2016 was a big year for esports. With huge growth across the board, what trends are we going to see in 2017? Well, we’ve put our heads together, and these are some topics we think it’s worth diving a little bit into. Keep in mind that this is mostly speculation, but as industry members, these are our esports trends worth keeping an eye on:
1. Overwatch League and the Franchising of Esports
One of the biggest announcements at Blizzcon 2016 was that of Overwatch League. Overwatch League is an organization created by Blizzard to create an entirely new ecosystem for Overwatch Esports to grow and develop in.
As the first of its kind, Overwatch League will be diving into unknown territory as it tries to replicate and implement systems similar to the MLB or NFL. Teams will be regionally located across all competing countries, requiring teams to be located in their home territories. This approach brings sustainability, production value, organic fans and structure to the sometimes confusing Esports landscape.
If you live in California, you are likely to support your local baseball team, whether that is the Angels, Dodgers, Giants or A’s you’re likely to know their schedule and might even be inclined to attend one of their games. Overwatch League wants to replicate this loyalty with their regional structure. A consistent location and broadcast schedule can bring familiarity to people who are new to Esports.
It’s tough to insist that Blizzard’s plans will all be successful as many details still have not been disclosed. One thing is certain; if Overwatch League is successful, more game developers will follow in their trail.
2. International Recognition of Esports and Visas
Perhaps it’s a bold prediction, but I believe 2017 will be the year that esports are finally recognized and validated on an international level. Obtaining visas has been a trial in itself for international teams competing in tournaments that aren’t located in their home countries.
We’ve witnessed teams forfeit their slots in Dota 2 tournaments. We’ve seen LCS teams picked apart by local governments not accepting esports as a valid career to obtaining a work visa. We’ve seen player’s entire careers delayed.
Throughout 2016 there have been small breakthroughs for players in acquiring visas or permission to attend tournaments. This is a step in the right direction and proof that governments are slowly recognizing that Esports is a very real activity. With the introduction of Overwatch League, a Dota 2 International prize pool exceeding $20 million and an exponentially increasing market governments won’t be able to deny esports existence for long.
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3. Increased Ad Revenue for Tournaments and Players
With the debut of ELEAGUE, viewers saw large corporations spending a sizable chunk of money on advertising to the esports world: Domino’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Snickers, Arby’s and others have all invested significant amounts of money into ELEAGUE. Part of this is due to the ongoing difficulty of reaching the 18 – 24 year old demographic through the most traditional advertising service: television. Expect to see more large companies sponsoring tournaments and getting involved in esports.
Will the influx of ad revenue force more esports players to be aware of not offending their sponsors, or is the industry unique in this sense? Will more players receive quality PR training? Will there be less Twitter drama? It depends on the amount of money and exposure that’s involved. That being said, players seem to be more comfortable embracing their (perhaps unexpected) new position as role models for young fans–not in all cases, obviously.
4. Everyone Wants a Piece of the Pie
More gaming developers will be investing time, money, and infrastructure into gaining enough momentum for their multiplayer titles to become esports titles. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Will it backfire? What’s the difference between competitive games and esports titles? Will we see a major game publisher release a total flop? Will there be a small studio that creates the next huge esports hit?
It’s a good thing for the world of esports overall, but game developers are potentially putting themselves at risk by trying to “force” games to be competitive titles. Online multiplayer is often an expected feature in AAA releases, and publishers will inevitably be tempted by the amount of money that’s being invested in esports. We’ve already seen the release of games (Gears of War and Halo come to mind) that companies are spending large amounts of money to try and build competitive scenes around via financial support, and 2017 will almost certainly feature more of this. The failure of a game as an esport, especially for a recently released title, wouldn’t signal the death of the industry, but it would send an important message to other developers about the importance of organically growing and supporting the scene of a game before taking financial risks on its success.
We’ll be adding to this document in the coming days and weeks. Thanks for reading, and hit us up on Twitter if you have any questions!