The Future of eSports

eSports are one of the hottest topics in current gaming. While they have certainly established themselves in this role, many people wonder if eSports will continue to grow or if they have reached their climax. We decided to give our take on the topic.

The Future of eSports

This article is the fifth chapter from our eBook The Future of Gaming, in which KeenGamer writers discuss how the game’s industry will change. If you enjoy our work, please consider sending us a donation via PayPal on in**@ke*******.com. Every dollar will help us fund future projects. Feel free to download the full book in PDF. Or you can read the chapter of your choice in the list below:

Chapter 1: The Future of Video Game Distribution
Chapter 2: The Future of Virtual Reality Games
Chapter 3: The Future of Social Good Games
Chapter 4: The Future of Video Game Platforms
Chapter 6: 11 Companies that May Build the Road to the Future

These are video games played in a competitive environment and are not restricted to the sports genre, as they can cover first person shooters (FPS), real-time strategy (RTS) and battle arenas (MOBA). There is no consensus on a statement that fully represents eSports in today’s gaming scene, but this did not stop authors, developers and professional players from having a clear idea of the impact this market has had on the industry.

According to Dr. Juho Hamari, Professor of Gamification at the University of Tampere, Finland, we can define eSports as “a form of sports where the primary aspects of the sport are facilitated by electronic systems; the input of players and teams, as well as the output of the eSports system, are mediated by human-computer interfaces”. In other words, eSports refer to both pro and amateur competitive gaming that is often coordinated by leagues, ladders or tournaments.

Championships events have widely spread in the gaming community for many reasons. One of them is the simple fact that streamed matches allow gamers to learn how to play by observing professional players. Additionally, these tournaments and their games have also allowed enthusiasts to foster social interactions. A 2016 research from the Entertainment Software Association shows that more than half of gamers choose to play at least one multiplayer mode weekly. The most frequent reason? Building communities. 53% of players believe that video games help them connect with friends, while 42% feel that gaming helps them spend valuable time with family. The use of gaming to build stronger connections among people became possible thanks to one advent.

The advances in streaming technologies have significantly facilitated the access of casual players to live competitions, contributing to the promotion of events and games, thus attracting more people to gaming. With the vast number of online services dedicated to eSports viewership, players and spectators can find a wide array of websites to watch streamed content. Anyone worldwide with access to a computer and the internet can watch a match. Live eSports broadcasts and championships have positively contributed to a significant increase in communities that support this gaming category.

According to the 2017 – 2021 Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand report, streaming websites such as Twitch, can host up to 2.1 million streamers every month. These are all advertising opportunities, but spectators also garner the benefits of this environment. When they empathize with other people in the online environment, they tend to develop a closer sense of community. Professor Dr. Juho Hamari argues that this fact may allow viewers to develop a deeper connection with players and teams they are rooting for. Because of that, several studies show that there is a direct relationship between the growth of the video game industry and the success of eSports.

A brief history of esports

Since the earliest times of video games, developers knew that fostering competition between players was a good strategy to make titles more popular. The first arcade machines already displayed a list of high scores as an attempt to encourage disputes between gamers. A good example of that is the popular Space Invaders (above)This 1978 title was the first to give players the ability to make victories even more memorable through high score records. In 1980, this arcade game was converted into the home console Atari 2600 and it holds the title of the 5th best-selling cartridge for the system. Because of that, gamers challenged each other to achieve a prestigious spot at the top of the list. However, despite their success, arcade games lacked a mean for people to spectate.

The Fufure of eSports - Space Invaders

Nowadays, not only the streaming structure has been optimized but there is a major concern from developers to make the viewing experience more attractive. David Segal, a columnist of the New York Times, published an article about Riot Games and how their spectator modes had been developed to be like an ESPN broadcast. To achieve this, the company has implemented features to simplify the watching experience. An optimized interface for viewers was a milestone in eSports.

Today, online communities make up most consoles and PC gaming environments. According to Steam Spy (a stats service that gathers data from active Steam profiles), PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) has sold more than 30 million copies. It’s an impressive number that allowed the game to have one of the largest communities of players and streamers in 2017. Game developers can be considered to be key elements for the eSports scene. They are responsible for creating, defining and maintaining the structure of games while establishing its basic rules that support competitors. Above all, they are responsible for shaping the future of eSports, which is the topic we will address.

