It's fine to want to promote competition within your own game, but there's a reason smart developers wait before attaching the word eSports to their games. eSports comes with a certain set of expectations, and when your game isn't even released it's probably better to avoid using the word entirely.
There's no beating around the bush: eSports, as a word and a community, carries a stigma. It's a stigma that has, rightly or wrongly, through almost two decades of cantankerous fans making seemingly unreasonable demands of themselves, each other, their developers, sponsors and the poor moderators who have to keep everything from falling apart.
Those demands can be difficult to meet. They range from standardised tournament formats. Spectator clients. Dedicated servers. A guaranteed level of performance. Customisations, more so if you're targeting the PC. Regular, if not constant, contact with the community. Regular competition, as well as support for third-party organisers if they want to run their own events. And money. Lots of money.
None of those are things one imagines when you think of WRC 5 — that's World Rally Championship 5. The racing game. But in a new video, the developers have decided to hitch their wagon to the eSports train.
“A great online experience is one of the most requested features expected by WRC fans. We spent a lot of time thinking about something new and really exciting for them," WRC 5's game director Alain Jarniou said.
Here's the problem: demanding a stable online experience, where the game is coded well enough to guarantee low-latency matches and minimal disconnects, is light years away from the other features necessary to facilitate tournament play. And that's overlooking the biggest thing a game needs for eSports: a community.
There's a reason why other developers don't bandy about the eSports tag until a game has launched. Take Overwatch, for instance, a game that Blizzard, its fans and just about everyone and their dog knows will end up being used for tournaments.
Plenty of fans are expecting the game to be the next major title on the eSports circuit — but the developers try to refer to the game as a "competitive shooter", despite talking about features fans would expect (like a spectator mode and dedicated servers).
Jeff Kaplan, game director on Overwatch and a vice president at Blizzard, has publicly spoken about the problems when developers commit to the eSports bandwagon too early. " From it's very inception StarCraft 2 was targeted to be an eSport and I think there was a lot of grief that came out of that, like I think we really did create a healthy competitive eSport around it, but at times we sacrificed approachability," he told PC Gamer earlier this year.
It doesn't help WRC's case, either, when Kylotonn Games and its publisher, Bigben Interactive, talk about the size of eSports more broadly. "[eSports] ... have a huge following in the gaming community and a study by Super Data Research in May 2015 reported that 135 million people around the world watch them," their site proclaims.
Having that line betrays a lack of understanding; those 135 million viewers might be interested in eSports, but they aren't necessarily going to pay any attention to the virtual World Rally Championship. It's like saying someone obsessed with H1Z1 and ARK: Survival Evolved might be intrigued by a Hearthstone tournament.
They might tune in on Twitch or YouTube. And playing one game doesn't preclude holding interest in another which inhabits a completely different genre, of course. But it doesn't build a community, and it doesn't build a better game — and advertising the word eSports, and talking about the size of eSports in a global context, is completely the opposite of what those fans actually want.
People who invest their blood, sweat and tears into playing a video game competitively want their developers to talk to them. The players are, always have been and always will, the ones who determine whether a game has a competitive future. Talking about features and giving them the tools that they want — stable online multiplayer, a solid anti-cheat solution, fixes for crashes and glitches when they appear and regular interaction as required — is when you can start to talk about eSports.
When those elements come together, then you can have a competition. Until that happens, people will just assume you're jumping the gun. There's a reason why developers who have been there before with big games don't talk about eSports off the bat. It's because they know better. It's because they know eSports isn't for everyone.
Developers need to understand that too; sometimes, it's OK if you just want to have an online tournament. Let the players turn it into a sport.