Upon re-reading my earlier post “Why the Heck Isn’t Dawn of War 2 an eSport” I realized that I in no way did this topic justice. The majority of that post was a rambling account of the development of my interest in competitive multiplayer in RTS games. Perhaps interesting (I hope) but certainly not the high level discussion of eSports that I hoped it would be.
So now, armed and prepared with perhaps a half-hour’s thought on the topic, and some input from the kind people of the Dawn of War 2 Community Forum, (link to post, link to forum) I bring you a hopefully improved look at the eSports world, with a brief analysis of why I think that DoW2 has the potential to acheive this status (but probably won’t)
Background and Introduction: Hello, eSports, My Friend
First, I’d like to give my definition of eSports: a game is an eSport if it is played competitively by a large number of players, has a community of active casters, and has tournaments that feature a significant number of spectators. Unfortunately, this is a little vague, but it’ll do for the purposes of this post.
Looking at the current eSport world, there appears to be 1, maybe 2, main criteria:
- Be StarCraft.
- Become the nationally recognized main sport of a country.
Unfortunately, neither of these things is widely achievable. Of course, I’m being a little facetious, but let’s face it: few games have achieved the mass appeal of StarCraft:Brood War and StarCraft 2. To name a few, some of the other major eSport games are: Call of Duty:Black Ops (soon to be Modern Warfare 3), Battlefield 3 and Halo Reach. These are all console-based shooters, have a relatively easy learning curve, and involve many players simultaneously, which can help mitigate the mistakes of newer players. There’s also League of Legends which is a “MOBA” genre game with many similarities as far as learning curve, etc to the aforementioned shooters (MOBA definition)
League of Legends is a particularly interesting game, when considering the potential of Dawn of War 2 becoming an eSport. It’s free to play, difficult to balance (in this case, due to the large number of heroes), and it derives most of its income through the sale of new characters and character skin DLC. Moreover, it appears to be an interesting game to play and to watch despite a myriad of issues that appear to stand in it’s way. I think most of you might see where I’m going with this, but I’ll revisit this later.
Obviously, StarCraft is in an almost unassailable position in the eSports world. It is, if you pardon the colloquialism, the cream of the crop, the jewel of the crown. And how did it attain its popularity? Honestly, I don’t have a clear idea, and Wikipedia has failed me by neglecting to have any information regarding Brood War’s rise of popularity in South Korea during the late ’90s. Certainly, the fine balance of the game played some part, and perhaps Blizzard’s mantra of “simple to learn, difficult to master” played some part in its popularity, but this remains a big question mark for me in the development of other games as online spectator sports.
I’ll move on shortly, but I’ll make a quick mention of StarCraft 2’s success. Because, it has obviously been massively successful, which is interesting in part because many Brood War and WarCraft 3 players have pooh-poohed the game for being derivative, oversimplified, and much less finely balanced.
Money Money Money
Part of the picture here is money. Even during the beta, tournaments were held for many thousands of dollars (pardon any inaccuracy here, I wasn’t involved in the beta at all), and by launch there were several large recurring tournaments in both Korea, the US, and Europe that offered enough money to serve as a source of income for top players. This is exceptionally rare for any game, particularly a non-MMORTS where there are no items, characters etc that can easily be sold on eBay.
This, obviously, is one way a game can be quickly made into an eSport: Defense of the Ancients 2, for instance, has had a tournament with a million-dollar prize pool, and it’s still in beta. Obviously, it’s in line to become a major player in the eSports world. Throw enough money at a decent enough game, and you’ll have one part of the picture. If we look at other IPs, however, (like the search engine Bing, for instance, which reportedly loses billions of dollars anually and is still not particularly successful) we’ll see that money alone doesn’t solve the problem, doesn’t account for the entire success of the genre.
Some other obvious things that can contribute to a game becoming an eSport, or stand in the way of a game reaching this status:
- A detailed and intuitive replay system. Games without replays, will not become eSports. Sorry, Age of Empires Online.
- Someone willing to throw money at the competitive scene. Not sure how this could be done: It’s almost a catch 22: to be successful, you have to put a lot of money forward, but it’s not sensible to dump money into something that isn’t successful.
- The game has to be simple to pick up, easily accessible, and exciting to both play and watch. For instance, League of Legends has engaging graphics, fast-paced gameplay, and most importantly: it’s free! Aanyone can play it, and most reasonbly skilled people will enjoy it. The additional draw of watching it played at a professional level is a value-add to any modern gamer.
- I’ll reiterate: it has to be fun to watch! This, partially, comes from the game being easily accessible: it’s not very fun to watch something you don’t feel like you understand. But it’s more than that: StarCraft 2 is so fun to watch because you can tell when someone has made a great play. Perfectly timed raids, multi-pronged attacks with simultaneous harrassment, mind games between epic rivals… There’s a lot there to be excited about.
Competitive Dawn of War 2, and eSports
Initially, I set out to make this post about Dawn of War 2. But, let’s face it. It’s not an eSport. It’s a shame, it’s perfectly equipped to be one: It has one of the most rich and compelling gaming universes in existance to provide fuel for the fire, it has 6 (at the time of publishing) widely differing factions, it has relatively simple gameplay mechanics that combine to make for complex, tense games that can be neck-and-neck right up until the last second.
There’s plenty of room for a similar sort of fan-fervor and tense, gasp and applause inducing games that make StarCraft 2 so fun to watch. Unfortunately, a small balance and production team, a lack of effort from Games Workshop and publisher THQ on tournaments and marketing, and a small (though active and dedicated!) community mean that any hopes I may have for competitive DoW2 at a future MLG are just castles in the clouds.
Hopefully, Relic, THQ and Games Workshop will learn from the massive success of StarCraft 2. There are a lot of things that could be done to bring the Warhammer tabletop experience to the computer, and create a dynamic competitive eSport from what I consider to be one of the best possible candidates out there.
Lastly, here is a short list of things I hope that Relic/THQ will consider to revitalize this game:
- Make Retribution free to play. The current $30 will buy you all factions, and the campaign.
- Sell the campaign for $10
- The base free game will come with Space Marines, Imperial Guard, and the Last Stand, of which maybe 1-3 heroes will be available.
- Access to other armies will be paid. Perhaps $5-10 per faction.
- Army DLC (cosmetic only!) will be available for $5
- Last Stand heroes can be bundled with the army at no charge, or perhaps sold for $5 each
- Continue to release Warhammer 40K factions into the game and heroes into the Last Stand
- Release 1-2 more game modes (unsure of what these might be) and more maps.
Thanks for your patience.