The most pessimistic future

Several technologies found in today’s gaming titles were unachievable 10 years ago. When looking at the evolution of games in terms of graphics, gameplay and interface, we can see some trends that can negatively impact the future of eSports and the industry. Due to the increased flux of players joining online communities, developers are always searching for ways to keep their games up to date, bug-free and balanced. This commitment is crucial when it comes to eSports. Ensuring that the experience runs smoothly is a way to retain your player base. One of the most efficient ways to maintain this environment is through patch releases.

With them, there is an array of possibilities that open up in online games, as developers can use them for exploring and implementing new features. That includes accessibility, connectivity, automation, genre varieties and more. For those reasons, several companies know that eSports play a vital role in the future of video games, as they provide a space for experimentation and innovation. While this future may seem exciting, it may bring unforeseen consequences. This progress may axe the posterity of another segment.

The Future of eSports - Destiny 2
Most upcoming titles may focus even more on multiplayer online modes, leaving single-payer features to the side. A good example is Destiny 2 (above), which received massive changes that include adjustments on team sizes and maps within its 5 different multiplayer modes, but the vanilla game shipped with a narrative that critics claimed to be subpar. This is an example that shows how innovation in solo games can become stagnant. While online players enjoy new and exciting features, lovers of narrative-driven experiences may fall off the radar of developers. Are we ready to pay this price?

Another unforeseen consequence of the success of eSports is how it revolves around already established titles, such as Overwatch, League of Legends and Dota 2. It is of human nature to go where the highest number of people is. Therefore, new players will gravitate towards these games, meaning that new titles may be overlooked. If this becomes a trend, fewer developers will try to break into the eSports scene, thus allowing few titles to reign as a monopoly over the industry. Fewer games might mean less innovation, as there will be less competition in the market. Even if these games include new features through updated, having fewer games would significantly hurt the overall innovation the industry can produce.  

Finally, another possible negative trend toward competitive games is how new illegal techniques may arise in tournaments. An example of that includes a case involving six players who were permanently banned from Steam Valve Events after accusations of match-fixing, which is described as a dishonest way to decide the results of a game before participants play matches. Similar cases happened in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive between North American teams who broke integrity and fair play agreements. The incident happened in 2015 when players were found guilty of throwing a match in exchange for in-game items. These items would then be put back in the market with real cash offers. Considering how eSports are reaching mainstream attention, if scandals involving cheating arise, this may hurt the image of eSports, thus preventing them from continuing to grow. The potential of eSports would not come to fruition if its credibility goes away.

The most optimistic future

The Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand report shows that eSports revenue more than quadrupled between 2013 and 2016. Following that trend, we could possibly see a continued increase by 2021 based on revenues that could triple again at that time. In addition to that, positive trends in the gaming industry may lead companies to change the way they measure success and development.

For example, business analysts may consider the concurrent number of users as a major performance indicator to provide a stronger impact in the company success, despite numbers in sales fluctuations. Because of the growing financial return in the gaming industry and especially in the eSports section, developers may find new opportunities to reinvest this money into further polishing their games.

The Future of eSports - Revenue
This makes developers focus on player retention, rather than simple sales figure. With that, studios will continue to strive to fine-tune the experiences they provide. The players are the largest beneficiaries of this trend, as they will enjoy a universe that is constantly expanding and improving. While the most pessimistic prediction is possible, if we look at the optimistic one, eSports will continue to grow and even surpass real-life sports, bringing a paradigm shift on how people see sports.According to a study completed by Pannekeet (2018), the eSports market had a total growth of 51.7% in 2016, earning about $493 million. Similarly, the global eSports economy will grow to $905.6 million in 2018, with most of its success associated with sponsorships, advertising, media rights and content licenses. Following this trend, it is expected to see growth rates reaching around $1.4 billion by 2020.  

For those reasons, the eSports audience is likely to be easily compared to the “traditional” sports audience, as studies indicate that the eSports industry incorporates an increasing number of local events, leagues, and media rights deals. With all of those opportunities being brought together, eSports have a substantial potential to overlap traditional sports audiences. That is, as we continue to observe a growing number of enthusiasts watching eSports tournaments, there is always a chance to see a decrease in engagement for traditional sports.

