I’m not really big on gut feelings, premonitions and the like – but I’ve had one brewing over the last few weeks as we’ve taken the leap into 2016. It’s one that is of great significance to me, as a patron of this great thing we call ‘esports’. I have a feeling that we’re going to have a great year in 2016 with the growth of esports, and gaming in general.
Over the past couple of years we’ve seen esports grow and prosper, and slowly the western scene has been catching up to what our Korean (and a few select other countries) brethren have been doing for a while now. When I talk about this with friends, I sometimes liken it to the growth of a human being; using a timeline to illustrate the stages that certain regions of esports and general gaming are at.
South Korea has long been a mature figure in gaming, with the rapid growth of the country after the destitute era of the 50’s and 60’s – they embraced the electronic age with gusto. Over time they started bringing gaming into the forefront of the general public, with gaming being broadcast on TV stations and live through the internet, Starcraft: Brood War being the most notable of these. South Korea is our “elder” in this analogy, somewhat of the person we’ve strived to emulate, with their sponsorships from major companies, live professional gaming on TV and other mediums and hell – even the engrainment of esports in food to some extent.
Outside of Korea we have the greater-asian region, in which China, Taiwan, and others have also been bringing gaming and esports to the table. A lot of the asian region has had a huge presence in the RTS gaming genre, particularly Starcraft, Warcraft and other similar titles. China has had its own varied issues over time, but they’ve got TV, internet streams, and all sorts of things which encourage the engagement of gaming in the general public.
When we start moving to the western region, we start to embrace the ‘younger’ part of gaming, with Europe and North America 5-10 years ago being our young-teenagers. There wasn’t as much going on, no doubt there were huge gaming scenes – but on a top-level we didn’t see too much. It wasn’t until the newer generation of multiplayer games came about that they started to pick up some serious steam, and over a few years we have come to a point where these regions are verging on bringing esports and gaming into the highlight of its life.
We saw this just recently with the newly setup E-League getting a spot on the popular NBA program, Inside the Game. Could you have fathomed that happening, 10 possibly even 5 years ago? Never would have crossed your mind that we’d be here at this stage. Thooorin and Shaq trading fat-jokes and fight challenges – Richard Lewis and James Bardolph talking through the day’s Counter-Strike matches.
Down here in South-East Asia we’re still a very young child, but with the right support and push from the various gaming communities here I think we can catch up a little too, it’s just a matter of getting down and dirty, and trying to push the boundaries. Technical limitations aside – we’ve proven with WCS Australia in 2013 and other gaming events that we certainly have a vibrant and excited community – we just need to harness everybody to kick-start it all.
One thing that can certainly not be overlooked is the recognition of game developers. We’ve seen many titles and features added into new games to assist in their uptake by the casual side of gaming, and then on from that we’ve had a great deal of development in spectator facilitation. Dota 2 is probably one of my favourites for this – with the in-game client viewing of professional matches, ticket system to help spread some of the cash across to organisations to grow their esports businesses, and, of course, Valve dropping cash into big tournaments like The International.
Dota 2 and its estranged-cousin Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) have been big juggernauts for Valve, not only helping to rake in a butt load of cash, but also really bringing gaming into the eye of NA and EU culture with massive events like The International and the CSGO Majors.
After TI5 last year we saw the start of the “Majors” system for Dota 2, an attempt by Valve to help regulate and standardise Dota 2’s professional circuit so that it comes more into line with standard gaming. This helps on many fronts – but a great thing about it is that a more regimented schedule helps players, their teams, sponsors, and most importantly – fans. I have no doubt that this year at TI6 we’re going to break some huge records with viewership and the money involved. I think we’ll also see much bigger sponsors jump on board too. They’ll start to see how much of a great market the gaming community has the potential to be, and we’ve seen it already, somewhat, with McDonalds, Red Bull, Coke, and others starting to slap their labels on tournaments, gaming squads, and more.
CSGO has been a stalwart figure of gaming for an extremely long time. Back in the old days, I remember playing CS 1.0 on one of the very first computers I owned – trying to play on as_highrise and attempting to figure out the buy-menu. The player base for CS is massive, and I’ve no doubt that it always will be.
The appeal of CSGO as an esport is the ease of watching, which is a big thing contributing to the overall spectator-base for each sport. CS is very easy: bad guys, and good guys, generally with easy to figure out colours and objectives. This makes it brilliant as a spectator esport, and particularly for those unfamiliar with the game who might gather an interest. Over the past two years the viewer numbers and players has grown at an impeccable pace, especially given the very slippery start CSGO had.
Activision-Blizzard have helped by implementing a lot more accessibility in their games – Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm and certain changes to Starcraft 2 (SC2) have really let more people into the community and have been making it easier to play and watch professional gaming.
Legacy of the Void brought some staggering changes to the SC2 brand, most notably in the entertainment factor of watching SC2. During many periods of the Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm expansions there were some dull times, with certain matchups being very boring and formulaic. Now I know a lot of professional players and many fans still enjoy watching – but you can be formulaic while still being entertaining too, which LotV has now brought us.
New units such as the Disruptor, Cyclone, Liberator and Lurker along with old unit upgrades have really brought some awesome tension that we’ve missed for so long. As an example, watching a Disruptor firing off a nova is such a hype builder – just like Reavers were back in the day.
We’re not far from all of these becoming mainstream, and accepted as more than just “something nerds do in the basement”. My dad used to be someone who’d ask me “Why are you just watching people play games? Why not just play it?” which was something that frustrated me as he sat there watching professional Aussie Footy on TV. But these days, his tune has changed – not only from hearing the insane amount of cash that is handed out and invested in esports, but also because he can start to recognise some games and enjoy watching them sometimes.
We’ve got a big year ahead of us in 2016, and with game developers, esports orgs, players and you – we can break borders and get our beloved pastime onto more “standard” mediums, and we’ll break those records too.