Should developers focus more on the professional gamers than the casual gamer?
Posted on May 8th of 2014 by Max Kieturakis
Electronic sports has been seeing huge growth over the past decade in terms of viewership numbers and main stream recognition. The past 2-3 years especially have seen immense growth thanks to MOBA games such as DotA 2 and League of Legends, as well as the RTS game StarCraft II. Even the “once thought dead” FPS genre has come back to grace with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive getting 100,000 + viewers at its premier events. Nowadays, when I walk into a bar and the topic of esports comes up, I am guaranteed to meet someone who has watched one of these games online.
So what am I getting at? It is my belief that the professional scene is still not getting all the respect it deserves from the developers. Sure, Valve has put together The International with an enormous prize pool and great production value. This is without a doubt fantastic and something we could have never dreamed about 5 years ago. Riot has pioneered the LCS which has seen the highest viewership numbers in esports further legitimizing esports has a career choice. Blizzard has even jumped onto the band wagon starting the WCS which has become the premier league for all StarCraft II players ending at Blizzcon. The problem is, throwing money at prize pools won’t be enough in the long run because first and foremost, the game has to be competitive. Developers need to focus their games around the professionals that play it, not the casual gamer.
World of Tanks, Battlefield 4, Call of Duty and Smite are all games that have seen considerable developer funding for tournaments but are flailing in terms of tournament viewership numbers. The games are quite sloppy and clearly just not made to be an esport. They are casual games with the developer pushing it into a space where it doesn’t belong. There is something about human nature that pushes us to always strive to be the best at what we do. When someone is better than us, naturally we watch them to learn from them. This translates to esports in the way that the highest viewership numbers are from the tournaments which have the best teams competing. Even casual gamers watch professional gamers play, it’s something that has incredible value. For some reason however, developers are having a lot of issues realizing that professional gaming is becoming less of a niche and more mainstream. Here are some examples:
The first developer I will rat on is Valve. Valve is extremely professional and has helped grow esports in more ways than I can count however they are not without fault. I don’t hate Valve and the point of me bringing this issue to light isn’t to call out the pitchforks, but more to shed light on an issue that is bothering me. The game in question is DotA 2. Valve’s communication with the professional DotA 2 scene is abysmal as proven by the recent The International 4 invites. I won’t go into specific examples as there is a great article written by Dennis Schumacher from joinDota.com here. To summarize however, Valve invited teams with rosters that didn’t even exist without even confirming that the team can play with this roster. Now we have a controversial situation created where Valve is taking back invites left and right, a situation that could have been avoided entirely. The dialogue between Valve and the top professional teams should be ongoing and always open. It boggles me when I try to wrap my head around this situation; how could Valve not even confirm rosters? It is obvious they are not talking to the professional gaming teams which is very worrying.
Now when it comes to Blizzard, my issues are with the game play in StarCraft II. There has been much negative feedback towards Swarm Host play. For those that aren’t familiar with the issue; the Swarm Host is a siege unit which has caused there to be a lot of stalemate situations causing players to defend their base as opposed to playing action packed games. In Zerg vs. Zerg play this means usually the player to take the initiative and attack just loses. Blizzard has a slew of arguments for why they will not do away with the Swarm Host one of them being that when they look down the ladder, they don’t see many games longer than 25 minutes. This again begs me to ask the question: why are we not focusing on the professionals? The lower level players are still watching these professional matches which are outright boring. Also, if we are not seeing Swarm Hosts anyway in lower level matches, what’s the point of them being there? The community feedback from professionals has been negative to put it nicely. Edit: Blizzard has announced changes to the Swarm Host after the creation of this article.
Now these are the issues that hit closest to home for me. There are many more that follow the same idea where developers do not focus their games around the professional gamers. It is obvious that there is a lack of communication between developers and the people that play their games best which is something that I hope will be fixed as soon as possible. If you have any other examples, please let me know!