I've been following Esport for years now, and it has been grown exponentially in the last year due to the growth of online streaming sites like Twitch TV and Own3d TV, and the large investment of capital from game companies like Riot Games. Despite the growth, I've noticed a few barriers for the current esport games and future ones.
The first issue I noticed with the development of an esport for various online games is the concept of Scope Creep. Scope Creep is a term used by project managers that basically says that the project's scope has slowly grown too large. Essentially, the project evolves past what the company can manage to develop without compromising the quality of the product/service.
This is seen a lot in the gaming industry because advancements in technology are becoming so rapid and competitive that every new game needs to innovate to succeed. This is difficult for gaming producers and publishers because they have a market scope that is quite large. For example, MMORPGs are divided into a wide variety of segments such as casual, elitist, pve, pvp, etc. While games like World of Warcraft have been successful for years in targeting multiple segments, they fell short in the esport domain (competitive pvp) because they were restricted by the other market segment's demands. This is generally seen by the issues with balancing pve dps and pvp dps for games in the MMORPG genre.
The problem of Scope Creep isn’t isolated to the MMORPG genre. Developers of most games are trying to be the jack-of-all-trades instead of mastering one. What does this have to do with esports? Well, if there are no developers who wish to be the masters of competitive pvp then the games we use to showcase the esports scene will always be somewhat lackluster. Since I primarily play League of Legends and its growth in the esports scene has been incredible, I’ll be looking at the concept of Scope Creep as it applies to League of Legends.
Riot Games, the creators of League of Legends, has a philosophy that pushes them to the goal of being “the most player-focused game company in the world” (http://www.riotgames.com/about). While I absolutely love this goal, I can’t help but notice the difficulty in accomplishing such it since every player will want something different. Riot has chosen to focus on a few primary areas to achieve this goal such as esports, customer service, steady champion updates, steady gameplay balancing, improving player behavior, and quality of life improvements. With all of these focal points in mind, is Riot falling into the Scope Creep pitfall? I’d like to argue that they have found a good balance with the exception of one area. The area I’m thinking of is in fact esports. I know what you’re all thinking, “But Keith, they’ve had a record breaking year with regards to esports success!” You’d be right in thinking this, but I’m looking towards the future. I’m thinking of the longevity of the game and esports as a whole.
Let’s take a step back and consider traditional sports for a moment. Most sports you watch on television have been around for eons, and their gameplay has become very standardized in comparison to most esports who have new patches that can change the game dynamic drastically. This change in gameplay leads to a volatile environment for the professional scene that some would argue keeps it exciting. I would agree but that’s because I keep up with the changes. At the current rate of change I believe that if I were to stop following the game for a few months, it would be very difficult to start watching again and enjoy it to the same extent as I do now. I realize that my argument here is very biased, but let me try to give a better analogy. It’s 5-10 years from now, and I’ve drifted away from watching League of Legends tournaments, but my nephew is at the age where he’s starting to get interested in it. If we were watching hockey or football together, I could explain the game to him, despite me rarely following the games, but I wouldn’t be able to properly explain an esports game because of the constant changes shifting the meta. This is where Scope Creep comes in. Riot wants to please its playerbase by continually changing/adding to the game, but this undermines their goals of longevity and growth in esports. In fact, I would argue that this is an issue every potential esport game faces.
Am I suggesting that esports and League of Legends is destined to fail?
This is far from my point. I’d wager that sports like hockey and football started out just as volatile as esports are now. My point is simply that as players we can’t have everything. If we want League of Legends to become a permanent sport and not just a fad then Riot Games may want to focus their scope and standardize the game after they feel that they’ve reached the quality of traditional sports. This could be done by better utilizing their tournament realm since it could have far fewer updates and gameplay changes, but this creates a disparity between the game that amateurs play and the one that professionals play, which is a very bad directions to go towards since one of the underlining psychological principles behind fandom is relating to the professional you admire. It’s hard to relate with someone who plays essentially a different game.
My suggested solution (for League of Legends) for the above issue is quite drastic and may be horrible to do currently, but one day, it may be a suitable direction. My solution would be to halt all gameplay changes to Summoner’s Rift except balancing and yearly updates. I would adopt a similar model as item development by introducing new champions/changes into the other game maps and at the beginning of each season consider which champions/changes should transition to Summoner’s Rift.
A huge problem faced by the esports scene is the ability to attract more viewers. This issue is based around two problems with visibility. First, you only hear about esports if you're already a gamer. This vastly limits the growth potential of esports, and it could be very detrimental in the future as companies are deciding whether it is worth it to put money into developing the esports scene. There is really no easy solution to this, but I'd like to see more buzz generated for the larger tournaments outside of the online domain. It is true that a majority of your target market is online, but it is important for esports to have a presence away from the internet so that people become aware of it.
The second visibility issue is with regards to gameplay. I've read a number of blogs and articles that go over what makes a game successful as an esport, and one of the biggest points they make is that it needs to be easy to understand. This means that the objectives, strategies, and risk vs reward decisions should be apparent to a brand new spectator. This issue is evident in League of Legends because it is hard for a new viewer, who has never played, to understand the champions and their roles. All of us players have no issue understanding things like the differences between various ap mids, but for a new player or someone who just happened to check out a tournament broadcast they would have no clue. While the casters do help with this issue, I find that they focus a lot more on the higher thought process involved in the gameplay and not the basics.
My suggested solution for this involves the creation of a new viewer stream that has casters explain the basic fundamentals of the game that the general audience would find tedious. Moreover, educational broadcasts and pre/post game shows that help delve deeper into the gameplay and decision making of professionals. These are not new concepts and are done for regular sports, so I believe they would be a welcome addition to tournament content.
Please post your thoughts and questions below! I’m going to continue delving into the realm of esports and League of Legends by trying to make use of my business degree.