From League of Legends (LoL) to DOTA 2 there are some very big names that currently dominate the news cycle when it comes to eSports. Even with the amount of open events, pro leagues, challenger leagues, tournaments, and sponsorships there is only so much room in the big scenes to support those at the top, so it’s hard for small and medium sized organizations to compete. In this article, we will take a look into some of the eSports scenes that are on the rise that have given birth to future big names in the business.
Blizzard’s latest entry is a team based stylized champion shooter that quickly became a smash hit on PC and console. Blizzard is known for creating addictive competitive experiences and Overwatch is no exception. Featuring competitive 6v6 action, Overwatch takes the best out of games such as Team Fortress 2 or Battleborn and infuses MOBA like attributes to create a tense environment of chaos which led to a massively positive response from both critics and players.
Overwatch’s wild success led to a large player-base that was hungry for Overwatch content from adult film to developer created shorts or to new characters. Due to the competitive nature and consistently being in the top-five watched games on Twitch at any time, the hunger for pro level Overwatch has led to the current chaos that is pro Overwatch.
Like the other scenes on this list, Overwatch features big name brands in the scene such as Team Envyus and Cloud 9 and large open events all across the globe that allow for easy access to red hot amateur (AM) teams to potentially get a sponsor. What it does not have, like the already established scenes, is order and truly top teams. For example, Blizzard has stated that they did not create Overwatch with eSports in mind, as evidenced by launching without a competitive playlist and an underwhelming spectator mode. Still, Blizzard did not leave the title solely to the hands of third party tournament organizers (TO) by announcing an Overwatch World Cup to culminate at BlizzCon later this year, with teams made up of the best player of individual countries voted on by fans.
The bulk of competitive Overwatch looks a lot similar to larger scenes like Counter Strike with a televised Eleague on TBS and the Overwatch Atlantic Showdown being held by eSports giant ESL.
Overwatch’s scene is still a developing scene, but that will not last for long. Due to being a runaway sales success the playe-rbase is definitely there for a prosperous AM and pro scene that is currently being observed. The only questions right now is how high can it go?
Gears of War
One of the most successful franchises on Xbox known for visceral hand to hand combat and generation leading graphics was an early pioneer in the MLG Pro Circuit days. Much like its fellow Xbox stablemate Halo, Gears was in the tip of the spear when it came to MLG. When the original developers, Epic, rejiggered the combat for Gears of War 2 the pro community left and the scene died. Now, the remnants of the original GoW developer team led by Rod Fergusson known as The Coalition have partnered with MLG for a $1 million international Gears 4 pro circuit. Is it 2007 again?
The Coalition’s first major contribution to the Gears of War franchise came in the Holiday season of 2015 in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. Ultimate Edition was a remaster of the original Gears game for the Xbox One featuring all new visuals, new cut scenes, and settings from the entire franchise. After receiving a universally positive reaction from the community, the pro Gears scene finally returned for Ultimate Edition.
The revival of Gears has brought about interest from numerous pro gaming organizations. Established brands such as Team Envyus and Dream Team turned out to participate in early events and started to develop story lines. Eventually, MLG and Microsoft realized the potential they had for a moneymaker in Gears 4 and announced a $1 million dollar international Pro Circuit. After announcing the big prize pool and locations of the major events, a lot of big organizations took note and started to pick up established teams.
Gears of War has had a rough and tumble time in the pro gaming community. From its initial success with MLG in America and Matchbox XL in Europe to having to play the upstart again in 2016, Gears has been in a constant struggle for relevance. If all goes well on launch day, Gears of War 4 could be the Imulsion Bomb the COG needs.
I would call Halo, “Gears’ fellow Xbox stablemate” but that would be a disservice. Halo has been the crowning jewel of Xbox and MLG in what were considered dark times for both companies. When Xbox released the 360 no one expected the console to be able to compete with the PS3, but due to the strong exclusive line-up headlined by mega hits like Halo 3 it became one of the most successful consoles of all time. When MLG was pounding the streets in the mid 2000s, Halo was their flagship title in the United States. Events like MLG Charlotte, Anaheim, and Columbus would attract thousands of spectators and hundreds of teams in open LAN events birthing legends such as OGRE 2, Pistola, Gandhi, and others. At Halo’s peak, pro player Tom Taylor – better known as Tsquared – was featured on 175 million bottles of Dr. Pepper and the game was easily the most popular in America at the time.
