The world of competitive video games proved surprisingly resilient to the cancellation of live sporting events, and as everything starts to return to normal, the space is uniquely able to take advantage of the situation, having garnered millions of new fans during the dark year that was 2020. Here’s what we’ve learned over the course of last years and what experts expect to see from esports going forward.
More augmented integration
Augmented reality (or AR) solutions have been a great way to spice up the otherwise one-dimensional broadcasts conducted in home office environments during the pandemic: green-screened studios have long been standard across the broadcasting industry but esports’ ability to seamlessly integrate someone speaking into a webcam from thousands of miles away is fairly unique, and the great strides made in making these solutions look both appealing and organic adds a lot to the experience, especially when it’s made part of the gameplay itself, not just merely the studio segments.
Ever-more converts from traditional sports fans
Many people around the world have experienced the same sort of pandemic-enforced epiphany as their favorite sporting events and competitions were cancelled: they realized that this competitive video games thing is actually pretty damn exciting! With channels like ESPN and the BBC carrying esports events live, if only because of a lack of alternatives, a massive amount of new viewers have interfaced with the gaming ecosystem.
Their presence has also brought along a seismic growth in interest in games like FIFA and NBA 2K, which closely mirror their real-life sporting counterparts but are not generally seen as the top tier esports by the endemic gaming audience. Experts at esports betting site Rivalry have also flagged significant growth in wagers made on competitive gaming events over the course of last year, accelerating an already existing trend of traditional sports fans becoming genuine converts of the esports phenomenon. It has already been a growth industry with significant investor interest, and it shows no signs of showing down anytime soon.
Valorant showcases a seismic shift in the esports landscape
Riot Games were previously known for League of Legends, the genre-dominating MOBA that is arguably the biggest esport in the world in terms of broadcasting and media presence across the globe. The company is now rapidly expanding into a wide variety of different gaming genres, developing their own takes on the most popular formats in esports.
Their decision to streamline and reimagine the long-running Counter-Strike formula serves as the greatest competition Valve’s two-decades-long franchise has seen to date in the FPS space. Valorant is extremely polished, gets regular updates, is easier to get into and looks a lot more aesthetically pleasing than the classic hardcore experience. That isn’t to say CS:GO is faltering by any means, but all metrics suggest that Valorant is here to stay.
The fact that Riot are actively involved in the creation and promotion of the esports ecosystem is a far cry from Valve’s attitude towards their own games (be it CS:GO or Dota), and this serves as perhaps the biggest contrast between the two gaming juggernaut companies. Traditionally, esports events are seen as little more than marketing vehicles for the main games by devs, but Riot truly seem to see this space as the future of sporting competitions and are establishing closely-controlled franchised competitions and eye-popping media deals to match this vision.
It’s little wonder that Rivalry have reported a notable interest in Valorant betting over time since the game’s release, and once you consider that its competitive scene is still in its inception, it seems very likely that it will be seen as the hottest new trend for gaming enthusiasts around the world, especially in the FPS space.
A bright future for post-pandemic esports
Esports have proven to be extremely resilient to the pandemic-induced economic and organizational effects, and it can be argued that the space is one of the few beneficiaries of the shock to the system caused by COVID-19.
Thanks to the ability to seamlessly transition to online versions of the same competitions and having all the expertise required to manage such broadcasts, the experience was close enough to the “real deal” that fans remained on board and many new people were pleasantly surprised as they discovered the space for themselves.
With a growing number of serious competitive games available around the world, and ever-growing efforts of large companies to establish themselves in the space, esports’ future is looking better than ever.