The eSports Equation


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:

  1. Be StarCraft.
  2. 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.

You know you're successful when fights break out in sports bars over you.

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.

Protoss Mothership
This isn't the Castle in the Sky I was thinking of, just so you know.

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.




  1. Just as a point of interest: League of Legends is not a console shooter. I also have no idea why it’s the most popular of the MOBA clones.
    I can’t imagine you being able to apply a F2P Model for full on RTS titles.
    Games like
    – Supreme Commander / Supcom Forged Alliance
    – C&C x
    – et al
    Don’t work properly with that model.

    Finally, outside of StarCraft, I can’t see an RTS game that has such fast games. DoWII included. I am a massive fan of Forged Alliance, I think it has the most strategic depth out of any game I’ve played, but that’s its main flaw. It’s not tactical, it’s not fast. Games are interesting to watch, but not seat of the pants exciting. DoW II’s main aim would be to become a different game. I don’t get excited watching or playing it, and the reason it doesn’t succeed as a sport is because many others don’t. These days you have to put the aim of the project to be e-Sports worthy if you’re going to stand a chance. That and you have to continually support your product after release.


    1. Hm… didn’t mean to make it sound like i thought LoL was a shooter. I’ll edit the post to make it a little more clear.

      Yeah, thanks for catching that! I added LoL in later, forgetting that I specifically said that the other games were shooters. The post now properly reflects its genre.

      Likewise, I don’t think that all RTSes should be F2P… in fact, I agree with you that it’s not a great model for most RTS games. I was trying to say that in my opinion, DoW2 would make an excellent F2P game, due to the amount of races, alternate game modes, and DLC that could be generated from this game while still having it remain balanced.

      Hope that clarifies my post somewhat.


  2. Interesting post. 🙂 I don’t have an analysis, but I have opinions! 😀

    Retribution would make an AWESOME e-sport game. I much prefer the game play mechanics and combat dynamics of Retribution to SC2. I personally find SC2 extremely frustrating to play. Yes, I suck at Retribution, but I at least feel like I can play the title, and there is a feel to the game where I at least feel like I can be a contender. I’m not sure how to explain it, but SC2 has a frustrating game play and feel to it…potential critical mistakes are too many, and it is all too common to see a strategy absolutely get mauled by easily abused gameplay mechanics. I want to say it better than that, but that is SC2 in a nut shell to me.

    Retribution features more interesting combat scenarios in my experience, and planning and strategy is more rewarding. The design in Retribution makes more sense. Things “feel” common sense. Shooting a tank with a pistol prolly not gonna work. SC2 has some…quirky design notions present.

    I have watched some Retribution games being played, and really, I have been very entertained, and the battles I have watched have been very solid and engaging to watch. It would be a great e-sport, and I am a little surprised the game has not received as much attention as I would have thought. All 6 factions are well developed, and all 6 factions are fun to watch and fun to play as.

    Anyway, very good post and a lot of good thoughts. 🙂


  3. A late response, but you might want to take a look at the Company of Heroes competitive scene, at least where shoutcasting is concerned. In particular, the Sunday Night Fights series, which enjoys a healthy sponsorship from Relic and GameReplays. It has a pretty good following, with a few hundred people watching live for each round. As a matter of personal preference, SNL is several steps above anything similar offered by DoW2, which I find interesting given the pedigree of each game.


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