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Elements of a Successful eSport: An [e-Sports Dail-e] Special Report

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Posted by: Dustin Steiner

There are plenty of games with a multiplayer option out there. Why aren’t all of them considered eSports? The answer is quite simple, really. They are lacking several key components to be considered a eSport, which is what I will be discussing in this week’s [e-Sports Dail-e] Special Report.

There are three key components that help distinguish a competitive eSport from an ordinary multiplayer game: Community and developer support, an easy to read user interface and tournament support.

Community and Developer Support

The first key component of distinguishing a eSport from any other multiplayer game is community and developer support. For a game to turn into an eSport, there has to be some effort from the developer to make things easy for the community to follow. This can be through forum posts made by the developer, guides and announcements of upcoming eSports events. In addition, prize support and sponsorship of major tournaments from the developer gives the community a massive boost, as seen with the many Starcraft II tournaments that are around.

Another important part of developer support for a game that is looking to be a competitive eSport is continuous monitoring of the playerbase by the developer to notice imbalances in the game. I spoke more about game balance a few weeks ago, which you can read here – but if you want the TL;DR version of it, basically a developer should be constantly monitoring things like tournament results and player replays to see if there are any strategies that could be considered abusive and unbeatable in a game. Nothing kills an eSport faster than seeing one or two strategies completely dominate the competitive metagame.

A given game must also have an extremely active community and playerbase surrounding it in order for the game to succeed as an eSport. Using Super Street Fighter 4 as an example – the game has several sites dedicated to it and fighting games in general where the community gathers to chat on the latest strategies, changes to the game and upcoming tournaments. Another aspect of community that is extremely important is active members in the community who take it upon themselves to create resources such as videos, VoDcasts replays of major tournaments or weekly shows that talk about major happenings in the community.

User Interface and Game Design

A game looking to be a competitive eSport must have a spectator mode that makes the action easy to follow what’s going on at a glance. Let me elaborate: It must have tools that show what each player is doing at any given time. I’ll give an example: Starcraft 2’s spectator and replay system have built in tools to track things such as Supply, APM, what each player is building and so on. This allows the spectator to follow the action without the commentator having to work especially hard to check what is happening offscreen.

The same can be said of MobA games such as League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth, as both of these games have ways to track who killed who and what items are being purchased when. Though, League of Legends does not have a built in replay viewer, the excellent spectator mode more than makes up for this shortcoming – hopefully Riot will address this in the future.

There are several examples of current-gen games that make the action extremely hard to follow as a result of the absence of these tools. Take Command and Conquer 4 which came out around the same time as Starcraft 2. CnC4 was completely overshadowed by SC2 for many balance related issues, but mostly because of the lack of tools in a given replay – check out this example below.

As you can see from the video above, the commentator has to work really hard to follow the action, relying on his innate knowledge of the game to explain it. A good eSport, however, will have tools available that allow a viewer to understand what is happening without a commentator having to explain it – this is integral to new players or viewers looking to get into the eSport.

Tournament Support

Lastly, and this one should be really obvious – Tournament support. A game can have the greatest feature set in the world and be completely well balanced with an avid community, but without support from large tournament organizations (such as MLG, or community run tournaments, such as EVO), a game is very challenged to grow as an eSport. This, of course, can tie back into developer support – some developers don’t intend for their games to be an eSport, but they end up developing a huge following as an eSport anyway.

An example of this is Nintendo’s Smash Bros. Series – these games were meant to be fun, frantic party fighters, but many tournaments obviously still sprung up. The game got so popular that the MLG picked up Smash for quite awhile, even without the support that is normally given to an eSport such as balance patches, etc. This would tie into the massive community surrounding the Smash games and the popularity of the character’s involved in such a crossover game.

Honestly though, this is a rare exception. It’s very seldom that a game can succeed as an eSport without a developer intending for it to end up there, especially if said game never receives any sort of retuning or lacks certain features that would be integral to an eSport game.

Bringing it all Together or TL;DR

For a game to be successful as an eSport a developer must include key features into the game that make a given match easy for a newcomer to understand and follow. A developer must also stay on top of things as far as maintaining the game goes, such as balance patches, reviewing tournament results and interacting with their community. And lastly, for a game to be successful as an eSport it must have solid tournament support from major tournament organizers and sponsors.

That’s it for this week’s [e-Sports Dail-e] Special Report. Keep it locked here to GameZone for all the latest in Game Reviews, News and Original Content!

Dustin Steiner is GameZone’s eSports Correspondent! Follow him on Twitter @SteinerDustin

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