We’re back! Now to conclude my evaluation of esports games.
Visual beauty is nice. Visual clarity is mandatory.
One of the major components of esports is watching the action. Having a pretty game can make the experience more enjoyable over a blander counterpart, but pretty visuals are unnecessary. Fans who stick around for any length of time will become used to the appearance of a game to the point where it won’t matter much. Instead, the most important visual aspect of an esports game is visual clarity. At a glance, viewers should have a good idea about what is happening onscreen and how the broader game is playing out. This allows them to follow the action and understand just how their favorite players are performing. A perfect example of this principle is Starcraft 2. The game isn’t pretty, but all of the necessary information is clearly displayed on screen. When two armies fight, the viewer can see their composition, the moves they’re making, and their success or failure. The display also shows player army size, resource pools, and ongoing upgrades. Compare that to an unmoded FPS where the viewer can only see the game from the viewpoint of a single player. They can only ever understand the game from a single, limited perspective and so will miss out on the broader progress of the game and interesting events not viewed by that player. It would be like watching a football game from the helmet of a single player.
Speaking of Starcraft 2, it showed the importance of getting into the action quickly. Before the most recent expansion, most games started with major dead time until the players could develop their economies and armies and start engaging. That period was, to be blunt, boring. Time that isn’t showing something entertaining is time the viewer might disengage. Some downtime is require in games, but long stretches of it should be avoided at all costs. Esports games are fundamentally an entertainment product. They should strive to be as entertaining as possible across the most time as possible.
One of the things every developer learns about every game they make is that their audience will inevitably do something unexpected with their game. Players will run into bugs, sneak into areas they shouldn’t, and apply unforeseen tactics. For an esports game, the developer must accept that they will a) never anticipate all the strategic permutations of their game, and b) regularly balance those tactics throughout the life of the game. The first point necessitates the second. Invariably, competitive players will pick apart your game and discover an abusive strategy that will dominate the field. Without balancing, that’s all fans will see and they’ll get bored. Even beyond preventing single method victories, intelligent balancing helps keep the game fresh. By subtlety tweaking different aspects of gameplay, the developer can encourage pros to innovate new strategies giving fans something new to see. With all this being said, I included “intelligent” for a reason. Balancing can fundamentally alter how the game is played. Without applying intelligence, care, and precision, the developer can create new dominant strategies or prioritize less entertaining ones. Balancing is incredibly difficult to do right.
Production values for viewing
With increasing production values across the many developing esports games, it’s no longer enough to have a scruffy fan shout out what’s happening in a game. From the casters, to the environment, to the game overlay, esports need strong production values to appeal to new audiences. Appearing jumbled or confused will only push potential fans to better organized options. Furthermore, the back end needs to strongly support the whole operation. Lag, computer crashes, and event disorganization only add dull downtime that will turn off fans. They want to see the game, not watch casters try to fill time while techies figure out the latest failure.