Let's discuss: Will mainstream attention simplify eSports?

eSports is attracting a lot more mainstream attention now than ever before. With industry giants such as ESPN, Yahoo, Turner and the likes paying close attention to eSports, its complexity has come into question time and time again as new audiences are introduced to it. The exposure is great – and that’s not up for debate. What is, is whether this mainstream attention will influence developers to start simplifying their eSport titles to make them easier to understand for the general audiences, or will they be at peace with titles gaining more mainstream media attention due their simple nature of gameplay and understanding?

If we take a look at the more conventional sports which accumulate millions of viewers there is an understanding that while these sports might encompass complex rules and strategies, they are essentially “easy” to follow and understand for the general viewer. If a cricket fan had to switch over to Football, they’d understand that the 11 players are trying to kick the ball into the goal, but they may not understand the teams formations, player compositions, etc. This comparison can be drawn between many sports, but can the same be said about eSports?

If we take the above extreme generalization, for argument sake, and take a look at eSports which are perhaps easier to understand, we can name a few which might turn heads for even a second. Sporting and racing games are a given, but a subgenre of those would be fighting games such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros. While Super Smash Bros is a fighting game, its ruling and understanding does require further inspection, but for a general viewer who finds him or herself on a live broadcast of Smash, they wouldn’t be as lost.

Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, Battlefield and other FPS titles are also on that border of easier understanding. While again they each include complex understanding, at the end of the day the aim of the game is to eliminate your opponent, i.e. shoot them. Yes, each FPS title has objectives, but what grabs a viewer could be the fast paced action and “bang, bang, dead” appeal of the genre.

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The only other issue which arises with the above mentioned titles is the violence, which is another story entirely. However, these, in my opinion, are the easier games to follow for the general viewer and might do considerably well when compared to more complex games such as League of Legends, Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm, and Starcraft. This brings me back to my original point, will developer’s feel the pressure since these titles may gain more mainstream attention due to their “simplicity?”

Starcaft has been a broadcast eSports in South Korea since the days of Brood War, but while Starcraft is almost the national sport for South Korea, we can ignorantly ignore that, and look at similar titles which have now seen media attention in the more recent years. League of Legends is the biggest eSport in the world. It has began to attract mainstream attention, as well as being broadcast live on TV. The same goes for Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm. ESPN broadcasted Heroes of the Dorm in 2014, which was met with widespread ridicule, and honestly Heroes of the Storm is the easiest to understand out of all the above mentioned RTS/MOBA titles. Many felt the game did not belong on TV, and this did a considerable amount of damage to eSports pundits.

It’s no secret that these titles are hard to follow, even for those of us who appreciate eSports. And to truly enjoy a game, one has to understand it, else we might miss something spectacular. Some analysts and critics might argue that games are slowly being simplified, but not only for media. Another side of the spectrum, which comes with widespread attention, is an influx of new players. Making the game simpler means these new players can adapt faster, understand things easier – whichaids the process of bringing in more, and more players to the respective title. The fact of the matter is, with time, these games may be simplified as to cater to a larger audience when television and online streaming meet halfway in the future. For now, online numbers far outweigh those of television, but the widespread reach of TV will drive developers and publishers to push towards that medium, as it opens up a whole new stream of revenue.

Are these developers and publisher contempt with their current viewership and online representation, or do they want more? This is also an important question when approaching the one at hand.

I’d like to invite you to add your side to the debate, but to get things flowing I’ll add my final sentiments to the question.

There is a timeline attached to this, and if the publishers and developers hold out, they might not need to simplify anything. It’s in a sense a double-edged sword. Developers could now look to simplifying their titles to cater to a bigger audience brought in by mainstream attention, or they could hold out on those investment opportunities and believe that this widespread attention will force a larger portion of the general viewing population to start paying closer attention without any simplification.

Of course, the latter exists in some far off fairytale land because – let’s be honest – the older generations are not taking well to eSports. This does create a timeline as millennials are now slowly becoming the “older generation” and essentially the ones who will make the decisions near the end of this timeline. I guess we will have to wait and see.

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