Fortnite (at least their esports division) is under fire from this past weekend’s technical and format issues for the Summer Skirmish. It seems that we love to watch a Goliath fall as much as we like a Cinderella story to succeed. I watch all of these experts debate the issues and pick things apart. Among the top issues that everyone attacks is the fact that it was “boring to watch” and many critics follow that up with suggestions for how to make it a better “spectator sport”.
I continue to see the video gaming world try to satisfy ad agencies, broadcast companies, big company marketing dollars and all of the the “old guard” when it comes to creating and producing events. We keep trying to cram this new world of competitive digital gaming into the old world of sports and television.
What if esports is going after things all wrong?
When I started running video game competitions in 2004, esports was not a word. It is under debate when that term was first used, but I think maybe in the 2008-2010 range it started showing up. You know why I think it stuck? Because everyone with checkbooks, portfolios and their hands on the purse strings don’t understand competitive video games.
As I continue to grow our company and I get involved with more-and-more very intelligent business people with lots of success and investment money I find myself trying to constantly make references to other sports to justify what esports should be. Why? Because those who control the money don’t get it. Heck I don’t get it sometimes. Watching Overwatch many times is super confusing and boring so how can I defend that with investors and financial folks looking to get “into esports”?
We need to stop forcing the issue. Epic has the chance more than anyone else to this point because they reach and appeal to a WIDE audience of players. Let’s hope they see the writing on the wall.
Esports needs to be its own thing. It is different and it is evolving at an unprecidented rate of speed. Many people are going to miss opportunities if we don’t think about things differently. Stop trying to force esports in the traditional sports world that is controlled by big brands, spectators, tickets and attendance. I know why you all do that, hours and hours of work for a $250k sponsorship is easier than hours and hours of work for $5 small fees from players.
I am 44 years old. I played basketball through the collegiate level in Indiana. I no longer play basketball. Could I? Maybe… but I wouldn’t be able to play at the level I did when I was 23 years old.
I don’t attend an Indiana Pacers’ game and immediately go home and pick up the ball and play in the driveway. I don’t feel the urge to play basketball while I am at the game. I don’t go join a local men’s basketball league. Watching the Pacers on TV doesn’t make me want to go out and practice shooting again.
Esports are different. We ALL want to play. We all CAN play. There is no aging in esports. My 79 year old father-in-law just had major knee replacement surgery and hopes to be able to golf again when he finishes recovering. If I am blessed to make it to 79 I have a pretty good chance of still playing my favorite video games. Esports is reaching nearly everyone.
And watching makes us want to play. You know how many times I hear from older folks how they don’t understand why anyone would watch someone play a video game?
With a genre like battle royal we all have a chance to win no matter of skill… who gives a crap if that makes for good spectator views? During that match your heart is in your throat… you have one chance to find a gun, find a spot to defend and out play the player or team attacking you… it is a massive rush and according to Epic over 125M players are doing it on Fortnite.
I work long hours as an entrepreneur and small business owner. I take a fast lunch and on my lunch when I am in the office many times I pull up Ninja, DrLupo or timthetatman. I watch them because I love Fortnite and all three of them are cool personalities in their own ways. I want to see new things in the game and new strategies. It makes me want to play.
Then at night before our little girls go to bed they enjoy watching myself, my 17 year old son and my wife play Fortnite. They can’t wait until they are older and start playing. We all like playing.
You know what I think? I think esports viewers are all viewing when they can’t play. I think when you are stuck somewhere, might be laying in bed, might be in a waiting room at the doctor, might be during a boring class lecture… I think esports spectators just watch mainly when they can’t play. Or? Maybe they are playing WHILE they watch? I think that happens more than we all want to acknowledge.
What if esports (and especially Fortnite) should focus on being a massively played event and not a massively spectated event?
The issue is numbers and Epic/Fortnite can actually be the ones to break the mold.
Most tournaments are gauged on how many people viewed the streams online or bought tickets to view the event in person. When was the last event of any kind that had 100,000 players/participants?
Fortnite can easily create their own esports system within the game with normal players. Who cares about viewers? What if 100,000 players paid 500 “V-bucks” to join a league that paid out $50,000? 500,000 players? 1M players? Epic could do it.
Forget viewership, forget spectator mode…. let players stream their own streams, record their own videos, let the story unfold after the event. The event is about the players, not the spectators.
I think we are all fighting a losing battle if we gauge our successful esports events on viewership or spectator tickets.
Let’s start thinking about how to get the most players involved. Once the players are all involved then the sponsors, spectators and viewers will follow.