Three weeks ago we were at the League of Legends quarterfinals in London. We got to watch the now world champions SK Telecom T1, or simply SKT, cruise through to the semifinals in a flawless victory. The mood in the arena was electric, the crowd chanting for both teams, cheering for individual players (Faker!), roaring at both good and bad plays, and generally being incredibly passionate about the game. It was awesome!
I’ve been to my fair share of football (soccer) games through the years, and I was surprised at how similar this felt. It’s weird because football is this really established sport that people get incredibly passionate about, and this quarterfinal felt exactly the same. Spectators, myself included, were arguing over miss-plays, discussing player statistics and reliving the best take downs.
Both of us here at Dinobyte have both been avid gamers for as long as we can remember. When we’re alone or when we hang out with friends, a fair bit of gaming happens, and often when more people are involved that means someone has to suffer the spectator role. I get pretty competitive, and I like being one of the players, but I honestly don’t mind just watching too (Lou on the other hand is more of a controller hog). This has again translated into a fondness for streamers on Youtube and Twitch, where I’m not super hardcore about it, but I enjoy it from time to time. I used to think that it had a lot to do with the personality of the streamer, but recently I’ve found that I also like watching competitive gaming, where it’s all about the game.
eSports has been a thing I’ve been aware of for a while, though I never got that into it. With the League of Legends world championships that changed though, and I’ve got a newfound appreciation for the spectator role. As I do with most new things I get into, I’ve read the wikipedia pages, the fan wikis and quite a few articles on the subject. By no means am I an expert, but I like facts and I like to understand stuff as much as I can. The whole history and expansion of eSports was super interesting, but I’m not going to get into that too much here.
The fact that there is a large amount of money involved wasn’t a surprise to me, but I was surprised at just how widespread and popular it has become over the last few years. Quite a few people that don’t even play League of Legends watch tournaments like the world championships. I think it speaks to how much gamers are invested in gaming culture as a whole, and that is something I want to talk about. For me it’s more than just enjoying the skill, strategy and execution though. I get really excited about the effect this has on the games industry, the games community and games design.
A lot of companies are jumping on the hype train at the moment, which isn’t surprising considering the eSports industry is currently banking more than 750 million dollars a year. MOBAs, like League of Legends, and team shooters, like Counter Strike, are currently experiencing a golden age, with insane numbers of players. There are several big companies that have their own takes on the genres on the way, like Battleborn, Overwatch and Battlecry. I personally think this is great; I mean it breeds healthy competition, variety and options for us as players. However as we’ve previously seen with MMOs a lot of companies seem to think that because one game is successful any similar game will be successful too.
I think one cool thing is how a lot of the team shooters are implementing more and more MOBA elements, such as npc minions and class systems with non-shooter roles etc. This fusion is seen in the upcoming games Overwatch and Battleborn that are definitely still team shooters and not MOBAs (I’ve been yelled at for making wrong claims about this before). I’m curious to see how this keeps evolving, how it will change how these games are designed and if these fusions are at all successful.
Speaking of success, the popular streaming platform Twitch has undoubtedly helped in the rise of competitive gaming. There’s just something different about watching it live, and the success of Twitch agrees with me. I think as an answer to this more and more games are allowing you to watch live games directly from the game client now, in the form of a dedicated spectator mode (most recently seen in Blizzard’s Overwatch). It’s clear that the industry has caught on that we want to watch games, and not just play them. Better yet, it’s even extended beyond the games industry. The BBC broadcasted the LoL quarterfinals I was at, which first of all was awesome, and second it shows that this is more than just a niche internet thing now.
The benefits of having your game be streamed online, or shown on BBC are obviously quite relevant. The LoL world championship finals was estimated to be streamed by 30 million people. That’s a lot of advertisement, which is ultimately what it’s all about. Why do games companies invest so much in these tournaments? They pay out millions in prize money, and it’s because it generates hype, it generates buzz and eventually it attracts more players. We at Dinobyte have even been approached by games companies to stream their games. I think it’s because they understand we don’t just want to be told to play a competitive online game, we want to be shown why we should choose this particular game, we want to see the community surrounding it, we want to engage with our friends in discussion about it and we want to feel like we’re part of something.
I’m excited to see how eSports can affect and change gaming. As we’re already seeing I think more and more games will focus on including multiplayer features, either as a side feature or simply design the entire game around it, and other social elements like spectator mode etc. Either way it’s fun to see that we’re evolving the culture of gaming, and challenging games companies to figure out new ways to entertain us.