ESPN, a popular sports TV network, aired an eSports event for the first time earlier this year. Some of their viewers balked at seeing kids playing games, instead of their much more serious physical sports players. Regardless of this knee-jerk reaction, the airing was an all-around success, and signaled that eSports is not just a passing fad or a niche game industry term.
The game industry is just starting to push against the notion that sports are only a physical activity. While eSports is similar to your garden variety physical sports on the competitive level, it's all played in electronic form, thus the 'e' part of the name. While you still have the physical component in super-fast mouse clicking reaction times and hotkey presses, eSports games are almost entirely intellectually grounded. Mind over matter truly takes on a new meaning here.
What is an eSports community?
The great thing about sports of any kind is that it can bring together players in a fun and competitive environment. This is usually on a reoccurring basis in such a way as to build a community around the players. Everyone is involved and collectively engaged from match to match, season to season. eSports communities are just as involved as traditional sports communities in this regard, they simply play in front of a computer instead of in the stadium (though this is changing too).
An eSports community differs from other online game communities the most for two reason that tend to go hand-in-hand; heightened competition and live broadcast coverage.
Heightened competition is the combination of the player base and game itself both developed around a competitive environment. Nearly all MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games are of this nature, such as DotA, Smite, Heroes of the Storm, and League of Legends. Starcraft 2 is another prime example that fits into the RTS genre. There are also FPS games like Unreal Tournament that have this capacity with more genres seeing games developed for eSports every year.
Live broadcast coverage started with pre-recorded matches uploaded to sites like YouTube. Combined with the ever increasing power of computers and faster Internet connections, Twitch and other broadcast services quickly grew in popularity, providing true live action to anyone around the world. Watching online matches is now even easier than your traditional sports event via television.
Building a community from the ground up
Building and managing an eSports community begins with many of the same tools and resources you will build any community by, but with the same above emphasis on competitive play, as well as ensuring that competitiveness doesn't become toxic in the discussion forums and other social areas.
If you are part of a studio looking to manage your first eSports community, a few starter ideas and tools will be critical in supporting players looking to both spectate and be spectated. I've listed out some of the more immediate ones below:
Suggested starter tools:
- Pre-emptive rules and guidelines for the entire community
- A subset of these rules with legal backing for tournaments and other competitions
- Additional supplementary rules that focus on mitigating toxic players
- Multiple moderating tools both on the website proper, and in-game
- Livestreaming website (Twitch or YouTube are prime choices)
- Livestreaming software (OBS or XSplit are good basic level choices)
- Preferably two shoutcasters (not necessarily from the community dev team)
- Programs that engage the wider community from the core competitive players
- A thick skin when things get ugly or go horribly wrong (which they will)
- Support by the studio to empower you to do all of the above, including a recording space
Recognizing community leaders
Expect community members of all types to be participating in the forums, on Reddit, and other social networks you've established. While forum trolls are always going to be right around the corner waiting for an opportunity to disrupt the community, so too will the more positive community members that want to help make it grow. These other members are the ones you want to empower.
Recognizing toxic players
Toxic players are those that either intentionally or inadvertently cause problems for the rest of the community. Not only that, but the behavior can quickly go viral and cause others that would not normally exhibit such behavior to become toxic themselves.
Select examples of toxicity:
- Attempting to corral other players to promote a negative message to others.
- Shouting profanities toward players, regardless of direct intent toward another player.
- Calling out new players in a way that excludes them from being part of the community.
- Continually dropping out of games, feeding points to the opposing team, or otherwise disrupting the normal flow of gameplay.
- Any other type of behavior that doesn't promote a positive community response.
As long as you have the tools above and an experienced community team ready to handle toxicity, your community will grow. Keep in mind though that toxicity may never entirely go away. Having the tools to manage it with the community recognizing that you have the power to handle it, is what's most important.
The eSports future is bright
The industry is starting to see eSports spectatorship that goes back to what gets fans of traditional sports communities so excited; the live stadium. More room is made every year at events like PAX, gamescom, and Tokyo Game Show for eSports tournaments.
Whether players are competing in a physical showdown in real life, or virtually between their minds and the more than occasional press of the mouse button, is all indifferent to the results of the event. It's a sport, and that's what counts... including the final score of course.
You can read more of Mathew's industry ramblings at mathewanderson.com.