The likeliest future

Gamers have changed over time, as technologies and game design techniques progressed. Things that were once restricted to a small niche of young people have reached larger groups and communities that join the competitive gaming environment. Based on this analysis, the main aspects that support a positive trend in the future of e-sports are the growth of video game players and, consequently, the increased motivation coming from those who compete.

Financial reports have shown an undeniable success coming from this industry, as several studies confirm that gamers are spending more on this source of entertainment. In addition, the development of streaming technologies and internet accessibility has allowed for better quality and support when in live-streaming. The eSports world scene is a dynamic environment that brings excitement to players and endless possibilities to developers. It is possible to see how competitive gaming can display similarities with traditional sports activities. A comparison between both shows that cultural and social elements are very close, as competitiveness and social characteristics are easily found in eSports.

With that said, eSports will surpass traditional sporting events, in terms of viewership and revenue. While cheating issues will appear, they will most likely be sparse. Companies invest millions in eSports and they are aware that cheating may hurt the image of the industry, thus causing them to lose money. Strong punishment for cheaters will happen.

Additionally, eSports will not kill single player games. Humans are story animals. We crave for compelling narratives. While story driven games may face reduced popularity, to suggest they will go away is to go against human nature. In fact, we may even see a hybrid between narrative-driven and competitive games. Imagine an open world experience, in which people can travel through the map to find arenas wherein they can fight. This game could take place in a city where different factions fight for the control of regions. Players would need to pick a side, based on their background story and ideology. Based on the results of matches, certain factions could either win or lose territory in this city, thus creating an ongoing story of power and conflict, which revolves around an open world and the competitive events that happen in it. A hybrid between eSports and story-driven games is possible and it gives to players a greater meaning for their actions in the game.

Insights from inside

To discuss the future of eSports, we looked for the best in business. With that in mind, our editor in chief, Dmytro Voloshyn, interviewed the CEO of Team Revolution, Rezwan Mostofa (below, with glasses). He shared with us his opinions on how eSports will change.

The Future of eSports - Team Revolution

What do you think about the future of eSports?

“I believe eSports is headed in the wrong direction in certain aspects. For example, the new Overwatch League really doesn’t leave room for grassroots and brand new teams to enter the scene while it gives a great good infrastructure and is overall great for the game. For teams like us, it can be far too expensive to ever invest in a scene regardless if we like it. I think that’s where eSports started and should stick to its foundations instead of trying to adapt to outdated sports. However, I love how much attention E-sports is getting, being televised in multiple countries, most recently acknowledged by the Olympics commission for IEM Pyeongchang for StarCraft II, all great stuff. I think the future of eSports definitely entails it being recognized on a much bigger scale. I don’t say this being clairvoyant, highly intellectual or wise. It’s the conclusion anyone would come to, for someone who’s inside the scene and aware of the possibilities.”

What would be the most optimistic course of action for eSports?

“I think the most optimistic course of action with regards to eSports is to grow. I know that’s a very simple answer with multiple variables attached to it, however, that’s what’s needed to make eSports as relevant, or more relevant, compared to any current major sport, the people. The people following the game is truly the only thing that will make eSports better. The communities should increase in size and become more than just a ‘lucky’ career. Instead, being a professional player should become a prominent job title.”

What do you think would be the most pessimistic course of action for eSports?

“I think we need to avoid as much as possible trying to become like other sports such as Football, Basketball etc. The positives about doing so are having huge stadiums, dedicated formats, well-maintained leagues and ladders, whereas the negatives involves E-Sports losing what makes it peculiar to watch, the teams, the players, the casters, the tournament organizers and of course, the fans…. I think overall, it would end up being too controlled and imitated opposed to the funny/quirky banter that you can get from content in gaming today.”

Apart from the CEO of Team Revolution, Dmytro also interviewed players from Guile eSports, covering various titles, including Call of Duty and Fortnite. Read below Dmytro’s conversation with Djyoses, a player of Call of Duty for the team. He is a 21 years old competitive player and has been playing since he was 9. He shared with us his perspective on how eSports will change.

The Future of eSports - CoD
What do you think about the future of eSports for Call of Duty and FPS games?

