Winning at Esports: Designing & Optimizing for Esports, and Overcoming its Technical Challenges
A discussion on the emerging opportunities in esports; what types of games and features work best, how to best design for esports, and how to deal with technical challenges esports present such as cheating and security.
Chris Taylor, GM – Wargaming Seattle
Rahul Sood, CEO – Unikrn
Andy Swanson, VP/Evangelist – Twitch
Moderator: Corey Rosemond, Dir. Business Development, eSports – Plantronics
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the panel on eSports. And let me first start by introducing our panelists. First off is Andy Swanson of Twitch. Followed by Chris Taylor of Origin. And last, but certainly not least, Rahul Sood of Unikrn.
So to kick things off, I would like to ask each of the panelists to give a brief introduction about yourself and what you do within eSports.
My name's Andy Swanson. My title is eSports Evangelist at Twitch. Sounds very vague. It sounds like, hey, strategist, but it really means nothing.
My job is actually to educate people into the eSports market, from a business side of things. I'm not a developer. So I know a lot of you guys will be on the technical side. But from the way that it operates-- the way that it operates within a streaming ecosystem, like Twitch. And I just went to my 19th E3.
Hi, my name is Chris Taylor, the General Manager and [? Career ?] Director of Wargaming Seattle. Been in the business a long time. I'm going to spare you guys my history, even in brief.
Sold my company, Gaspar Games, to Wargaming. We are now Wargaming Seattle. Thank you very much. Because Wargaming has a pretty big title-- World of Tanks-- in the eSports base, I've been invited to come and share what little I know from [INAUDIBLE] about that whole world of eSports.
But invariably, it means that when I came into Wargaming, the title that I work on could very well be an eSports title. So I've had to educate myself quite a bit about what happens in the world of eSports. Thanks.
My name is Rahul, and I too have been in this business for a long time, on the hardware side. I actually started the first official, I guess, PC gamee-- or sorry, PC design for gaming. It was called Voodoo. Started it many, many years ago. Ended up selling it to Hewlett Packard.
And then I joined Microsoft. And then I left Microsoft with [INAUDIBLE] and started [INAUDIBLE], started Unikrn. And Unikrn is the intersection of sports, video games, and gambling. It's a lot of fun. I like to gamble.
Thank you, all. And so what we did is survey the panel of devs to get some questions that they have about eSports in general. But once again, we'll leave it wide open for you all to take these questions in any direction you want. First question up is, what does it take to build a great eSports title?
So for me, when I see it-- because again, I come from the business side, not the development side-- where I see opportunity and where I see failure is oftentimes when people build a game for it to be an eSport. As opposed to building a great game that has a large, robust community, and people that love to play competitively with a grassroots upbringing of like-- eSports has to be cooked into it, obviously, from a development perspective. You have that certain functionalities cooked into it.
But you can't really go in saying, I'm going to make an eSport. We saw that ShootMania from UbiSoft was a spectacular failure in the eSports space. You need go in-- even EA recently has thrown their hat in the ring for eSports, but strategically tried to copy the MOBA genre with Dawngate and subsequently killed it as well.
So it's not just something you can do. You need to make sure that you make a great game with a good community, features, that a lot of people like to watch. And then oftentimes you can convert it to an eSport.
Well it's like-- if you mentioned someone said to you, well there's hockey and there's basketball, there's football. We want you to come up with another one. You'd be like, oh. That's hard.
I think it's easier to actually go to a whiteboard in your office and say, let's come up with a game that's going to very potentially become an eSport. But it's very difficult all the same. I don't think it's something that-- 1 in 50 might actually succeed, or something like that.
If the conversation we're having is quite seriously, how do you craft from the beginning an eSports game, that's a very interesting conversation. I don't think we'll go deep into that. But I think there's some fundamentals.
Which is first of all, you have to have a hit game. A game that everybody wants to really play. It's like if you have an online game, like World of Tanks, you have to have a minimum number of people that log in every day to play so the matchmaking server will work and so on. In other words, you need a critical mass. So I think the very first thing you would say is, hey, let's make a very successful game.
And then the other thing is, if you take a look at a sport-- not all sports, but where there's something happening where there's only one camera watching what's going on, like a ball going back and forth on a soccer pitch, this is helpful. If there's ten different things going on in the field at one time, this is a hard thing to make interesting to spectators.
