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Published on August 6th, 2020 | by minshewnetworks


What Makes a Successful Esport?

Competitive gaming has soared in popularity during 2020 and there are now half a billion esports fans around the world, according to NewZoo research. Thousands of video games are released on an annual basis, but only an elite few manage to become popular esports. What are the key components required for a game to crack this lucrative sector?


A video game will only work as an esport if it is easy to understand and features a simple objective. Soccer is universally popular because it follows a simple objective – kick the ball in the goal. Of course, it can become far more nuanced, as you analyse the merits of playing three at the back, the role of the trequarista and the problems with VAR, but everyone around the world can understand the basic goal. The same is true of basketball, horse racing and golf, which is why they are so popular in many different countries. The world’s most popular esport, League of Legends, is equally popular in China, South Korea, Europe and North America, as fans can understand a clear, simple objective: destroy the opposing team’s base while protecting your own. It is actually a lot more complex when you delve into it, just like soccer and basketball, but it is easily accessible and anyone can play it and quickly pick up the basic rules.

An Exciting Viewing Experience

Most esports fall into a few key genres: multiplayer online battle arena (LoL, Dota 2), first-person shooter (CS:GO, Rainbow 6 Siege, Overwatch, Call of Duty), real-time strategy (StarCraft II), sport (FIFA, NBA2K, Rocket League) or fighting (Street Fighter, Super Smash Bros., Tekken). These genres all work as esports because they lend themselves to an exciting viewing experience. The action is relatively contained. They either feature two teams of five clashing in a bid for glory, or one-on-one play. It is easy to follow the action, as there are not too many perspectives, and these games are aesthetically pleasing, with gorgeous graphics and thrilling highlights. It can be hard to follow massive multiplayer online games or battle royale games as a viewer, so they have not taken off to the same extent. There are burgeoning esports scenes for games like Fortnite and PUBG, but it can be difficult to follow the action and they are not as popular as the likes of LoL, Dota 2 and CS:GO.

A High Skill Ceiling

A game will only work as an esport if it is extremely difficult to master. It ultimately needs a low skill floor to make it accessible, and a high skill ceiling to yield an elite group of pro players that can dazzle casual players with their feats of brilliance. If thousands of people can master a game, it will never become an esport, because it would be too simple. Professional players of games like CS:GO, LoL and Overwatch spend eight hours or more per day training, but they still cannot hope to fully master their chosen esports. That is because the development team has built such astonishing depth into the gameplay. Esports require high levels of strategy in order to succeed, which can lead to an exhilarating viewing experience.

A Competitive Balance

Developers need to take steps to ensure a level playing field if they are to turn their game into a popular esport. Both teams must be given a fair chance of success. If one baseball team has elite wooden bats and the opposing team is forced to use splintered broom handles, it would not be much of a contest. Viewers might find it amusing for five minutes, and then quickly switch off. The same is true of esports. This is another criticism thrown at battle royale games: players are dropped on an island and an RNG determines the weapons they will have access to, meaning elite players that spend years in training can be killed by novices. This randomness makes games like Fortnite very popular, but it hampers their chances of enjoying long-term success in the world of esports. Both teams have a fair chance at the start of a LoL, Dota 2 or CS:GO match, and the results are dictated by the skill, strategy and decisions made by each team, which makes it a fun viewing experience. Check out the Call of Duty betting and you will see that elite teams full of highly skilled players are the favourites to succeed.


Viewers have short attention spans and a match cannot drag on for hours if a game is to become an esport. MOBA showdowns are short and snappy, and generally end in thrilling bursts of action. A game of FIFA takes 12 minutes, shooting matches can be wrapped up in five minutes, and a fighting game takes about a minute to conclude. Fans can enjoy intense action until the action arrives at a swift conclusion, and there is always a winner. It is the antithesis to five-day Test cricket matches that drag on for hours and end in a rain-affected draw. This is one strength of battle royale games – the map grows gradually smaller, forcing the players together to engage in a final showdown.

A Commitment to Longevity

Most games succeed as esports because the developers constantly invest time, money and effort in improving them. They are released on a free-to-play basis and the publishers make money by selling microtransactions. Some of this money is reinvested in a steady stream of upgrades, which can alter the meta, introduce new characters and weapons and redesign the maps. This helps maintain interest among players and fans, and allows large, passionate communities to be nurtured over many years. There are a few exceptions to the rule, as some old fighting games are still popular esports, but the likes of LoL, Overwatch, Dota 2, CS:GO, Fortnite and so on are all regularly updated, and the developers have demonstrated a clear commitment to achieving longevity with those games.


Money talks in the world of competitive gaming. You cannot have pro gamers unless they can earn a substantial amount of money by playing their chosen titles. Last year, The International carried prize money of $34.3 million. Many players earned multimillion-dollar payouts as a result of their exploits at the tournament. Dota 2 players stumped up the bulk of this prize money by purchasing battle passes, which allows them to unlock new content and support the competitive scene in one fell swoop. Other publishers are more blunt in their approach: Fortnite producer Epic Games simply pumped $90 million into esports tournaments in 2019, encouraging many players to abandon rival titles and return to Fortnite in an effort to make their fortune. Many players earned life-changing sums overnight. The esports scene is flush with cash right now, as industry leaders have tied up huge broadcast deals and sponsorship agreements, and this has been channelled into salaries, endorsements and prize purses for players. The best esports players have now made more than $5 million in prize money alone, while salaries are increasing. However, if someone pulls the plug, the game will quickly fade as an esport. Blizzard killed off the esports scene for Heroes of the Storm when it decided to cancel its Heroes Global Championship, and a similar fate could easily befall the likes of Hearthstone and Fortnite in future.



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