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The headlines seem to come every day now. From VC investment to audience growth, all metrics point to an explosion in the popularity of esports, even before the COVID-19 pandemic sent many people indoors. Now, as leagues, developers, publishers, players and the media all sit poised to ride this wave, it's important for all of us, especially the industry veterans, to pause and take a look at the bigger picture.
How do we ensure that this new influx of users and players become a true part of the community – not just for the short term, but for years to come?
Esports has a reputation – some would say rightly deserved – for being insular. While the community has become more open and accepting in recent years, that sentiment still rings true, as with any subculture that sees "outsiders" come into the fold. There can be a bristling or resentment towards the newcomers. And on the business side of things, it's not uncommon to see teams or leagues take a short-term approach to the industry's new money.
The lifeblood of any sport is the fans. Without them, the games, leagues and media would simply disappear. It's paramount that new fans become part of the community and stick around for the industry to continue its growth trajectory. Here are three things industry leaders and executives can do to ensure this happens.
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
Longtime gamers may have forgotten the first time they booted up their system and tried to play League of Legends, CS:GO or Rocket League. For the novice, everything about the experience is unfamiliar. The gameplay, the mechanics, even the terminology can seem like a foreign language. How we onboard new players is a critical step. Creating "light versions" or mini-games can help newbies get acclimated without leaving them feeling intimidated.
Ensure Equitability, Not Just Equality
If you give two players the exact same weapons, but one player is a 10-year veteran and the other has never played before, does each have an equal chance? It's not enough for new players to simply have the same opportunity. Yes, some people enjoy the challenge and are willing to put in long hours getting destroyed in order to build up their experience. But how many people get frustrated after being repeatedly killed, before they can get their bearings?
This even holds true for fantasy sports, where 90% of games are won by less than 5% of participants. By allowing users and/or players of comparable skill level to match up, everyone can participate at a competitive level, keeping more people engaged with the sport. At Esports One we're looking at instituting ELO-style rankings for our users. With such a ranking system, we could minimize situations where the highly skilled (or deeply experienced) rack up wins against less experienced players.
Continue to Build A Broader Ecosystem
From a consumer perspective, some of the greatest advancements in sports have had nothing to do with rule changes. Think how the viewing experience for the NFL changed with the introduction of the yellow first-down line on television. Or how fantasy sports went from a niche hobby to a full-blown industry. These technologies and creative enhancements improved the experience for fans by adding layers to the core experience. This will be just as critical for the esports industry as it was for traditional sports. A good example here is the plethora of data generated by esports. Harnessing all the information and making it available in ways that enhance the viewing experience has nearly limitless opportunities.
The future of esports has never been brighter, and 2020 looks to be a pivotal year in its development. Now is the time for the industry to invest in creativity, technology and innovation to ensure that complacency and stagnation are avoided and the future reality lives up to the hype.
Matt Gunnin is the CEO and co-founder of Esports One and a serial esportspreneur.
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