We all know what it's like when the director shooting a hockey game decides to put the cameras on something's that's not very interesting. We're like, oh, oh, go back to the puck. We're following the puck here. And they don't make that mistake very often, of course. But that's a real fundamental part of it.
So if you have a game that doesn't have a central focus to where you can follow the action, where 90% of the interest is in that central point of focus, I mean, that's going to be a problem for making an eSports game. League of Legends is an interesting study, because of course you have that-- I call it the line of scrimmage, and it moves back and forth, across the map.
Occasionally, action does burst on other locations of the map. Interesting events happen. That's what's sort of interesting, or exciting, about gaming as an eSport is that it's not exactly like every other kind of sport. But those are just a couple of things that I've noticed. But then maybe we'll get into skim along in some of the other areas as well about why eSports is something that, if you're going to make an eSports game, you can do some things to plan, early on, like have really good broadcast camera control systems built into your game. Not trying to just use a developer camera, which has got an xyz thing on it. It's got to have some cool, sexy control schemes so that folks on Twitch can actually broadcast a game.
So things like that. Would you build out a complex cap control system before you had the hit game? Would you spend that, I don't know how many hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of dollars in complex systems to manage your potentially future eSports game? I don't necessarily think so. I think design goes a long way on paper to say, should this game become an eSport? There's things we can do to immediately jump in and embrace it and leverage the success. Poorly worded, but you get what I'm saying. Those are some thoughts.
Just really briefly, obviously you need critical mass, and you need a great game with critical mass and a community, like Andy said. But I think you have to really think about the spectator as well. So just whether you build it into your framework and you think about what a spectator mode might look like-- the spectator is very important to this, because the more people that watch League of Legends, the more people that play it, and then the more people that buy skins.
If you look at Riot's business model, I like to think Riot is the Ferrari or the F1 of gaming, where their LCS is their F1 racing. You know, Ferrari does racing in order to build their brand. They break even on the racing side of things, but they build their brand globally as a result of that. And LCS is sort of like that for Riot. But you still have to have a great game. Those who go out as developers and say I'm going to build and eSport title are definitely bound to fail.
And following up on that, given the long history, Rahul, you in particular have had within eSports going back to the days of carrying 50 pound and heavier PCs into LAN centers, what do you see that's missing today or that has been desired for years in eSports that developers can look forward to innovate on?
Sure. Let's just talk about where it's kind of generally going. The future of entertainment is this. In 5 to 10 years everybody in the developed world that matters is going to be a gamer, right? All the old people who don't play games now, it's sort of an anomaly. I'm in my early forties and I still play League and I actually play Heroes of the Storm. I'm probably one of the few that do. But there's other games that I play. I play Overwatch and that sort thing.
But with that said, in say, 10 years, everybody in their forties will be like that. It'll be normal. It'll be a normal thing to do.
Back in the day, eSports were just like you said-- they're lugging their PCs into community centers, and now it's being broadcast online. And with companies like Valve and Riot who are able to create games that have critical mass and mass viewership. And with Twitch, being able to broadcast it around the world, it's created this amazing opportunity, amazing momentum. If you look at the opportunity, the total addressable market of people who participate in eSports is very high.
But the amount that's being monetized is very small. There's this big delta. Now, in parallel to that, if you're talking about the future of entertainment-- let's think about Las Vegas in particular. In Las Vegas, year over year, traffic continues to go up, which is amazing.
Traffic in Las Vegas is at the highest it's ever been. But betting revenues, especially on slot machines, is down. They're trying to figure out what the heck are they going to do to sort of bring people back into the casinos and just rethink entertainment, whether it's betting or whether it's something else.
The Millennials, or the young people that are going in the casino are just going through the casino so they can get straight to the nightclub. They don't care about the casino anymore. So there is big opportunity with eSports and with events.
It's sort of like the UFC. Back in the day, when the UFC was just a violent sport that no one wanted at the party. Now it's like a $4 billion plus asset with massive, massive appeal. So, yeah.
I think some of the interesting things that we're seeing, also-- obviously when they use the gamer blowhole, obviously throw mobile in there. I think mobile's something that is a category of its own when you talk about gaming.
