Perpetual Uncertainty: The Repercussions Of Designing Games For An eSports Audience

Game design has long since focused on empowering the player through systems design – but how has the meteoric rise of eSports affected the market?

“Do you feel powerful?” That’s long been the question in game design. From giving Mario a mushroom to grow in height and power, game designers have spent decades thinking up clever ways for players to feel a sense of progression and empowerment as they slog their way through a game.

The rise of eSports has seen resulted in a shift in recent years, as the focus of many developers has altered to accommodate to the phenomenon.

Source: OpenDomain

Having departed from the halcyon days of sweat-factories, where hundreds of computers screamed in agony as players cobbled together ad-hoc brackets in rented out warehouses, eSports have exploded onto the sports entertainment scene with unquestionable vigour and a rapidly growing fanbase.

The market’s capitalization of competitive gaming has seen it become one of the fastest growing industries in the tech-related sector, and the developers behind the games have taken notice.

One could argue that developers have always been keen to create experiences in which players could weigh their skills against their friends.

With the advent of online gaming, the pool of potential competitors swelled to gigantic proportions – and with the natural human inclination to compete for fame and fortune, the concept of an “eSport” is something that has always been there, bubbling beneath the surface.

Yet, now that it’s out in the open, the sports-entertainment side of the video game industry has begun to exert its almighty pressure on contemporary developers.

No longer are multiplayer modules tacked-on in the ways of yore; not when there is potential for millions of dollars to be made on it. While this change has seen a push towards ultra-refined game mechanics, set against the backdrop of infinite arena-based warfare, these digital gladiatorial fights face their own unique set of design challenges.

MOBAs such as League of Legends and Dota 2 undoubtedly command a massive amount of the eSports audiences’ attention. Dota sees payouts for their Invitationals’ grand prize winners that topple their long-established traditional sports counterparts, whilst LoL reaps monthly viewers that many TV shows would kill for.

Source: Riot Games Flickr

Yet, for all of the grandeur, the issues facing many of the top competitive eSports titles grow with each passing year.

Given that they are rooted in technology – a field of rapid iteration and change – the future of many of these eSports remains in a perpetual state of uncertainty.

Will they continue to evolve into the next generation, as improved and re-skinned versions of themselves? Or will the market see a rise and fall of genres, in the way that the entertainment market at large sees a fluctuation in genre interest year after year?

In this respect, Video Gaming is at a disadvantage compared to its traditional sporting equivalents. Sports such as soccer and basketball have been refined throughout the years, to a point that one could argue they have achieved perfection; distilled to their purest form – there is nothing left to take away.

Video games and eSport titles, on the other hand, are still a growing medium – limits are pushed and boundaries are broken annually as the technology catches up with the ambitions of the development team.

eSports are certainly here to stay – but in what form is a question that remains a mystery to the entire industry.