We talked about this a little bit in the last F2P Cast, but everyone wants to be an e-sport now. Firefall, PlanetSide 2, every flippin’ MOBA… they all want to be the next League of Legends and draw millions of players to their virtual arenas.
Hey, haven’t we seen this before?
Remember when every game wanted to be World of Warcraft, or, more specifically, the “WoW Killer”? If WoW could draw 10+ million players, all we need to do is make our game just like it (with minor, but surely totally awesome, tweaks), and it’ll be fantastic! The money will roll in!
How did that work for ya?
We’re just now starting to pull out of that non-creative nosedive with general MMO design, but I think we’re seeing something similar these days, with so many games clamoring for that e-sports presence that only a scant few have actually managed to be successful with. On the bright side, unlike with “WoW clones,” e-sport-friendly games are generally decent enough games to start with, and their entire financial success (probably) doesn’t hinge on them drawing millions of viewers for their World Championships.
Still, as much as we’ve been through with other games, it’s hardly wrong for us to roll our eyes and meet any such announcements of an “e-sport focus” with some skepticism. Sony Online Entertainment has been pushing for it with PlanetSide 2 for some time, with their agreement with MLG and their recent announcement of Battle Islands, which they insist are not just e-sports fodder.
Firefall’s another example of a game that, like PS2, is much more than just a team-based PvP shooter, a notion that Red 5 studios has been adamant about promoting, but now they’re hosting tournaments and, based on what they showed off at last year’s PAX Prime, they’ve got a lot of hope for the game’s e-sport marketability. Again, what’s the focus? Is it this rather cool and unique-looking PvE shooter, with innovative crafting and the feeling of fighting back the relentless hordes, or is it fairly typical, seen-it-a-million-times PvP arenas?
Really, companies are free to pursue whatever path they want with their games, and if they want to promote e-sports, good for them. Maybe they’re just trying to draw the hardcore tournament/e-sport crowd the same way another MMO tries to draw hardcore raiders or crafters or role-players as a subset of their larger player base. It’s just another way to play.
And someday, someone might actually manage to “break through” the way League of Legends and StarCraft (the latter mostly in South Korea) have done. But every game does have a limited budget and scope, and I hope they aren’t blown away in the attempt to chase an unrealistic dream.
For a great treatise on why e-sports might or might not ever be huge in America, check out this video from the PBS Idea Channel on YouTube.
By Jason Winter