The eSports industry is no longer just a niche market enjoyed by the most tuned in gamers. eSports - or electronic sports, as they are also known - now appeal to all kinds of gamers who find enjoyment in watching the best video game players do what they do best.
eSports can be incredibly lucrative for video game developers and the tournament organizers who host and put together the industry's biggest eSports events. A report published by eSports, games, and mobile intelligence firm Newzoo earlier this year suggested that the global eSports economy will reach $905.6 million in 2018, while brand investment in eSports will increase by a massive 48%.
As more and more sponsors recognize that eSports tournaments can be a fantastic way to get the word out about their brand, much in the same way that putting your logo on a soccer team's shirt can be an excellent form of promotion, more and more developers will be wondering how they can build eSports scenes around their games. These developers can also rake it in from sales of their games, sales of tickets to eSports events, sales of team and game merchandise, and those brand sponsorships.
This interest in eSports has completely shaped the way in which developers are creating and marketing their games.
Making the Multiplayer Meta
A game with a thriving eSports scene relies upon the meta of its multiplayer content. The meta is typically described as being a successful strategy for winning the game. For example, the meta may involve picking three tank characters (tank characters have a lot of health or armor and can absorb a lot of damage), or choosing a character with a particular ability (e.g an ability that is good for initiating teamfights).
For any aspiring eSports developer, evolving the meta is incredibly important and can manifest in post-launch updates that introduce new characters and maps. For example, there will be a huge change to the Overwatch meta when tank/support hybrid character Brigitte is introduced and players will have to work around her.
Releasing regular post-launch updates is also an efficient way of keeping players engaged and interested in a game as they keep playing it to enjoy the new content and continue to discuss the content with their friends. That is also hugely important to drawing players to the eSports scene.
New Ways to Play
eSports has also affected the way that games are sold. Selling a premium-priced boxed or digital copy of a game is no longer the most efficient method of creating the eSports scene, as having a high-price can put off eSports fans who maybe haven't been interested in the game since it launched. This means that developers and publishers have had to consider new ways to get their games into people's hands.
Ubisoft is a good example of this, as the publisher has released For Honor: Starter Edition, which is a budget-priced edition of its medieval fighting game. The cheaper version of the game offers players a bonus of three playable, starting characters (Warden, Raider, Kensei) which will allow them to get to grips with the game and figure out if they enjoy it and the strategies that they could use in the competitive scene. Ubisoft has also released a cheaper starter edition of Rainbow Six Siege, a shooter game that also has a growing eSports scene.
This trend of offering bonuses to players is comparative to the world of online casinos, where letting new players play for free (or at a reduced cost) is fairly commonplace. It gives new players the confidence that the games they play are enjoyable and that they are worth spending additional money on. It's also similar to the free demos offered by traditional video games that also let players 'try before they buy.' Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is one such game that recently offered a demo; the demo weighed in at a whopping 30GB, which is bigger than the full version of many other games!
Developers and publishers are also used to offering bonuses for pre-ordering games, giving players extra content (e.g power-ups or cosmetics) if they pledge their support and interest for a game before it is released. This marketing tactic is also still employed by companies looking to gain early eSports support for their games because that momentum can help to grow the game's eSports scene once the launch day hype has simmered.
Although a rather costly way of promoting a game's eSports scene, developers and publishers can just host their own tournaments for their games. Companies can get involved directly, offering huge prize pots and inviting the most well-known players and fans of their game to take part in it too.
For example, Epic Games recently announced a major Fortnite Battle Royale tournament for E3 2018, saying that fifty professional Fortnite Battle Royale players will team up with fifty celebrities to play the game at one of the biggest games industry events of the year. If the E3 2018 aspect wasn't enough to get people talking, then the roster of celebs and pros certainly will.
On a smaller sponsorship scale, companies can also reach out to video game streamers to play the game even before it has been released. Streaming is one of the growing forms of video game promotion and a sponsored stream from a big name can potentially make a game a huge hit, making it worth a company's while if they do decide to pay the streamer for paying their title.
eSports is such a lucrative industry that more and more companies will be testing out newer forms of building these eSports scenes. While their methods may not always be so obvious (e.g those major tournaments), expect more companies to bake-in 'eSports involvement' as part of their video game development and release plans. By ignoring eSports altogether, these companies will just be leaving a significant amount of money on the table.