What Makes an eSport Sustainable?
It seems that every new, somewhat competitive game wants to become an eSport. This is mostly due to the large amounts of success that games like League of Legends, DotA 2, and more recently Overwatch have had when marketing themselves as spectator events — And you can’t blame them, there’s a ton of money in eSports, and for the most part, it doesn’t require a lot of effort from a Major Triple-A company.
Now, let me clarify — A professional “eSports league” still requires long-term planning and funding for it to have similar success to Riot’s LCS. However, to a company like Capcom and their Pro Tour, the amount of money required does not come close to the amount they will eventually make (off of viewership, sponsors, etc). But just because an eSport has funding, doesn’t mean it will succeed. We’ve seen leagues come and go regardless of funding from publishers or sponsors. We’ve also seen competitive titles come and go because the developer was no longer able to manage the game due to cuts in funding. However, will all of this said, the success of an eSport is based on two factors:
The Community and Luck
While a large amount of the FGC will hate me for using this example, Melee has had an incredibly long lifespan for an eSport with little-to-no help from Nintendo. Why is this? The community — Hosting tournaments and events, posting content online, and staying relatively tight-nit when it comes to social media. Melee is an amazing example of how an eSport that had no funding whatsoever, can have the second largest viewership in EVO. But, while their success is amazing, there’s also a bit of luck to it. Melee doesn’t require any-sort of servers or hosting. It only requires a GameCube, a TV, and a controller. This means that the game couldn’t be shutdown by the publishers because they no longer wanted to support the title. This exact thing happened with Dawngate, EA’s failed MOBA. EA cut funding, and the game’s servers had to shutdown. Dawngate had (and still has) a large and passionate community. However, they can no longer play the game because the servers were shutdown. I can almost guarantee that if players could host their own servers, the game would still be somewhat popular; even without support from the developers or publisher.
I think that, while a large community can help an eSport grow, money and luck are important to sustain it long-term. Whether the money is from the company who publishes the game, or from a tournament hosted by players, money can help a game stay alive. And whether the game’s luck is that players can host their own servers, or that anyone can mod the game to keep it fresh, that can determine the life and death of a game and an eSport.