Understanding the eSports Arena

Liz Alton
Liz Alton

If you’ve followed the emerging billion-dollar eSports industry, you’ve gleaned that it’s big business. After winning the $3 million dollar prize for the singles competition at the world’s first Fortnite World Cup in July 2019, 16-year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf became a multi-millionaire. 

Professional teams of elite gaming athletes compete for millions of dollars and have lucrative partnerships with some of today’s biggest brands. However, many people who are new to the space have two fundamental questions: What exactly are these gaming athletes playing, and how does the whole thing work at a game level anyway? 

Here’s a closer look at the games featured in eSports and the key differences between them.

What Types of Games are Featured in eSports?

When you think of video games, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s the slow, methodical, strategy building of a game like Civilization. Or the sweeping adventures of a classic roleplaying game like Diablo. One reason video games are a $134.4 billion (and rising) industry is the wide variety of experiences and stories the format can deliver. Yet, as you look at the dynamics of eSports, some games fit better than others. Most of the games that are popular in today’s eSports arena have a few shared features:

  • They’re collaborative: teams can play together, or players can compete against one another.
  • They’re high intensity with plenty of action: it may be a group combat situation, a first-person shooter game, or a racing challenge.
  • They require a tremendous amount of skill, which can be refined and cultivated over time: precision shooting, understanding complex mechanics, or something completely different.

The Different Classes of eSports Games

There are several genres that feature prominently in the eSports arena. Some of the most common include the following:

First-person shooters: In a first-person shooter game, the storyline typically features a hero or heroine who is engaged in a firefight. The settings are often related to military or law enforcement, although many feature other narratives. Some of the most popular games in this space include Call of Duty, Halo, Overwatch, Counter-Strike, and Team Fortress 2.

Fighting games: Fighting games are familiar from the early days of arcade gaming. These games offer players a variety of characters to choose from, and individual players may be pitted against one another, or they may compete in a team-based setting. Some key games in this space include Super Smash Bros. and Street Fighter.

Sports games: Another popular genre within the world of eSports gaming focuses on the field of physical sports. These video games invite players to build their own teams and compete in sports such as football, basketball, or soccer. Some of the most recognizable names in the space include the FIFA series, Madden, and NBA 2K. These games are wildly popular, too—the 2018 FIFA eWorld Cup reached a record 29 million views.

Multiplayer battle arena: One of the biggest segments of the eSports world is multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games. These games are most often team focused, built around teams of five players, where each player controls a key character or hero. Dota 2 and League of Legends are two of the biggest names in the MOBA segment.

Strategy and survival games: Survival games combine the combat of battle arena or fighting games with the additional need to gather gear and develop strategies for survival. Fortnite Battle Royale is a prominent example on the market today. The concept is that a group of players skydive onto an island and play to be the last person or team standing.

Racing games: Another genre with a niche following within eSports is racing games. In racing games, players drive cars and compete against one another in a variety of track simulations. Some of the most popular franchises include GranTurismo and iRacing. 

How Platforms Have Catalyzed Growth

eSports has grown rapidly, in part, due to the emergence of key platforms that have made it easier to interact, watch others play, compete online, and more. This makes it more cost effective for companies to support events and cultivate players, and these platforms have provided the natural backbone for the growth of eSports globally by making it easier to build a profile and discover skilled players, and they’ve lowered the barriers to broadcasting. These platforms also allow fans to comment and engage.

As The Esports Observer notes, “Because livestreaming platforms provide a way to broadcast any live event to a massive audience, it has been important for showcasing the highest level of eSports competition. As the interest in competitive play grew on platforms like Twitch, organizations and developers took the chance to provide viewers with a unique form of live entertainment that was not being capitalized on in other areas. As interest grew in advertising to this new viewership, so did what we now understand as eSports.”

There are several major players in this space today, including Steam TV, Twitch, Stadia, YouTube Gaming, Facebook Gaming, Mixer, and Caffeine. Each platform has unique features, but generally they enable players to broadcast their livestream games or competitions to viewers, host chat features, enable friending and following for social-style engagement, and replays and highlights. Different engines have exclusive broadcast deals, recommendation engines, and more. Internationally, there are a wide variety of different brands, such as Huya, which is a major player in eSports in Asia.

Innovation in eSports continues, using the continued development of platforms and tools to support interactivity to grow viewership and engagement around the field. Whether you’re interested in fantasy football, want to compete as a Navy SEAL, or engage in a strategic free-for-all for survival—or watch the world’s most talented gamers do the same—there’s a professional eSports league, game, or platform that’s perfect for your needs. For technology brands and investors, the wide diversity of opportunities in the space promises to fuel growth for the long term.

Liz Alton

Liz Alton is a B2B technology and digital marketing writer and content strategist. She has worked with a variety of brands including Google, Twitter, Adobe, Oracle, and HP, and written for publications including Forbes. She is a regular contributor to Connected, Connection’s official blog.

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