“I think, in the future, eSports will be much bigger than it is now. Seeing the viewer count on livestreams increase little by little over the years, I feel that in a few years to come eSports will be taken seriously by people outside the world of eSports. I am very much looking forward to seeing how it develops. As for Call of Duty, I feel that this particular title can be much bigger if the developers focus on the competitive aspect of the game more. In my opinion, they can do more to center the game on competitive play and the competitive community.”

What would be the most optimistic course of action for eSports and Call of Duty?

“The best course that I think eSports can take would be to advertise more on bigger platforms, as a lot of people still don’t know that eSports exists. By creating more games and more genres that fully focus on competitive play, I feel it would get more people involved and more people interested in what eSports has to offer. Also, I feel that if game developers focus more on the community of eSports, by taking their input into consideration, it would make the games better and more enjoyable, which is what everyone wants.”

What would be the most pessimistic course of action for eSports and Call of Duty?

“I think the worst course that any eSports title could take would be not taking community feedback and focusing too much on the game itself. Personally, I think that the community of an eSport is what makes it a great eSport. I feel that if companies don’t focus on it enough, they will lose viewership and involvement from fans and supporters.”

Continuing his series of interviews with Guile eSports, Dmytro talked with Hubinalle, Fortnite player.

The Future of eSports - Fortniite
What do you think about the future of eSports in general and in your genre?

“eSports is a growing trend, which is being noted in bigger circles. More and smaller companies are getting involved, and people are getting to notice the growth of eSports. I’m from Finland where eSports is still quite small compared to other European countries. Therefore, in Finland, we can´t give salary to players that easily. It’s one of the reasons that some of our best players go abroad where professional career is a choice. Right now, I’m playing Fortnite, which is a new game. Game developers are working hard to get this game to be part of eSports. And I really hope that they manage to do so. In this genre, things are going well because of PUBG. In sports genre, I still play Madden from time to time, where the best players come from the US. There are some rising stars that are my old rivals and friends, from France and Germany. The future is very bright for this genre.”

What would be the most optimistic course of action for eSports and your genre?

“Best thing in this genre is to get Battle Royal games respect that they deserve and out of the marketing, even at consoles. It’s hard to predict if the game would be as big as Counter Strike: Global Offensive.”

What would be the most pessimist course of action for eSports and your genre?

“The biggest issue in Battle Royal games is a huge number of simultaneous players, new updates, bugs. The worst-case scenario would be players getting lack of inspiration to play if there are too many problems with servers, lags etc. In the end, there are 100 players.”

Continuing his series of interviews with Guile eSports, Dmytro talked with Strickland, Street Fighter V player.
The Future of eSports - Street Fighter V
What do you think about the future of eSports in general and in your genre?

“I think the future of eSports is very vast and bright due to the many different events an athlete can participate in. Fighting games for eSports is an interesting case. Many events started at a grassroots level. SFV has been awesome thanks to Capcom Pro Tour and having a tournament season and structure that helps give players a pathway to going pro and participate in the greatest events with other like-minded individuals. Experiencing the best competition is everything in fighting games.”

What would be the most optimistic course of action of eSports and your genre?

“It would be having more tournaments for developing a player. There are a lot of players who have the potential to shine and create awesome personalities and performances.”

In his last interview, Dmytro had a chat with Oreo. Guile eSports announced that he would be joining the team in April 2018. He plays Pokken and shared with us his insights on how eSports will change.
What do you think about the future of eSports in general and in your genre?

“So I think that eSports as a whole is only growing. League of Legends and Overwatch are continuing to see the increase in viewership and support over the last few years, and I don’t think it’s going to stop any time soon. My specific genre of eSports, fighting games, continues to see more and more support and viewership as well. ELeague and EVO have done wonders for mainstream viewing, getting games such as Street Fight onto TV and allowing a platform for Injustice and now Tekken to shine as well. In addition, grassroots FGC tournaments are continuing to thrive all over the country. I don’t think eSports are going to slow down any time soon.”

What would be the most optimistic course of action for eSports and your genre?

“It would be influenced by personalities outside the eSports world. Someone who before had no investment in eSports coming in could bring a whole new kind of growth. Rick Fox, the founder of team Echo Fox, is a very good example. A former NBA star invested into eSports and now has one of the most successful and stacked teams out there. I think him coming in was such a good thing. And who knows what kind of personality could be next?”

What would be the most pessimistic course of action for eSports and your genre?

