What is next for esports?
A big question that has been around for a while has been what is next for esports. What is going to be the thing that takes esports to “mainstream” level. Before we can talk about getting esports to the mainstream, what makes something mainstream in 2018. For most it seems to be when we see our favorite games on TV. The thing is, we have that already. ELEAGUE has now run more than 10 events across 7 different games that have appeared on TBS. These events have actually gained decent traction as ads have been seen across professional sports games also airing on TBS and have brought big names such as Shaquille O’Neal to appear on ELEAGUE CS:GO Season 1. So if we have esports on TV, what is next?
Having your sport or activity appear on national or international television has always been considered a big deal but with each year that goes by it becomes less impressive. Live streaming services such as Twitch have begun to become places where tournaments and events can gain just as many viewers if not more than cable TV. The ELEAGUE CS:GO Major this past January broke records when the final between Cloud9 and FaZe Clan peaked at over 1.1 million concurrent viewers on Twitch. If we compare this to a traditional sports championship like the Stanley Cup which brought in 5.2 million viewers during game 1 of the NHL Championship. The National Hockey League has been around for over 100 years and its audience was only 5 times bigger than that of CS:GO’s Major Championship. I think these numbers can show how quickly esports has already begun to grow across the world.
Another possible measurement of success is money. There is no debate that esports has reached a level rivaling any traditional sport. While contracts still are not quite at the level of players in the NFL where players such as Odell Beckham Jr who just got a contract that can earn him upwards of $130 million. Polish CS:GO team Virtus Pro players signed contracts at the beginning of last year that earned them $25,000 per month, not counting any of their tournament winnings. Contracts are still at a reasonable size for how new esports is in any sort of competitive scene, the real money is in the tournaments. This week Dota 2 wrapped up their TI8 (The International 8) which took place in Vancouver, Canada where players competed for $25,000,000. The tournament is the largest of any game and to no surprise.
I keep going around the question but it’s time for some answers, what is going to be the thing to push esports to the next level? One option is franchising. Franchising is something that has been in almost every single renowned sport in the world. From the NFL, NBA, MLB, Premier League, and even to the National Cricket League, all of these sports have a league with franchised teams. With teams that are franchised it helps to bring in attention to players and the communities around them. For example Tom Brady is one of the most recognizable names in the whole world and he will always be synonymous with New England. Adding the city name and establishing a brand helps to bring in fans who are always willing to cheer for their local team. League of Legends and Overwatch have already started franchising with League’s NA and EU LCS and the Overwatch League. Both have a season which ends in playoffs at the end which adds some order to a team’s schedule. While the LCS for now is only team names, the Overwatch League decided to brand teams with a city associated with them, a few for example like the Houston Outlaws, LA Valiant, and even Seoul Dynasty have drawn local fans to cheer for them in something that is new and exciting. I am sure more games will continue to develop more formatted leagues/franchising to help add structure for the players and fans in the coming years.
Along with franchising, many established sports organizations have partnered with esports organizations to help fund and market teams. Organizations like the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Golden State Warriors have all partnered with some endemic organization. These all have massive fan bases spanning across the globe to help gain awareness to esports organizations like compLexity, Misfits, 100 Thieves, and Golden Guardians. This will only continue with more and more organizations partnering up and benefiting each other.
One major problem with esports that may affect its growth in the long run is games necessity for change. The main example being Call of Duty which releases a new title every year. Almost every other game is also constantly changing with new characters, abilities, weapons. This adds some pros and cons to both the players and the viewers. For the players, they have to adjust to a complete shift which can change the whole momentum or feel of a game based of a single character change. It can be good or bad as maybe this slight change really helps certain players to flourish, but it can also be harmful as large changes can be hard to adjust to and can sometimes hurt a players career if they aren’t able to adapt soon enough. For the viewer it can go both ways as well. With any new update it will add exciting features that have never been seen before and add to the entertainment, but for anyone out of the loop any changes made without knowing could lead to lots of confusion. Traditional sports have stayed the same with minor tweaks for almost the eternity of their existence. When is the last time you can remember anyone changing the core of football or basketball. Games will continue to add and innovate their games but they will have to be ready for the repercussions that come with it.
What I believe to be the main thing that will lead esports to the “mainstream” is time. When it comes down to it, think back to when you first heard about a specific sport or activity. The majority of the time a parent or older sibling shows it to you. I know for me I have been a fan of American Football for a long time and it is because my dad showed it to me as a kid. With time will bring many new fans. Also with time will come change, in a few years online streaming will be our main stream of media and entertainment. When the players and fans of today grow up and are able to share it to the next generation that will be when we see a massive increase in viewership and talent that will propel esports to the next level.
In conclusion we really don’t know what will be the next step for esports. There are many cool and exciting things that are sure to come I believe sooner rather than later. The esports scene has already made massive leaps in the past few years and it shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Thank you so much to everyone that has read, I would love to hear what everyone else thinks about what is the next step for esports. Feel free to leave a comment below or let me know on Twitter! @piethrouer