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Creating the eSport of the Future: Why It's Hard for Small Developers

by Michael Smith on 06/07/17 10:13:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This is the golden age of eSports. The gaming industry has taken off, riding a wave of competition and played by countless gamers who consider this a career. A decade ago you would have been met with derision and ridicule if you had suggested that you wanted to make a career out of gaming. These days it’s perfectly normal. And developers like me have been trying to get a piece of it since the beginning.

I have some financial interest in this industry. There are a few projects that I have been involved with that will ensure I earn a profit if this industry continues to take off. But those things are minor and I only own a partial share, and that’s because it seems like every time I try to get involved with a project that is 100% mine, I fail.

Here are the stumbling blocks involved with trying to get a piece of the eSports industry.

Creating the eSport of the Future

The thing that drew me to these games is that they look relatively simple. That’s what indie game development is all about. Fair enough, Call of Duty and Counter-Strike are eSports and those games are huge. But so is Hearthstone, which is just a card game. I fancied my chances, but I quickly realized that there is much more to it than that.

I created a simple strategy game based around the Gwent card game from The Witcher. It was basic. It lacked the big graphics and the full motion video. But the strategy was there and what it lacked in aesthetic it made up for in depth.

Before the game was completed I began to offer it around. The barebones were done, but the rest was essentially a well plotted idea. I spoke with experts in the industry and I spoke with investors. On the one hand I was being offered thousands to help establish the game, but on the other I was being told I would need millions.

And that’s the problem with eSports. Getting a winning game is only the first step. The next step is to convince a world of gamers that this is the game they should devote their days and their careers to. And then you have to fund the big events. What many people don’t realize, and what I also failed to realize, is that the big leagues and tournaments are operated and funded by the makers of the game.

The sponsors and team owners may pay for the teams, but it’s the developers who are dipping their hands into heir pockets to fund the events. And when you consider that some games reward as much as $1 million in prize money, it’s going to take a lot of funding to attract someone away from the big games and towards something new.

At that point, my “eSport of the future” because a shitty little App Store game that was sold in its entirety prior to completion.

Creating Your Team

As a gamer, the idea of creating my own team appealed to me. I’m no longer a young gamer who can find the time and patience to play for hours. Truth be told, I just can’t bring myself to play games for any length of time and the guilt that I’m not working always stops that. But I have money, knowledge and an interest, so I can create my own team, right?

Well, not quite. It is very easy to string a few friends together, to pay for a little equipment and to try and train them. I did all of this and it cost me quite a bit of money, but in the end I was left with two huge problems. Firstly, I wasn’t paying them a wage and this meant that when they developed into players good enough to compete and win, they just left for the first team that offered them a wage.

I wasn’t going to be cruel enough to tie them into long-term unpaid contracts, and they weren’t going to be stupid enough to agree. And of the players that did remain, none were good enough to get us over the line. We had the skill at an amateur level, but eSports have yet to evolve a true multitiered system, which means that I was wasting my time and my money.

I sunk around $10,000 into a team that essentially didn’t earn me anything. We did generate a little sponsorship opportunity, but it came with conditions that we weren’t able to meet. We tried multiple sports as well, but I quickly discovered that you really need to be focusing on one if you want to be competitive. Having a team that players LoL and Hearthstone at a professional level is as absurd as a football team that players in the MLB.

If you want to create a team, you need to be prepared to spend in order to keep good players there. You need to spend to train, to buy the equipment and to travel to events. Even at the lower level you could be looking at $100,000 for the first year, and smaller amounts thereafter. 

Ending the Dream

So, I didn’t get the eSport of the future. I didn’t create a winning team. I lost time and money, but in the end this little adventure of mine only lasted for a few months and I couldn't care less about the end losses. Technically the team still exists, but it has morphed into a group of friends playing games with other groups of friends. To show you just how uncompetitive it is, i’m currently their second best player.

How depressing is that?

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