And yet, devices are getting more and more powerful. We're starting to see traction in eSports with Vainglory, from Super Evil Megacorp. So we're starting to actually see mobile gaming enter the eSports space. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw Clash Royale from Supercell, just on the way the game mechanic is built and the phenomenon behind that.
You're starting to see cross-platform play, which I think is really interesting. So people being able to play on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC. We're seeing that in Rocket League, and more and more, the platforms are open to that idea, so there's not a walled garden when it gets into eSports. So the competition can occur on any platform. So I think that sort of agnostic approach is something that's interesting and you might see more of in a couple years.
I forgot the question.
Things of the future. Things of the future. What's eSports in the future?
Yeah, it's a daunting-- I mean, if I was sitting there fiddling around with a new game concept, and I thought Minecraft, or I could twist it into an eSports game, I would go with the Minecraft idea first and chase that. I'm actually fascinated how we operate as a game development community-- the sort of hive mind that we have, that we chase.
Why do we chase so much? Why we don't take more peyote and wander the desert looking for our spirit animal, because you could get better results than chasing a trend. It's super fun, though. You got to admit, you're completely caught up in it. Sorry. I'm taking a different tack on this.
No, I like it.
I have a really manic personality, and today I'm down. I'm sort of paying off the previous two weeks or something, karmically, for the hyper-active insanity that is my normal self. So I apologize for that.
When you go to an eSports event, and there's all these people, and all this energy and all this excitement staring at the stage, it's impossible not to go, how can I-- I want to create that. I want to build that. I want to make that. And it's an easy drug to take, or Kool-Aid to drink.
And I don't blame people for feeling that way. But there's so many other super exciting things. I'm not trying to say eSports were bad by any means. But there are some people who, you know when we're kids, watching TV on a Saturday. Like I want to be a fan of this movie star too. I want to be on the TV show. I want to be that person.
Then you find out about all the little complexities and things that those people go through, and end up killing themselves. And you go, hm. Maybe that's not such a good idea after all. I wish I was kidding.
Where are they now?
Exactly. Where are they now? I think eSports is the kind of the now thing. It's exciting. I think that if you have a title, like Wargaming has titles that fit eSports, it makes sense, you know? And it makes sense to look at it, and to consider it. But it's one small part of our total business. It just happens to be a really sexy and exciting part of our business right now. It's fun.
A great example that he's talking about, is-- I didn't know about MOBA, a genre that was invented around eSports. When I first came to Twitch-- it's now three years, and I've been in the video game business a long time. And they talked about MOBA.
And I was like, not an RTS, it's not an FPS, it's not an MMO. What's MOBA? They created a genre, and then everybody rushed to the MOBA. I mean, you were around when everybody was rushing to the MMORPG packet. Everybody said, oh, s***, Everquest is doing this, and World of Warcraft is doing this. We all need an MMO.
All the big publishers were doing it. So there was a rush to the MOBA. The final and third entry of that would be Heroes of the Storm from Blizzard. And no one else has really succeeded in that top down MOBA space. So you've got three there.
And now the big race, the hero shooter, right? The hero shooter-- that would be our good friends at Blizzard for Overwatch. It would be our poor friends at 2K for Battleborn, which has come and gone. It would be our-- let's keep our fingers crossed for our friends at Paragon, for an epic [? cliffies ?] with LawBreakers, right?
You've got Gigantic. And you also have Paladins from our friends at Hi-Rez.
So you basically got six games now that are all following that trend. Overwatch looks like the preeminent winner just because they did some smart things. It's got Blizzard behind them. They've been ideating on that title for years, if you watch how it evolved.
But there is no way that six hero shooters with eSports as their backbone-- because these are all pretty much multi-player only mechanics-- are going to survive. And so that's something to be dangerous-- and Chris was talking about, which like, that's cool, let's go chase that. But you got to understand, some of these guys who play that are going to be like, ah, feels like that game.
What's that game where the cars push the ball around?
Rocket League, Rocket League. Super successful. Super popular. But not very expensive to develop. I think really key there.
Because if you're building something for $50 or $100 million dollars, you're taking a pretty big bet on an eSports win. If you can build something for a million or two, or hundreds of thousands, maybe, that actually intrigues me more as an idea that chases an eSports outcome.