Much like Gears, Halo fell victim to circumstance. Halo: Reach began the decline of the franchise and competition was fierce. Call of Duty was on the rise with former Halo pros like Formal and Crimsix making the transition into the game and the demand for Halo decreased. Eventually, with the release of Halo 4 MLG was forced to drop Halo from its pro circuit due to a range of circumstances and for a time the scene was virtually dead.
When 343 industries launched Halo 5: Guardians there was a heartbeat from the franchise. After making some game-play changes in previous titles (Reach and 4) Halo 5 put a fresh spin on the classic arena shooter Halo started out as. Buoyed by strong developer support, Halo 5 was able to re-emerge on the pro scene with marquee events in X-games Aspen and Halo World Championship. At “Worlds” $2.5 million dollars was at stake which attracted some of the world’s biggest organizations to compete. After tense battles at the MLG NA regional event where teams such as OpTic Gaming and Team Envyus failed to qualify, Counter Logic Gaming was able to cement itself as the best team in the HWC finals.
Not long after, 343i announced an ESL Halo 5 Pro league, online weekly matches between the top-eight NA teams and top-six EU teams. The creation of a pro league and promise of a 2017 World Championship helped to give the scene recognition. Six years ago it would have been laughable to say that Halo would be considered an “up and coming” eSport, but after facing a near death experience Halo was able to rebirth itself into the console contender it currently is.
Spartans Never Die.
In the introductory paragraph I mentioned League of Legends and DOTA being at the top of the pile when it comes to competitive play. One of the reasons these games have been able to climb to the top is ease of access and high skill ceilings. Developer Hi-Rez Studios had both of those qualities in mind when it came to making their free to play mythological Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) SMITE.
SMITE is a 5v5 battle arena featuring mythical deities from multiple pantheons, and unlike other MOBAs SMITE uses a third person perspective versus the typical top down perspective lending the game a completely different play-style. The game features different competitive modes like conquest. Conquest is a three lane (lane is where action occurs) map that pits two teams against each other seeking to destroy their opponents Titan.
The SMITE scene is a bit more complex than some of the scenes in this article. While HiRez has done an amazing job supporting their game with multiple region based online Pro Leagues and annual SMITE World Championships with prize pools of up to $2.5 million, there are multiple leagues you can join. If you are an AM you can join the SMITE Challenger series to try and relegate a pro team. At least in North America there are two different pro leagues: Xbox (Console pro league) and the SPL on PC. Other than that it is pretty standard with some big names such as Envyus, SoloMid, eLevate, and Denial eSports competing week in and out.
SMITE is a genre buster type of game that features a committed community and dedicated developer support. With the amount of support and diversity in SMITE, this is an eSport with plenty of room for growth.
Rainbow Six: Siege
From CoD: Infinite Warfare to Destiny it seems that the video game market is destined to be ruled exclusively by fast paced sci-fi shooters and nothing else. The Tom Clancy franchise has been rooted in modern day reality since the 90s and Siege does not buck the trend.
Rainbow Six: Siege is a tactical team shooter where the theme is focused on teamwork and well placed destruction to defeat the opponent. Teams are divided between counter-terrorists “Operators” from different nationalities with different abilities giving the game an asymmetrical feel. One of the highlighted features of Siege is the ability to destroy the environment, whether it be wooden walls or a windows to give you the upper hand on your opponent.
The shooter eSport market has always been a tight fight for viewership simply because it is significantly smaller than the MOBAs that dominated the top end of the viewer spectrum. When Ubisoft created Siege they did so to make a long lasting title featuring tense gun battles and asymmetrical battles to keep players from burning themselves out playing it. So far, their scheme has worked.
Ubisoft has held up their part of the bargain by providing timely updates with new maps and operators while the game has been very popular on both Xbox One and PC. Much like SMITE, Rainbow Six has Pro leagues for both console and PC players in North America featuring organizations such as eLevate, U4X, Denial, and 3Sup. The Siege scene is definitely the smallest in this list, but that does not mean it is anything less. From entertaining casters to packed out Finals, the game has done incredibly well for itself in a crowded field headlined by the likes of Counterstrike and Call of Duty.
One of the hallmarks of a good game is timely developer support and good game-play. Luckily for Rainbow Six: Siege it features both in droves.
From the chaotic character filled brawl that is Overwatch to the god filled arenas of SMITE, the lower end of eSports is brimming with talent, dying to take down the bigger titles. Each of these different titles brings something different to the table: chaotic game-play, strong third party support, well developed pedigree, strong developer support, and tense gunfights that set them apart from the competition. Only the future can tell where these games might end up.