What Makes an E-Sport

In the past articles, we talked about the various difficulties and lengths E-Sports’ leading organizations, iconic figures and even the diverse community needed to go to expand this subculture. Ranging from promoting an array of talented people and areas to the importance of setting your content and events apart. The discussion of maintaining E-Sports growth has always been the centerpiece for a range of issues and affiliated opinion-makers. But when it comes to making an E-Sport, often times predictions and confidence from many sides fall flat. For game developers, a multiplayer portion of a video-game is made with modes and atmospheres (tone) in mind during production. Games like Bioshock 2 and Super Smash Bros. Brawl are vastly different in genre, but the tone was relatively silly and imbalanced [as intended]. Nonetheless, only one is played competitively (not necessarily an E-Sport) and with enough of a core participation rate to reconfigure it to more competitively sound settings. Team Fortress 2 also lived to be played competitively, but did not reach enough publicity to achieve an E-Sport level of popularity (though the game has many leagues including the long-standing ESEA league). When we look into the past, we often see games becoming competitively played before making the leap to an E-Sport perspective. Years ago, that leap was more of a gradual step but with many game developers actually incorporating an E-Sport perspective in their planning and target-audience, the way they have to market their games is angled a bit differently.

For gaming development companies, when they aim to make the multiplayer aspect of a video-game “E-Sports material”, they have to respect a whole new dimension of competition and viewership when planning. The risk of incorporating this new concept is trying to maintain an easy-to-approach strategy of the game while also keeping the game mechanics skilfully demanding. What may happen is that you end up trying to please everyone and potentially end up having no one like your product. The shortcomings of older games help limit some of the issues that [arguably] plague many games today.

What makes a game an E-Sport? Many games are played competitively, but not all of them are viewed as competitively thrilling or entertaining. Recently, as titles are coming and going, we’ve learned that not all games can be both competitively skillful as well as be interesting to watch. Tribes often showed traits of a very skillfully demanding game, but could not portray this skill in a meaningful way for the viewer. World of WarCraft as well displayed levels of talent and cooperative teamwork through strategy and unique character builds/stats, but could not make translate this dimension into an easy-to-follow form of gameplay for spectators.

Passing in Tribes: Ascend required a lot of timing and coordination at ultra-high speeds, but the game itself was difficult to navigate as an observer and thus, difficult to enjoy as a spectator.

A lot of games are played competitively amongst friends, online foes and small communities without necessarily becoming anything more than a pastime. So what is the attraction towards making a game an E-Sport? Right off the bat we can say that it adds a level of exposure and marketing towards your company and game. It attracts another level of dedicated players and fans with the aim in playing as talented as your professional-level players. This, in turn, helps populate your servers and games, extends the longevity of your product as well as increase sales overtime.

UntitledThe top five most popular games on Steam consists of two major E-Sports titles.

The downside to it would be both the extra time and dedication pre- and post-release of the game to ensure it is both balanced and featuring the tools the community needs to jump-start their E-Sport idea. The second downside would be the increased amount of community outreaching and communication you would need.

With that said, there are about 5 simple points to consider when asked: “What would help make a competitively-played game an E-Sport?”

1. It must be thrilling to watch. Despite the limitations of development in the past, games such as StarCraft: Brood War, Counter-Strike: 1.6, Quake 3 and DotA were still exciting to watch. Excitement is key to an E-Sport and that excitement must be both innate as well as injected from the viewer’s perspective. Some games are less challenged by this first point than others. Fighting games for example are much easier to showcase and spectacular to watch than first-person shooters.

2. It must have a good demonstration of skill in a spectacular way. The word “spectacular” was mentioned in my first point and it is an essential piece to maintain viewership and excitement levels. This helps draw in more viewers who are not familiar with the game, but can easily digest what is going on. Demonstrated skill is layered by the amount of active knowledge and participation a spectator has for the game.

  • For fighting games, two foes duke it out to overcome one another.
  • For first-person shooters, coordinated teams of players determine the best trajectory towards achieving their goal.
  • In real-time strategy games; players command a base and collect resources to establish an army to overcome their opponent.

These are preliminary understandings of a video-game genre. How well do video-games today display the difficulty of these goals to the average viewer? If we were to take each game further, we’d see there is another level of knowledge demanded from the spectator and an aspect to consider for the players involved, let’s take real-time strategy games for example:

  • Real-time Strategy Games: A player must simultaneously efficiently ensure his resources are kept low (macromanagement) to produce a manageable army against his opponent’s planned attack (timing attack during a point of time the other player would be typically vulnerable).