Yeah, I agree with that. You know, there's lot of examples of games like that. Everyone dreams about being an indie developer that produces something for a hundred or under a million dollars that kind of gets mass awareness. But I agree, that's way more intriguing to me. And that's sort of the big money production.
It's going to be marketed on beat with Overwatch. 25% of Counter-Strike is down, basically. It's taken away 25% of players from Counter-Strike currently. That's the sort of trend, and it seems to be only growing. A lot of people who play League of Legends are moving over to Overwatch. It's just such a good game.
I was going to say, I was the one old man in the room, no one mentioned it was Counter-Strike when we talked about just hero shooters and the popularity from eSports. Just to turn things on from what Chris said about to use a sexy unicorn in eSports, and let's marry that with another sexy unicorn in VR. What are your thoughts on VR in eSports?
I speak on a lot of panels, because eSports is a unicorn in the room, I guess. And VR is the other unicorn in the room. And I would say--
Unikrn is the other unicorn.
That's true. There is a unicorn in the room. I guess I should bring that up [INAUDIBLE].
Where it's just, I think that we have to be careful. One of my things that I always say is, yes, there is an industry in both of these. But you need to pause, and you need to understand how the mechanics work on each of them before you fully believe all the headlines that says eSports is going to be a billion dollars business by six months ago, and VR is going to take over the world by this Christmas. The reality is that they're both five years off, probably, for full maturation and full business understanding. And I say that individually. Separate business lines moving in tandem or whatever.
And by the time they come together and actually click, as far as the install base of VR, how the VR games will look and work and play on those platforms, as well as the maturation of eSports and just its pure business model-- how the revenue comes into the business, and how teams are funded, and how players are funded, and sponsorship dollars, and broadcast rights, and all these things that people love to talk about. I still think that they're both off.
I think for VR there's two opportunities. One is somehow, you can experience what the player is playing, so you can be in the helmet, I guess, would be the closest thing of the quarterback or of the ball player. The other is being able to be at an eSports event live, without actually physically being there.
I also think being a spectator is amazing. There are some great, amazing scenarios. There's a place in, I don't know, I think it's Tukwila, I guess-- it's south Seattle. It's called Virtual Sports. And we can go there with our team and it's basically laser tag for adults.
It's military spec vests and guns that you have where the rifles have actual kickback. And you're playing live Counter-Strike on a map with your team. There's a Capture the Flag mode, there's different modes, it's a lot of fun.
And it's not laser tag for kids. It truly is laser tag for adults. But you can see a future where they combine some sort of AR to it and really introduce some interesting aspects to it. I think that's a definitely real future. It's coming.
But I think it's not something for an indie developer who's doing a startup to go try and take on. I wouldn't recommend it. I would think that companies like Microsoft and that sort of thing will probably invest heavily in the space and start to create the platforms to be able to do it.
But I definitely see them coming together. There's no question of that. VR and AR will play a big part in the future of sort of physical gaming.
When I think of VR and then I think about AR, I get way more excited about AR, because AR is for every human being on the planet. It has applications that go well beyond entertainment into-- I mean, we could sit and talk for the rest of the day about what AR can do. The thing with VR is that it's super sexy. It can have some really great application in gaming, like an eSports game specifically. But it also has the threat of fun toy, gimmick, comes and then it goes.
And I think that the people who've been around and seen the Kinects, and seen the Wii-motes, and seen the 3D TVs and seen all that stuff, you reserve a little piece for the eventuality that I bring home these gadgets to my kids that you can slide iPhones into and you can put on. And it was one that was really impressive. You could look around and you were in the solar system. And there's no denying that you just go, what?
An iPhone, and this thing, and I can zip to planets and do all that. But after an hour, the kids weren't playing with it. And you go, how is that possible? Why aren't they still in there zipping around in the solar system? What happened in one hour? And I can't explain that.
And I'm still going to buy probably two or three VR finished pieces of hardware. I'm going to spend thousands of dollars on software. I'm going to jump into the deep end of the pool. I'm going to do it all.
I don't want miss out on it. I don't want to be the idiot who didn't think it was going to be successful, whatever it was, right? I mean, it's my job to know at some level. So I will do all of that.
But reserving that little piece that goes, eh. You know, it may not be all of that, but kind of hope it does. Because it's exciting and fun and cool, and we all love that stuff. So those are kind of my thoughts.
