It’s no secret that esports is booming. From humble beginnings that can be traced back over 40 years, competitive gaming has evolved into an unstoppable phenomenon that fills arenas and generates viewing figures that dwarf some of the traditional sporting calendar’s flagship events.
Research firm Newzoo says over 290 million people will watch esports online in 2016 as pro gamers compete for prize pools totaling more than $60 million. And with overall awareness of esports having grown massively in the last 12 months, it’s little wonder that mainstream broadcasters such as ESPN, Sky Sports, and the BBC are starting to get in on the act alongside the long-time home of esports broadcasting, Twitch.
Impressive as those facts and figures are, however, they only represent the big picture of esports success. For developers and publishers looking to break onto the scene and establish their game as a competitive esport, the promised land of packed venues and million-dollar deals won’t be reached overnight.
Warface first launched in the US and Europe in 2013, and has evolved to include more than 50 PvP maps, 400 weapons, and expansive PvE settings.
Earlier this summer, Crytek took its first steps into the esports scene in the West, partnering with leading event organizer ESL to launch a series of tournaments around free-to-play online shooter, Warface. But as Ilya Mamontov, Director of Games Operations at Crytek, explains, it was a move that represented years of evolution for Warface rather than a spur of the moment decision.
“We’ve known for a long time that the core gameplay of Warface fits the esports profile, but I don’t believe you can click your fingers and say ‘now we’re going to be an esport’. There are technical and gameplay criteria you need to fulfill first, and I don’t think it’s possible to build an esport discipline from scratch. Like any sport, you need to create an activity that people love, and then you can evolve it and tune it over time – that’s what it takes.”
Warface Live Service Producer Loic Raimond agrees, and believes esports success also demands independent thinking. “It’s important to find your own specialty, identity, gameplay niche and then build on that. Nobody wants a pale imitation of games that have already cracked the esports market. Warface is far more tactical, co-operative, and rooted in realism than its competitors. So we have our own space. Our ESL competitions right now are based around Plant the Bomb gameplay, which means quick rounds, fast-paced action, and a lot of collaboration between the four soldier classes in Warface. It makes for a lot of drama, which is great for both players and audiences.”
Warface blends fast-paced action, class collaboration, and tactical variety to set it itself out from the crowd.
One advantage Warface has enjoyed in making the transition to the esports arena in the West is lessons learned from the game’s vibrant – and highly competitive – Russian community, as the game’s Creative Director, Michael Khaimzon, explains.
“In Russia, we’ve already run nine major esports events; big live productions with millions of viewers for feedback. Now, the first one didn’t go smoothly! The tournament carried on until 2 o’ clock in the morning because we didn’t have the right set of rules or instruments in place for the game. So we made mistakes along the way, but the demand continued to grow and it helped us define the core set of gameplay rules we’d need for esports. The in-game mechanics are there, all the tools are in place, and the game is ready. The learning process that we’ve been on as a development team with esports in Russia meant that we were in a great shape to launch in the West.”
Aside from refining core gameplay and a willingness to learn on the job, Ilya Mamontov says developers should look to one overarching factor when considering the launch of their game as an esport: “Most importantly of all, the desire has to come from your audience. As we refined and put the elements in place that you need to become an esport, our community began to run its own tournaments. As they grew their tournaments, demand generally grew, so we knew it was the right time to officially support Warface as an esport. Now it’s vital that we keep giving the audience new content based on their feedback and the data we’re seeing – you can’t stand still in the world of esports.”
It’s now a little over three months since the ESL-affiliated Go4Warface tournaments began. So, are the team’s instincts about what makes a game ready for esports competition proving correct?
Loic Raimond thinks so. “We’re obviously still in the very early stages of building Warface as an esport, but we’ve seen an upward trend in the number of teams taking part in competitions each week and the overall level of awareness. So we definitely feel we’re moving in the right direction. One of the keys is to be flexible from the outset, and we’ve already made some changes to the tournament format based on feedback from players, collaboration with the ESL, and our own instincts about what we were seeing once competitive play kicked off. We think it’s essential to listen closely to what the players have to say and react accordingly because, ultimately, they’re the most important factor in whether or not Warface makes it as an esport.”
Find out more about Warface at www.warface.com, and sign up to take part in competitive combat at https://play.eslgaming.com/warface.