Here’s a story about Jess and Ash. Player Attack has been lucky enough to attend some pretty big eSports events this year, and we even hosted our own in Adelaide, and these are two people I have been lucky enough to meet. Jess is into sports, the ones where people kick balls about and actually go outside. Jess plays the occasional videogame, but has never really been interested in the eSports scene. Ash, on the other hand, is a hardcore gamer who knows all there is to know about eSports, loves the suspense of character selection, recalls all the tactics and pretty much lives and breathes the games. Ash’s partner also plays the game, and is sick of hearing about it, but always tags along and sounds interested, just to be supportive. Obviously, Ash never misses a chance to watch eSports, while Jess has tagged along with some friends to watch a match, but isn’t really into it.
But what is interesting about these two people? Well …nothing really, they are both just your average joes who happened to attend a couple of events. What is interesting however is their behaviour.
Firstly, Ash. Ash attended a Heroes of the Storm event and did pretty much what you would expect from a hardcore gamer. First in the door, watched intensely, made all the right oooohs and aaahhhs during character selection, sat on the edge of the seat, knew all the tactics, the style of gameplay to expect from each team, and the name of all the players. This is great. Ash is the go-to person, who knows all the rules and how many rounds there are, and is absolutely enjoying the ins and outs of the game. Ash knows everything about what is going on, down to the finest detail. Ash is an absolute fanatic.
Then there is Jess. Jess attended a World of Tanks event. Although some friends have a close relationship with the game, and they’ve all gone to a couple of tournaments as a group, Jess really hasn’t played it much. However, what Jess might lack in knowledge is more than made up for in enthusiasm. It was a great World of Tanks Grand Final this year, down to the last round, where a silly mistake meant the difference between winning and losing – and Jess absolutely loved the sport of it, cheering for the underdog, celebrating every kill just like it was a goal at a football match, and getting that adrenaline rush that only comes from being a fan.
These are two people celebrating great events for completely different reasons. This is great, and how it should be, and what eSports needs to be. But it made me wonder – what games are around these days that can currently keep both these people entertained?
In recent months, Player Attack has started hosting eSports viewing events, where we take a 12-foot wide screen to a local venue for people to watch live professional gaming. We have done two events so far – Heroes of the Storm and Dota2 (we will be doing more). The big thing that came out of these events was the support we got. People were coming just because it was a gaming event, without knowing anything about the game.
Another thing that was abundantly (and unfortunately) clear is that they left still not knowing anything about the game. To me this is an issue. You watch football of any code, you’ll get a general idea of what is going on after a few minutes. Golf? The same thing. Even lawn bowls makes sense. But MOBAs? Let’s face it, the barrier to entry on these games is massive.
So this leaves other genres to make it mainstream. Firstly, we have first person shooters and fighting games. Well they are great to watch, full of action, and easy to understand… but oh wait, you are blowing the heads off other people and causing them great pain. Watching this on a TV is pretty confronting to the general public as a sport. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but Random Joe who has just turned on the TV might disagree with me.
Then we have other genres: card, action, RTS and sports games. I won’t go too much into sports games other than to say… why wouldn’t you just watch the real thing? So that leaves the other three, and to be honest these are the genres that I think will break the non “gamer” audience.
So what games are there?
Firstly, we have card games, and Hearthstone. This is Blizzard’s massively popular fluke. Who would have thought a card game would be so big? With 20 million registered accounts it is huge. But would Hearthstone (or something like Magic the Gathering) be exciting on a TV? I think so! People watch poker, and really this is no different. It’s all about tactics, and this can be played up in a broadcast.
Secondly, Action games. I would have to talk about World of Tanks here, as I have already seen Wargaming make some moves on a non-gaming audience. It is fun to watch, easy to follow and non-violent. It was great to watch a packed audience of all sorts of people enjoying the game, whether they knew what was happening or not.
Finally, RTS. Starcraft has already proven this is a winning formula. It is one of the most popular, longest running eSports games of all time. Give it some airtime in a Western country and I think you’d be onto a winner here, too.
eSports has really made leaps and bounds over the last few years. TV is still a little camera shy when it comes to showing it, but due to the massive improvements in streaming it has mean that eSports has been able to do what gamers do best – work around a problem. The question is which title will make the jump into mainstream? What will we see on Sunday Afternoon (e)Sports, and how damn old will I be before I finally see a sport I want to watch on TV?