Published on July 31st, 2014 | by Ben Rueter0
Esports’ Is Getting Bigger, But Not Better
As the 2014 World Cup wrapped up, Valve’s Dota 2 tournament—The International 4—was getting off the ground. Now that both tournaments have ended, I can see why esports isn’t grabbing the mainstream in the United States.
With The International 4’s $10.6 million prize pool and the surge in Twitch.tv’s popularity, more eyes are being drawn to the esports scene than ever before and it’s starting to become apparent esports is bound to fail if its aim is to air alongside the National Football League.
The crux of esports’ problems lie with the expectations of what a sport is and knowing that esports is bound to change quickly and drastically due to advancements with technology. MOBAs are by far the most popular genre in the esports scene, which more or less magnifies esport’s flaws, but by no means do its flaws apply to all of esports.
According to Nielsen, 26.5 million people tuned in to watch the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. The International 4 rounded up more than 20 million viewers online according to an article by The Verge. This does not include people watching The International 4 on ESPN as well as on China’s state broadcaster CCTV and European media network MTG Europe.
The rabid fan base is there for esports. A video game competition airing on ESPN is a big step, but it needs to meet the expectations of a regular sports fan. Where MOBAs fall short is that Dota 2 and Riot Games’ League of Legends look like hyper-Lord of the Rings, which is a barrier for some. Take it too far into sci-fi or a fantasy route and people will ask why Dungeons and Dragon is appearing on ESPN. The presentation needs to change from the developers end to meet sports fan’s expectation.
Texas Hold’em Poker isn’t very exciting to watch if you can’t see the players’ cards, but that changed in 1997 with the introduction of the “hole cam.” This is a tiny camera placed where the player peeks at his/her cards giving the audience a glimpse at their hand. Fans at home can watch the strategy unfold while still anticipating “the river.” It wasn’t until 2003 when ESPN took note and broadcasted the World Series of Poker. ESPN brought in commentators versed in poker rules, terminology and strategies all backed up with ESPN’s high production values. All of a sudden, poker became easy to understand and interesting to watch on TV.
Esports needs its “hold’em moment” and it’s going to be a tricky process to brand esports as something the general public wants to watch. Can a game like Dota 2 capture what Texas Hold’em did over 10 years ago? I think so, but it will end much like Texas Hold’em’s brief popularity. PC rigs are bound to improve and video game popularity is in constant flux. Major League Soccer is a stable sports league, despite controversy. MLS will never announce the MLS 2.0. On the other hand, no one was surprised when Blizzard announced Starcraft 2. Games will continue to evolve and upgrade to keep up with tech standards.
Right now, an esports match feels more like a World Wrestling Entertainment match than a sport. Try listening to the grandiose in esports commentating. It sounds nothing like watching a professional soccer match and more akin to over-dramatic theatrics.
Esports can feel like a major event, but not a sport. Yes, it is entertaining but it doesn’t need to be compared to a major sports league to be legitimate. It will always be something in constant flux. 10 years from now, will people still be playing Dota 2? Or will gamers move to the next big thing. Time is a hurdle developers will need to anticipate in order to keep their games evergreen.
Esports is rough around the edges, but I expect one game will find that “hold’em moment” and we’ll see a video game breaks through to SportsCenter’s Top 10. It just won’t be a staple in the sports world, but rather a one-hit-wonder.