August 28, 2020

What makes an esport?

CS:GO. League of Legends. Fortnite. These top tier esports games don’t have much in common on the surface. They belong to different genres, play completely differently, and look nothing alike. And yet they all belong to that exclusive club of profitable esports.

So what makes a game successful in the esports industry?

1. Replayability

The best esports games have variety. League of Legends matches have an infinite number of outcomes. Different champs, different items, different teams. And that’s not to mention the patch schedule. No matter how much you practice or how sharply you hone your skills, the variables are always changing. 

On the other hand, we have Hearthstone. Its players are passionate strategists who spent hundreds of hours crafting the new meta, but once it’s in place, that’s it. Spectators can look watching the same dozen optimized decks over and over. Not ideal when you’re trying to build a viewership.

2. Strategy

If you’ve been an outsider watching a game of CS:GO, you might find the strategy a bit shallow. Point gun, plant bomb, win game. Any competitive player will argue otherwise. They spend countless hours learning the recoil patterns of guns and the perfect millimeter of wall to toss a grenade at. For the serious CS:GO player, the complexity is part of the draw. 

The more time it takes to master the game, the more appealing it is not only to the pros, but to the viewers. Most filthy casuals can appreciate what it takes to pull off top tier moves, and the combination of awe, enthusiasm, and aspiration is how a game lands tens of millions of unique viewers.

3. Marketability

Depending on who you ask, Fortnite is either pure genius or the laughing stock of the esports world. But regardless of what you think of their young audience or its cutesy appearance, Fortnite has a playerbase of 78.2 million players per month, nearly the same as League of Legends. Epic Games knows how to get their players (and their player’s parents) to open their wallets and hearts. They’ve been able to market themselves away from their origin as a zombie fort-building game and into a monetary dreamland for professional players with $100 million prize pool up for grabs in 2019.

4. The Community

This is the secret. The undeniable, real reason any game becomes an esport. You can cram whatever you want into a product, but if the community doesn’t want it, you’re done. It’s the players. They’ll decide where to invest their finite time, money, and attention. They’re who will become your pros, your support staff, your casters. The community is the lifeblood of esports, and it’s the community that will carry an esport long after the hype dies down. 

And for the future? There’s always a new game competing for a seat in the esports scene. Many players are whispering that Fall Guys is the next perfect candidate. But like everything else, only time will tell if the fanbase sticks it out for the long-haul. 

After all, there’s nothing worse for an esport than an empty audience.