How the Future of eSports May Not Be That Bright

By Jeff Francis
How the future of eSports may not be bright

Without a doubt, the popularity of eSports continues to rise. Tens of millions of gamers regularly watch tournaments being streamed online, and the prize pools for the largest tournaments often reach a million dollars or more. Some of the biggest mmo games on the market are heavy hitters in the eSports arena, and many fans figure that the sport will continue to get bigger and bigger. While some can say that the future of eSports looks quite rosy when looking back at its recent upward trajectory, there are some eSports problems that can cause some concern. Let's examine how the future of eSports may not be that bright.

Before we delve into the possible future of eSports, allow me to state that I don't normally play games associated with the hobby (or sport). At the most, I casually play World of Tanks in order to blow some stuff up. My reflexes are not that hot, which means that I normally get owned really bad if I ever jump into a moba, which is then followed by team members reminding me of how much I suck. However, I am interested in eSports as I've been a video gamer my entire life, and I think that it's great that it has become so popular. Yet there are real eSports problems that have to be addressed to help ensure that the overall sport will be stable and continue to grow. I'm actually optimistic about the future of eSports, but such optimism does not blind me to some potentially damaging issues.

Some eye-opening facts were released in a report by gaming analytics firm Newzoo which could have a pretty big bearing on the future of eSports. They found that a whopping 69% of gamers only play three games: League of Legends, CS:GO, and DOTA 2. (As an aside, only 8% played all three games.) As for eSports viewers, Newzoo found that 70% of them stuck to only watching one game. A full 42% of viewers actually do not play any of the big three eSports games at all. This is a very interesting set of facts, and they highlight some of the main eSports problems - too many games and lack of familiarity.

While the individual mmo games that make up the eSports market may be doing well, the fact that there are so many can be a hindrance to the future of eSports. While there are similarities between shooters (and mobas), there are some acute differences as well. A League of Legends player may find the action hard to follow if watching a SMITE tournament. There's actually a pretty wide variety in eSports, including shooters (World of Tanks, CS:GO), mobas (League of Legends, DOTA 2), card games (Hearthstone), and so on. An eSports fan may like one style but not care for any of the others, which divides up the viewer base. This base is further divided by the competing games within each genre. This vast array of games means that most viewers will most likely not be familiar with the nuances of most of them, which will definitely have an impact upon their enjoyment of watching a match.

Another of the eSports problems that can have a negative impact upon its growth is the lack of a central authoritative body. The major sports (football, baseball, hockey, soccer, and basketball) have a central body that polices the sport, but eSports does not. This didn't seem that big of an issue as the sport took off in the beginning, growing exponentially as a grassroots endeavor, but the lack of such a governing group now can be a real drag on the future of eSports. There have been plenty of complaints over the years of sketchy tournaments that don't pay out the promised prizes, lack of player support and legal protections, and a haphazard approach from the games' developers. There's a definite lack of stability in the eSports world, which is compounded by the sheer number of games available and the many different countries that they are played in, each of which has their own unique laws. Some developers are working to create a better organized structure, but some attempts have led to less than satisfactory results. Blizzard has driven off many teams' interest in Overwatch by requiring a $20 million fee to claim a spot, which comes with no profit sharing until 2021. By contrast, League of Legends only charges $1.8 million for a spot. Blizzard has also stepped in it recently with Hearthstone. They partnered with Buffalo Wild Wings, a sports bar, to hold the playoffs for the HCT Spring Championship at the restaurants. This has angered many players as they find the loud atmosphere not conducive to playing a mentally-challenging strategy game. Even worse is that the connection speeds are not often reliable. A lack of suitable venues is just another of the eSports problems that is a symptom of a lack of a governing body and of a developer not putting their best foot forward.

One final threat against the future of eSports is the sport itself. As stated above, interest is split between numerous competing games, but then there are the issues of player longevity and how games change. Most pro players only last for a few years before they retire or get pushed out. This is due to several reasons, such as a desire for stable employment or just not earning enough as a pro player. This constant shuffling of players is one of the major eSports problems as they serve as the face of the sport. Just imagine if football or basketball players only played their sport for two to four years. People need individuals to connect with a sport, but such a connection is hard to do if players just keep coming and going. On top of that, the games themselves change quite drastically over time, whether they're a moba, card game, or mmo fps. Think about how abilities and heroes get nerfed drastically from patch to patch. What was once a key component of every pro's strategy may be rendered obsolete in the next patch. Such changes in the rules also has an impact upon the casual fan as they wonder why a favorite champion of the past is now totally ignored. These rule changes may also impact how long a pro plays for as well. Just imagine that all the strategy that you have been practicing for ten hours a day for the last year is now rendered useless. A player who had been a god may be reduced to a bumbling amateur due to changes made to the game. The main sports do not have such issues. Football, baseball, soccer, basketball, and hockey have changed very little over the last hundred years. At most, a few tweaks were made, but one could easily watch a game from twenty years ago and one from today and not see a lot of differences. The same cannot be said for eSports.

There some definite eSports problems that face the growing sport. Such challenges are not insurmountable, but it will require a great deal of cooperation to be overcome. Still, there are some systematic issues, such as game changes, that offer a gloomy view of the future of eSports. Yet I do feel optimistic that eSports will continue to grow, but there's likely to be quite a few changes along the way. What do you think the outlook is for the future of eSports? Let us know in the comments below.


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