Love it or hate it, eSports is here to stay. From its start in local scenes to finding its way to international recognition, this arm of competitive video games is rapidly becoming a major entertainment force. With millions of dollars on the line annually, and many thousands of players all vying for their personal crown, eSports is constantly evolving, but some fear this might not always be a positive thing. Taking a look at some of the points from both supporters and opponents of eSports’ growth, we want to investigate where the truth could lie, and if there’s an objective position to adopt.
Positive Effects of eSports
Of the many positive contributions that eSports makes to video games, arguably the most visible could be found from an economic standpoint. Far from their humble roots, the largest modern competitive eSports titles like Dota2 offer tournaments with hundreds of thousands on the line, and the benefits here don’t just apply to competitors.
Outside of the players, supporting infrastructure like the ability to bet on League of Legends matches has done great things for the involved games. The ability to easily search and wager on games doesn’t just add to the excitement, it’s also brought in wider audiences than those who would watch otherwise. This is important for raising the profile of the games we love, which can have appreciable effects on increasing community participation.
One of the biggest problems video games have had for the last few decades is that they can seem inscrutable to outsiders. While most games are fundamentally welcoming if given the chance, the lack of familiarity that many outsiders have can inhibit their maximum growth potential. Esports act as a salve in this regard, as with increased popularity and visibility comes greater acceptance and appreciation from newcomers. Sure, an outsider might not be interested in watching a Twitch stream, but a tournament featured on a major channel could be another story entirely.
From this point, the lead-on effect of increased popularity then becomes a larger and healthier player base. As anyone who has been playing games for decades can tell you, it’s a sad thing to see your favorite games’ communities dwindle into irrelevance, but eSports can help keep this degeneration in check.
The Potential Negatives
As for the potentially harmful sides of eSports, the problems here can be nebulous and a point of contention for many players. For most general video game players, the problem that often comes up revolves around modifications to existing franchises to fit the eSports ideal. A major example of this in action came from Apex Legends, which launched to great success in early 2019.
While an extremely popular title in its own right, Apex Legends approached a sort of zero-sum problem for developer Respawn Entertainment. In essence, the move towards Apex meant a move away from their other flagship series Titanfall, which many saw as an underrated gem. By chasing and finding success with Apex Legends, the chances of getting a proper Titanfall 3 have seemingly dropped off a cliff, with no official announcement of a next-gen sequel so far.
On a smaller scale, some long-time tournament enthusiasts have also had issues with the way eSports has developed as a major industry. In fighting games, for example, the biggest tournaments like Evo began as grassroots competitions, ways for players to get to know each other and play on the highest level without overcommercialization. When making the move towards a more mainstream competitive system, some feel the origins of the competitive environment have been betrayed. While there are attempts within some game communities to remedy this issue, other times major community voices have become disillusioned with what they used to love.
Ultimately, whether or not the popularisation of eSports has been good for the community depends on where you stand. It’s not an inherently good or bad thing, and therein lies the challenge. Really, a lot of how the eSports market develops depends on the fans and the existing communities, and what they do to defend the games they love. It’s a matter of finding a balancing point, to keep the growth without losing what made the early communities so magical. In this way, moving video games into eSports will always mean the fans need to fight for what they see is right, in what is hopefully a much more cooperative future.