Thankfully, commentators are present to help translate some of the finer details of video-games, but as the game gets more and more in-depth, its initial attraction towards watching it becomes more and more demanding for the spectator to decipher and interpret.

Strenx offers analysis of his match in Quake. This analysis helps display the depth of knowledge needed to play Quake at a competitive level.

3. The game cannot do everything for the player(s). When one’s designing their game, tendencies to make the game more convenient than some of the older generations of E-Sport games are common – such as the thought of what one couldn’t do then, could easily be done now. This thought-process is based on hoping one’s good intentions to make a more convenient game will attract more people previously intimidated by the first game’s learning curve. The problem with this is that it detracts the ability for people to evaluate skill levels when they spectate or as they play. Determing what should be left in the game as an integral part of its challenging personality is often overlooked by many current developers.

Consider this example: In Brood War, your workers would not automine on their own as they were created. You had to manually do it one by one. This is pretty difficult to both keep track of and remember in a regularly heated game. In StarCraft II, it was done automatically for you and that was considered good because it was a tedious task that deterred focus onto more exciting areas of the game (such as battle engagements and micromanagement). In contrast, in StarCraft II, when a siege tank unit detects an enemy unit, it would know, along with other siege tank units, how many shots it would take before it destroys the unit, thus no shots are wasted. This is not necessarily a good thing because the game starts taking control and figuring things out for the player rather than letting the player handle and overcome situations on their own.

4.  Do not just throw money at it: Believe it or not, money does not get people to dedicate or surround their profession around a game. There will be people playing it, but the community will be much smaller and the amount of media exposure will likely be a lot less. When it comes to E-Sports, it is a very community-focused affair and just having prized-tournaments doesn’t really show how much you want the scene to grow, just that you support it financially. Companies such as Ubisoft and their game, Shootmania, do more than financially support exterior tournaments, but really aim and grow their brand as an E-Sport title both through initial presentations at E3 as well as in conjunction with IGN’s Pro League to kickstart and expose their game’s competitive modes and competitions.

Ubisoft presents their E-Sport FPS title, Shootmania, with a showmatch including CounterStrike & Quake Pro Gamers. Shootmania comes complete with a map-editor, customized settings for competition/events and a revised FPS style to keep in touch with standard FPS play, but also create its own mechanics.

5. Proper community support, outreaching communication: Getting an E-Sports division within the company’s community team is often suggested because of how much representation is often demanded both at other major events as well as through online interaction. In our previous article, we mentioned the roles of tournaments and events game developers are more focused towards in comparison to competitions and companies depending the success and popularity of a video-game. With an E-Sports division, one is not necessarily playing God, but being representative of receiving community information, learning the inner-workings of said community (ranging from scene leaders to writing contributors and pretentious analytical blog writers writing high-school essays about what may make an E-Sport). While major event organizations can help keep the game in the spotlight, a company’s presence will matter beyond words of support for E-Sports: ArenaNet (Kotaku) and 343 Industries (Forbes) all talk in support of E-Sports, however their inclusion with both the community as well as the overall growth of their scene are lacking in comparison to some of the veterans such as Blizzard and Capcom.

(6. Accessibility):  While obvious for most, accessibility has to be maintained through different structures for different economies, its people and the way they live and approach entertainment. For most of North America, they all have their own consoles, personal computers and televisions to play video-games. However for Japan, consoles and arcades are the most popular mediums towards accessing entertainment. For Asia, PC Bangs (LAN Gaming Centers) are commonly used, leading towards the popularity of games that don’t require ownership of the product (thus free-to-play games such as League of Legends retain a large following). Ultimately these cultures that morph around a country’s habitual time-constraints and economy help determine the best ways to make one’s video-game accessible to the common consumer. In areas where owning a computer is a major luxury, time-cards and free-to-play models help popularize a specific game, but also rely on the more fortunate countries to supply a financial return.

These are the five things amongst many other considerations that would help aim a game into an E-Sport-like level of attention. I think for a good scene, you need a good game that will withstand the test of time. We can see this in DotA and most off-shoots from it, but you can also see how a successful game idea can also have a terrible developer support (Quake Live and Heroes of Newerth for example) and vice-versa; a supportive developer, but the game lacks the spectating components to make it interesting (Tribes: Ascend). Ultimately, it’s all about right-timing, good hooks of interest and the right demonstrators to really showcase your game.

In the past, E-Sport titles were eventually created through community popularity and events, later on becoming more professionally played and dedicated. Now, the trend is the contrast, where we are trying to create E-Sport products to garner community popularity and support. With that comes a new wave of adversities and challenges not previously seen.

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