“The community getting complacent with where they are. There is always room for change and improvement. And a scene is not dead if its community continues to play. Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite is a recent example. Because of lack of developer support and the game being dropped from EVO, many believe that the scene had died. The worst thing that Marvel fans can do is accept that. If they continue to play the game that they love and register for the tournaments that will host them, then they can make the scene thrive on their own. And that’s a beautiful thing.” 

Continuing our series of interviews, Daniel Quintilliano had a pleasant conversation with Thiago Diniz (below, red shirt), 2008 world champion of Battle for Middle Earth. He took his passion for gaming even further and created Nuuvem, a Brazilian online service for PC video games distribution. It is the largest company in this segment in Latin America and Thiago aspires to invest in new streaming technologies and expand the platform to new territories.

The Future of eSports - Nuuvem
What has driven eSports to become so popular?

“Several factors. Competitive games have been around for a long time, since the 80’s, in fact. But only in the early 2000s, they started to grow, but the movement still was in its infancy and many things still needed to be developed. In fact, even today there still are plenty of factors that need to be developed, but we are way ahead, when compared to where we began.

For starters, the games industry as whole grew, bringing more players to the market. Developers and publishers also played a big role in this. When they noticed the upwards momentum of eSports, many games began to have competitive multiplayer features, aiming to foster competition between players. Naturally, players started watching other play. This movement led to the creation of streaming platforms, like Twitch, which helped to propel eSports into what they are today. When you visit one of these websites and you see that the final match for a tournament has 1 million viewers, this fact becomes news, which further bolsters the exposure of eSports.

With eSports reaching news, inevitably, people start comparing it to traditional sports, as the final match of a League of Legends tournament can reach the same viewership of a NFL game. This makes people realize that eSports is something serious, which helps it to grow. This movement has made eSports grow and will continue to make it skyrocket. There is still a lot of room for expansion.”

What do you think of eSports making an appearance in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games?

“The initiative was fantastic and it was one that made sense, for a simple reason: the objective of the Olympics. If we look back and study the goal of the Olympics, we see that it is not just about physical competitions. The goal is to promote peace and friendship between people worldwide.
If we consider this aim and the fact that we nowadays have a competition that is extremely popular among young people, who are not as interested in traditional sports as they once were, it’s possible to see that it was correct to include eSports in the winter Olympics. Whether one sport features physical activity is irrelevant. What matters is what it can provide to people and humanity as a whole.”

Do you think eSport players are athletes?

“Yes, if you follow the daily routines of professional players, you will see that they engage in physical conditioning, psychological training, a diet designed for a certain goal, so it is quite similar to the regime of a real-life athlete. With that said, yes, I believe eSport players should be considered athletes.”

In terms of the future, do you see any potential obstacles developers may face when creating competitive games? 

“There are 2 things I believe and one is already happening. Both the community and the players are quite young and immature and they create several types of problems, especially in terms of toxicity. This is a concern for a developer, because they have to create a competitive community in an environment where you have players cursing each other, rage quitting and shouting in the voice chat. These factors make it very hard for you to manage the community, even for major companies like Riot and Ubisoft. All of them have a hard time with this and I believe they will continue to struggle. I do not see a definitive solution in the horizon for this problem and this is something that can have a negative impact in the growth of eSports.

Another possible problem is one that also affects real-life sports, which is the gambling environment. This is complicated to control, but it is a serious problem when the values being gambled get too high, due to the possibility of someone manipulating players. With the popularity of eSports, this is a factor that can have a negative impact, because you may discredit the final match of a tournament, for example.”

Based on the future of eSports, do you think a career in the field is a viable alternative to youngsters? 

“Yes, it can definitely become a professional career, which is highly challenging, just like real-life sports. We have seen news of players having very high salaries, sometimes even paralleling real-life sports, so it is indeed a promising career. But it is important to say that, to reach this level, a player must have an intense training regime, as we mentioned. You also need a good team, with a good structure and a solid technical commission. Of course, you must have talent as well, but training in this career is absolutely required and very intense. So, it is a promising prospect, but you need to be 100% dedicated 24/7.” 

Article written by Daniel Quintiliano. This is the fifth chapter from our eBook “The Future of Gaming,” in which KeenGamer writers discuss how the game’s industry will change. Feel free to download the full book in PDF.

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