It's not a real business, though, when you buy it, or you buy it, or I buy it, or actually those of us in this room will buy it. It's the friends of our friends who are asking us as early adopters that say, hey, it's now the third Christmas. Should I get a PS4 or should I get an Xbox One for my kid? Or hey, I just heard about this new Xbox and this Scorpio. The mass adoption for there to be a business occurs when you have an install base that can support the cost of the hardware, and support all the costs of developing the platform and the games.
And so until that second or third tier, I always felt, as my buddies asked me for what should I do? When those guys are plopping down the money, and Best Buy has them on the shelves at a price point that's fair, I think it's still going to be an issue [INAUDIBLE].
And so one thing that could prevent the industry from going mainstream is cheating, security, integrity within eSports. Especially now, some college leagues have talked about starting up their own eSport programs. So what's your thinking on where are we at right now on a continuum of cheating and security in eSports?
I'll just say one thing. I'm in the eSports business from the vending side. There's many people in major sports that believe in this. Adam Silver, the head of the NBA. Mark Cuban is an investor in Unikrn. There's lots of people throughout the sports industry that believe betting on sports is actually good for the industry. It's part of the culture, by the way, in the UK, Australia, and other developed markets. In the US, somehow, it's become fantasy because of the loopholes in the law and [INAUDIBLE] and lobbying.
But the bottom line is betting on sports almost guarantees competitive integrity-- player integrity. Because, quite frankly, there is no better way to spot a match fixing than by looking at a 15 to 1 underdog who's getting a s***-ton of bets. I'm like, ah what's happening?
We've got to stop taking bets. We have to notify the tournament provider that this is going on. They need to do an investigation.
We created the first competitive integrity program for eSports that doesn't just cover anti-cheating and things like that. It also covers things like doping. It covers things like the competitive integrity of the game, working with the tournament providers, making sure that they're meeting a certain level of standard to be able to sort of deal with this sort of stuff.
But I will say this. Cheating on eSports is not as big a problem as people think. I mean, yes, people can cheat at home and they can script and they can do that sort of thing. But the amount of money that's going into eSports now, the players are getting paid enough where they don't want to risk their careers by cheating.
There used to be a time when they would get paid regular money. And you would hear stories in Korea on Starcraft where people may place bets on themselves or on the other team. They take a fall, that sort of stuff. It just doesn't happen as much as you think it would.
So obviously, it is a big thing for us. We're very concerned about that. We want to make sure there is integrity in the sports.
But the same thing with publishers. Publishers hate it. They don't like scripting. They don't like any sort of cheating.
They take a very, very aggressive approach against cheaters. If you script on League of Legends, I promise you, you're getting caught. And your account will get banned. It'll happen. And so there's that part of it.
But there's another opportunity here. It's probably the biggest untapped opportunity in gaming. And that is the data that is being produced during a live game.
For us, the data is super important. Because we're creating a spectator mode where you can view what's happening in the game and you can place live bets in the game. It's an incredible opportunity, that live data. And a lot of the publishers don't think about that.
So when they start developing the game, they do what any publisher does, which is let's go create a great game. And they absolutely should do that. But there is a massive opportunity in the data from a monetization standpoint for that publisher, just as a sideline kind of business, where it doesn't really take much for them to do it.
But being able to output that data-- because there are no better experts in this space. We have some of the world's leading experts when it comes to competitive integrity and just risk management working with us. And this is all they do.
So we can look at data. We can look at stuff that's happening in the game and spot sort of weird anomalies. So data is just a big, big piece that people just don't think about.
That's actually really great. On the software development side, we try to make everything secure on the server, and then have to manage all the bots and hacks and mods and cheats and so forth that go along. People are so clever, and software is so sophisticated, that it's almost impossible to build something that someone won't figure out a way to exploit.
But all we can do is is react. And you patch. So you make your patchers really fast, and easy-to-use, and transparent. So you're patching continuously.
That's one of the best forces against it, because when you have millions of people playing your game, you'd have to employ millions of people to simulate that thought process. You can't. So you just wait until someone exploits something and then you patch it. That's a pretty good way of doing it.
When it comes to the actual eSports tournaments and stuff, they're pretty secure. You got guys playing on stage on machines that they can't tamper and play with. So it's pretty solid. I don't think that's-- it's not common as a huge issue. It's just something that's an ongoing process, if you want to call it that.
