2017 is here, and while you might be looking to lose some of the Christmas fat, travel more or might simply be looking forward to what the year could bring, we here at Ginx eSports TV are considering how what another 12 months of competitive gaming might look like.
We’ve already had a fantastic 2016, and esports as an industry is continuing to grow exponentially.
The likes of ELeague have proven that there’s more mainstream appeal to the industry than we might have expected, while more traditional sports teams and stars have become involved in pro gaming more than any other year.
But that’s 2016, how will esports grow in 2017? And what can we expect to see? Here’s just a few things we should look out for…
The rise and rise of Overwatch
There’s no denying that Overwatch has already built itself quite a name in the world of esports, and has done so in a relatively short space of time. Though it doesn’t yet have a lot of significant tournaments – both official and third-party – it’s still getting a lot of recognition.
There are a lot of reasons for this: it’s new, it has an intriguing new sort of gameplay and it has the full backing of Blizzard as an esport. Players and viewers are drawn to it, being given a rare opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an esport that seemed like it was going to be a surefire success.
And now, beginning in 201, is the Overwatch League, Blizzard’s attempt at bringing the best of traditional sports into esports with regular matches, salaried players and – most interesting of all – the prospect of franchising for teams.
It’s uncharted territory for this sort of competition, breaking the tried-and-tested esports formula somewhat for something that could seriously alter – and solidify – the industry in a way that would have many other tournaments and leagues following suit.
Decline in CS:GO esports
Don’t get us wrong, there’s going to be just as much amazing CS:GO play this year as there was in 2016 and before, but there are reasons to believe that Counter-Strike could be due a decline.
Primary among them is the oversaturation of the esport, something that has been a criticism for a little while now. With too many tournaments and events to attend across the globe, the best teams could be struggling to compete due to the packed schedule.
Add in PEA and some of the issues around exclusivity and we could be looking at a move by some top level players burning out in CS:GO.
We’ve already seen a number of ex-CS:GO players switch to Overwatch for a number of reasons, and if they can earn a comfortable salary (among other benefits) from Blizzard itself for competing there, then it makes sense that they would make this switch.
Counter-Strike will stay an integral part of the esports scene for a long while, just as it has dominated for years now. But it’s hard to overlook its potential to flounder in 2017.
More expansion from sports teams
2016 was a big year for sports teams getting involved with esports, and you can be sure the likes of bigger football clubs from across Europe as well as the likes of franchised basketball or baseball teams in America will be continuing this trend.
We’ve already talked about the value that adding an esport team to a pre-existing sports franchise can bring, but with so many big names already getting involved you should expect to see this happen again in their droves.
Part of this will be because of Overwatch League, at the risk of making it seem like this will be the overriding aspect of 2017’s esports – though there will be some truth to that.
But Blizzard has already been open about its intention to court existing teams for its Overwatch League in a bid to expand the pool of available esports teams. The idea, according to Blizzard, is to bring an element of support from local teams: while it didn’t outright claim we could see Man Utd versus City in an Overwatch derby, it’s clear that’s an end goal it’s targeting.
That will just be one string to the bow, however. The more teams that get involved, the more smaller clubs will look to get involved thanks to the relatively low insertion cost to create an esport team.
Rocket League to expand further
While we’ll do a round-up of some of the esport games to watch out for in 2017, but we wanted to draw particular attention to Rocket League.
Here is an esport that is full of potential, in part thanks to its easy to follow and understand gameplay but also because it’s clearly on the rise in terms of popularity.
Last year saw the first Rocket League Championship Series, and its second iteration already boosted the prize fund to make it more viable for teams to take part.
Rocket League is still fairly low on the ladder when it compares to the heavy hitting esports titles, but with the growth it’s shown in 2016 – and the determination developer Psyonix is showing – it’s likely to be bigger and better in 2017.
Exclusivity will become a bigger problem
We touched on this earlier with CS:GO’s PEA and how its terms could lead some star players to be excluded from ESL tournaments and vice versa. While this isn’t innately a bad thing, especially considering the oversaturation of this particular esport, it could be detrimental to the overall growth of esports.
Competitive gaming isn’t yet quite where it needs to be to survive such in-fighting, and any sort of exclusivity could limit a team or player in such a way that it no longer becomes viable for them to compete.
PEA has already said that it may end up switching from CS:GO to another esport if it cannot come to an agreement, and that’s likely to happen – but wherever it goes it needs to become open about its players options.
Either way, expect issues around exclusivity – whether that’s teams and leagues or even commentators – to arise on more than one occasion in 2017. And this is saying nothing of broadcasting rights, which will be a whole other can of worms…
Ignore the negativity
Many are claiming that esports has reached its peak, that there’s inevitably going to be a decline and ultimately disappearance of competitive gaming and that 2017 could be a ‘make it’ or ‘break it’ scenario for the scene.
But don’t listen to this sort of negativity. Broadcasting companies wouldn’t be looking to get involved with esports if there wasn’t already some viability there.
And we’re still seeing expansion and innovation from all sorts of angles. While esports as a concept might be decades old, it’s only over the last few years where it’s become an industry, and in that sense it’s still young.
The likes of Overwatch League and all these traditional sports teams getting involved can only help to bolster interest, both internally and externally, in pro gaming – and that will lead to further expansion over the year.
Sure it’s precarious at the moment, especially in terms of team viability – but with Riot’s approach to salaried teams, Blizzard’s intentions to do the same and perhaps others to follow in their footsteps if it pays off then while we might be seeing smaller prize pools over the year by the close of 2017 we can feel certain in knowing the state of esports are a permanent fixture – not just for gamers, but for many more too.