pretty interesting, as long as the gameplay around it is largely skill based.

Avallone: One thing I’ve learned from Hearthstone specifically is that chance can generate new moments. Sometimes, it turns the game on its head. Perhaps this phrasing is a little too strong, but it creates new moments where, on the fly, you have to consider a completely new situation. Players who are robotic and just master the game mechanically, if there are elements of variance in the game that make them adapt on the fly to changed circumstances — a game like that will more likely have a champion who’s smarter than other players.

If you have zero chance in the game, you can learn everything there is to know and find a perfect response to every gameplay situation. Everything becomes very predictable, completely mechanical. I’ve played several games where chance forces you to adapt, and adaptation should be a big skill in an esports champion’s toolkit in my opinion. Just to give you a gauge, though, extremely high variance isn’t good at all.