[INAUDIBLE] a year-and-a-half ago, two years ago. [INAUDIBLE]. Whatever. Controversially.
So I just think of this as it is as much a part of traditional sports that we've had. But upper echelons, the money is starting to be there so much. If you've never been to an eSports event, I highly encourage you. If you can get to the International Key Arena, it's fabulous and really fun to see and unbelievable.
If you ever get a chance to be backstage and see, there are referees. There are designated areas where these guys can practice. There's drug testing now in major events for Ritalin and Adderall. Because the money is coming and the sponsor dollars are coming, the seriousness of cheating and using illegal hacks is on the do-not-do list.
Any parting words? We're right up at the end of the panel here.
So for me, I fully believe in eSports. And I fully believe that there is an opportunity in eSports, and that there will be global growth for years to come. I also believe that there will be consolidation and organizational structures that we have yet to see-- things like players associations, things like team ownership rules.
I think publishers are going to have to get involved and become the official lead, because it is their IP. So on one side, I think our numbers and our trajectory is a little bit overinflated. But I absolutely think that there is an opportunity there.
And think about things as not to think about how do you dethrone League of Legends or DOTA and become the next NFL. But look for the opportunity to be, is there a bowling, or is there a golf, or is there a lacrosse that hasn't been exploited yet or hasn't been made yet that is a fun game mechanic that has a lot of community behind it. Is that the opportunity to look at?
I've been measured on my enthusiasm today. But one thing-- some of you know me and you know how serious I mean that. But the previous gentleman who was here, with the unpronounceable name, was awesome. Appreciated a lot of what he had to say about PC gaming. I will say this-- all of this activity and excitement going on in PC gaming, whether it's eSports, whether it's VR, whether it's all this new technological advances.
I want to comment and say, you know, when I got into this business 28 years ago, I started working on a 4.77 megahertz PC. I did a game called Hard Ball 2. It was a sequel to a very famous game called Hard Ball. You just want to run some ball. Intense. I know some people.
So, you know, people over the years were so down on PC gaming. And I was always on the sidelines going, and very passionately, PC gaming, PC gaming. You read these articles. There was one probably published within 24 months. PC Gaming Is Dead.
Who are these people who is saying this, who print this, who think this? Are they insane? PC gaming is not dead and never was dead. It has been and always will be the most exciting open ecosystem for gaming, and for innovation, and for doing exciting stuff, period. The mind boggles. I cannot-- [INAUDIBLE] a lobbyist.
Why do these people get so much press time? And where are all the people who are like like, boo, you're nuts? You're nuts. So I'm super excited. It's great to be here.
It's great to be part of the Intel event, because of course, you know, Intel is right there. At the beginning-- I'm studying video gaming history. It goes all the way back to the very beginning, and Intel is a foundational component of it.
And it's so clear to me when I'm here and talking with you guys and talking about all the stuff. We don't know where it's going. But hey, we know it's going to be on a PC. It's pretty damn exciting. Thanks.
PC gaming is where I've been my entire life. And I completely agree. I hear that over and over again, PC gaming is dead. It's just not going to happen. PC gaming is what the foundation of eSports has been built on, and it's only going to get bigger.
Now let me just talk about that. ESports is nascent at the moment. But with the amount of viewing hours and the reach that it has, the potential and the growth is definitely huge.
When I go to Las Vegas and I walk through the casino, and I see them trying to bring young people into the casino by changing their slot machines from pulling the bar to retheming it with Britney Spears and Pitbull, I think these guys have no idea what they're doing. Because there's still only 150-year-old people playing those slot machines. There aren't enough young people there inside the casinos anymore.
And when you think about that, and you think about that problem just in general, the future of entertainment is an area that they just don't understand. The future of entertainment is what your kids are doing in their rooms, watching their favorite player, their Lebron James of League of Legends for six hours in their own private home, playing games and interacting with them. That is the future. And that is where things are going.
And in fact, regular sports-- not all sports, but regular sports-- will soon become less relevant. Things like F1 racing will probably die. And eSports will only get bigger. I'm not in any way saying that NFL is going to be overtaken by eSports. But I am saying regular sports will start to become less relevant, and eSports will only get bigger.
Great. With that, I'd like to thank the panelists.