Gaming's Next Level
Scoring Points In The Esports Video Game Space Means Playing With A Few Risks
The game zone at 2016's Consumer Electronics and Entertainment exhibition in Kiev, Ukraine
Video gaming is more than fun and big business—it's now a spectator sport. At the competitive level, it's dubbed “esports”—and the industry's taking off: Millions of dollars are generated through advertising, betting and tournaments where thousands of fans watch professional gamers compete. Esports have made it into the 2022 Asian Games, and colleges are even offering scholarships to esports players. Global revenue for esports and streaming game content is expected to jump to US$3.5 billion by 2021, up from US$1.8 billion in 2017, according to Juniper Research.
“Esports is Pinnacle's fastest-growing sport judged by volume and player numbers,” says Mirio Mella, head of customer engagement for online sports betting site Pinnacle.com in London, England. It took the company four years to reach 1 million esports bets in 2014. Two years later, it hit 5 million. “That is remarkable for a sport that six years ago didn't exist for us.”
Such interest has led to a flurry of project activity, ranging from the development of esports-tailored video games and mobile apps to construction of esports competition venues. Rapid industry growth and demand for new titles are pushing organizations into risky new territory, though. “Game companies are taking a lot of risks with these projects,” says Lauren Foye, senior analyst with Juniper in London, noting that not every game will work for this format. “These games have to be engaging and addictive to gain attention in the esports world.”
Global revenue for esports and streaming game content is expected to jump to US$3.5 billion by 2021, up from US$1.8 billion in 2017.
Source: Juniper Research
Game companies would be wise to not exclude their biggest stakeholder in the process: the gamers themselves. Even highly addictive games can lose their luster when project teams are tasked with transitioning to larger formats. “It's easy to lose focus on what makes the game great, like the story and the graphics,” Ms. Foye says. “Players really notice when those things are lost.”
Capcom's release of the game Street Fighter V last year highlighted that challenge. The game's rushed initial edition focused on providing a play style tailored to competitive gamers and excluded elements (such as a story mode) that attract casual gamers. The result? Users panned the game, and its total sales fell 500,000 units short of the company's early projections of selling 2 million copies in the first fiscal year.
Players will also abandon a game if it's glitchy or slow, which can happen when project teams face aggressive deadlines and limited time to test the program. “No matter how much hype a game has, if there are flaws in the design, players will walk away,” Ms. Foye says.
“If there are flaws in the design, players will walk away.”
—Lauren Foye, Juniper, London, England
To manage these risks, game companies need to integrate their most important stakeholders—players and viewers of these games—into the project life cycle. Project teams need to understand what these groups want from a game and collect feedback during beta testing on what's working and what's missing. “You can't just build a game and wait to see if players come,” Ms. Foye says. “You need to listen to what players are asking for and incorporate it into the design.”
The good news: Gamers love to give feedback. Project teams can watch players in focus groups, invite them to test pilot programs, interact on game-specific message boards or even just tune in to YouTube or Twitch—a global video platform and gaming community—to see what viewers are saying.
“This isn't a fad,” Ms. Foye says. “Esports is here to stay.” —Sarah Fister Gale
Let the Games Begin
Video game companies aren't the only organizations investing in projects to attract esports enthusiasts. Esports tournaments are regularly held in traditional sports venues, such as Madison Square Garden in New York, New York, USA. Backers of new tailor-made esports venues are looking to cash in.
MLG Gaming Arena
Location: Hengqin Island, China
As part of the country's CNY18 billion program to cultivate the island, Major League Gaming is building a 15,000-seat stadium dedicated to esports, an expo area, creative workspaces, shops and gaming-themed restaurants.
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Opened: March 2017
The 200-seat, 15,000-square-foot (1,394-square-meter) esports arena incorporates a VIP room and warmup areas for players.
Location: Washington, D.C., USA
Projected open: late 2018/early 2019
A new, 4,200-seat stadium is being built to be fully tailored for esports but also function as the city's Women's National Basketball Association arena. “We think it makes a lot of sense for us as a city to plant a flag and ultimately be the capital of esports like we're the capital of the United States,” Max Brown, chairman of Events DC, told Mashable. The stadium has yet to be named.