Developers Need To Realise eSports Isn't For Every Game

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.


Comments

    "_____________ Need To Realise ___________ Isn't For Every ____________"

    You can react to 90% of everything on the internet with this short template.

    Given the tiny numbers that watch the streams of the top iRacing World Championship series (that each pay out over $10,000 to the winners at the end of the season), you'd have to say that they are slightly misguided.

    Also, if they want the kind of popularity they are aiming for, they're gonna need a better WRC game.

      am I missing something isn't that the free phone game? it's an esport??

        Nice joke?

        Iracing is actually the most hardcore racing simulator/league around. Its subscription model keeps out the riff-raff, so the competition is generally quite stiff.

        And it has our v8 supercars.

          I wanted to get a steering wheel rig and get into this but realised how much it all would cost and stuck to GT/Forza games...

          It looks damn amazing!

            If you want to compete in the seasons it takes quite a big time commitment. I tried it for a couple of years before I became a bit burned out, and gave it up.

            FWIW, I had previously spent several years of my life working in sim racing development, so that probably coloured my judgement.

            For more casual racing, more variety, and generally more fun, I prefer things like rFactor and RBR. They let me tinker undder the hood, too.

            If you get a good wheel it will last a long time. I have a launch day g25 which is still tight as a drum, and it has easily seen a million laps.

            Last edited 01/10/15 4:23 pm

              You're making me want to get a G29 pretty seriously now.... Droooool

                I modded my old g25 to work on the Wii u:

                https://youtu.be/HFQq0w_sXOQ

                Shifter in sequential mode fires weapons like a slingshot (hold back and let go for forwards).

                Clutch pedal causes hopping/drifting.

        It's not a phone game, it's a racing simulator.

        Oops, double post.

        Last edited 01/10/15 3:26 pm

        I think you're thinking of... what the hell is it called... Real Racing?

      Motorsport simulation and eSports don't really mix, very different audiences. Some sort of motorsport knowledge is needed which makes it a pretty small niche. Motorsport itself is pretty niche itself these days, there are only a handful of international series that have a growing audience.

    I don't quite grasp the idea of a rally car/NASCAR/F1/whatever racing game being included in eSports. They're already things that exist. Your audience is already taken (Though I admit you might get some bleedthrough from die-hard fans)

    If you had something that was utterly implausible or nightmarishly unfeasable in real life, like a Speed Racer/Wacky Races-esque game... I could totally see that hitting an esports niche. Pole vaulting cars and saw blades in a half-hour long race to the finish in crazy cars? I'd watch that.

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