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Two big questions for eSports

Two big questions for eSports

In 2014, 32M people worldwide watched the League of Legends One World Championship. Over the course of the year, $36M was given out in eSports prize money, across 2,249 tournaments – and 2015 is on track to be an even more lucrative year. eSports is plainly a very successful sector, and it’s still growing. But UKIE’s recent eSports briefing raised some interesting questions about the short and medium-term future of eSports, namely:

Why is the UK lagging behind?

The answer to the first question is fairly simple: UK gamers have always been more excited about console gaming than mainland Europe, and less focused on their PCs. Especially now that so many big console games tend to rely on annual releases, and are limited by the lack of cross-system play – neither of which make for great eSports potential. Therefore it’s no surprise that the UK is a little way behind.

GameVision data tells us that at present 3.9% of UK gamers are playing eSports, compared to 4.4% of gamers in Europe – a pretty similar proportion. However, our data also tells us that gamers in the UK are less likely to watch eSports than gamers in the rest of Europe. There are signs, though, that there’s potential in the UK market: there are a million more PC players in the UK now than there were a year ago, and awareness of key eSports titles is rising slowly.

It’s really about enthusing a wider range of UK gamers… which leads neatly onto the second of eSports’ big questions: what will it take to move eSports into the mainstream?

eSports

How does eSports go mainstream?

Of course, there are many definitions of ‘mainstream,’ and most of them aren’t realistic goals for eSports. It’s unlikely that five years from now there will be as many people watching the DOTA2 International as the FIFA World Cup Final. But there’s definitely more room for the sport to grow, and UKIE’s eSports panel suggested two key steps:

  • making more eSports games, that support themselves and grow their own communities, and
  • making an eSports game that people who do not play eSports competitively want to watch.

Our data suggests that in practice these two things might be very similar. A comparison of two wildly successful eSports titles, DOTA 2 and League of Legends, shows some important differences in the paths they’ve taken.

DOTA attracts very skilled, very committed gamers: 61% of DOTA players game for at least an hour a day. League of Legends has a wider appeal, it does a better job of attracting young gamers and women than DOTA 2, and almost 50% of players game for less than an hour a day.

League of Legends is also better at creating an audience distinct from competitive players: 31% of League players watch eSports, but do not themselves play at a level they recognise as eSports, compared to 18% of DOTA 2 players.

Reasons to watch eSports

We also look at what motivates gamers to play a particular title, from which we can draw some conclusions on why they might also want to watch gameplay. The appeal of DOTA 2 is purely competitive: players enjoy it because they can ‘be in the heart of the action’, ‘be part of a team’, and because they enjoy ‘the mental challenge‘. While League of Legends players also enjoy these competitive elements, League appeals to a wider range of play styles. Players also value ‘the opportunity to be the hero’, and ‘mastering the tricks and skills needed to play the game well’ almost as much as they enjoy the competitive elements.

These different motivations suggest why one game is easier to watch than the other: League of Legends is challenging enough to appeal to the hard core of gamers, but entertaining and easy to learn enough for a wide range of gamers to dip in and out of, for a number of reasons. The desire to be the hero, and picking up new skills, make the game very watchable, even if you’re not a devoted competitor yourself.

Into the future

A number of new titles seem to be tapping into this approach – Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch seem set to appeal to a wide swathe of gamers, and are great fun to watch – so if games publishers can get this magical formula right, and broadcasters like Twitch and Ginx continue to strive to make these sports accessible to viewers, who knows? Maybe one of these games really will become an eSports final that is the sporting event of the year!

GameVision is a syndicated study of the video games market, covering key European territories, which reports twice a year.
GameVision defines gamers as those who have spent money on gaming in the last 12 months.