eSports in 2018: Bigger and Better
The 2017 competitive gaming season wrapped up with record prize pools and some of the biggest names in gaming. It was also mired with allegations of cheating and illegal player swapping. These scandals still didn’t drive away audiences, who turned to Twitch and ESPN for more coverage of big-name events than ever. The competitive gaming market continued to grow by leaps and bounds and is on track for another record year. Here’s our predictions for how esports will continue to advance in the future.
Teams such as Cloud9 and Echo Fox continued to make waves and individual players, including Japan’s Yukadon and Haitani, dominated events in 2017. Next year's outlook suggests that more individuals will rise to the top with battles seeing relative newcomers like JimmyJTran face off against seasoned veterans like Qudans, as we saw in this year’s Tekken World Tour Finals.
More and more, it feels like a passing of the torch between generations of gamers as younger gamers go head-to-head with legends from the early days of esports and older competitors become role models and examples for new entrants. So many new sponsors have elevated gamers, both new and old, into the spotlight that it's becoming a pretty sure bet that even bigger stars will emerge in the years to come.
Stadiums are likely to get bigger and more dedicated spaces will open in 2018 and within the next few years. While sports stadiums and event centers around the world continued to open their doors to esports in the past decade, huge names in the gaming industry began planning their own esports venues.
Blizzard opened its own arena in 2017. Blizzard Arena LA seats 21,000 people, a far cry short of the biggest and most expensive sports arenas out there, but it provides a massive venue for competitors and fans of Blizzard games. The arena has already played host to tournaments with prizes totaling over $1 million, and as the fanbase continues to grow, so will the need for larger stadiums and venues.
Big stadiums require deep pockets, and we’re already seeing massive growth in team, event and venue sponsors for top games. The size of the stadium is only part of the cost. eSports fans expect their arenas to be fully wired, and smart stadiums cost more. This means producers have to shell out more to host events and rely on their big-money backers even more for support.
Luckily, success stories from sponsors abound, including Red Bull and Razer, companies that have grown right alongside the popularity of esports and helped fuel its success. New entrants to the sponsorship market in 2018 included Nissin, who sponsored the Tekken World Tour and whose Cup Noodle line drove interest in Final Fantasy XV, and over 300 IT and tech companies (including major monitor and computer chair brands), according to Neilsen Market Intelligence. Neilsen even launched its own eSports valuation spinoff to help make sponsorship investments easier for companies.
Bigger Prize Pools
More players, more fans and more promotional opportunities equate directly to bigger prize pools for players. Top pools in most games already feature tournament circuits with payouts totaling millions of dollars. Champions can expect to take home $25,000 or more from major events and season-ending tournaments. These rewards are expected to continue to expand as cash flows into the competitive gaming arena from traditional outlets and upcoming venues like the YouTube Live gaming network.
Unfortunately, scandal follows sports. Whether it’s illegal betting, locker-room and arena showdowns, or off-the-record antics, not even esports are immune to this curse. Many venues already put limitations on what players could say and do while on camera, with ESPN even outlawing standard Street Fighter outfits in the middle of a tournament due to revealing “virtual skin.” It’s likely that better screening of players and communication with broadcasters will become commonplace. Even more limits are likely to come as the sports evolve, with game designers taking into account wider audiences and FCC or streaming community guidelines.
It also falls to judges to make sure these big-money games remain fair. This year saw a few scandals as players were illegally dropped or swapped off of teams. At least one major event saw a player knocked out of the competition return under another name. It was played off as a misunderstanding of the rules, but fellow players knocked out of the running didn’t feel that way. Better officiating and policing of events, especially prior to the finals lineups, can only lead to better overall play.
One final thing that 2017 saw surge over previous years was the reliance on cornermen. Teammates helped one another out after matches, whether with advice, drinks or just a solid hug. Some turned to mentors for advice after a loss sent them to loser brackets, while others watched replays and discussed strategy on the sidelines. Professional coaches have long been a staple of the sports world. It may not be long before older players pass the torch to the new generation and step back to train and encourage those who will lead esports into the future.