Industry Guest Post: Jonathan Pan is an Esports Instructor at the University of California, Irvine. He has over 13 years of experience in management, strategy, or business development roles across companies small and large. After serving as a Product Manager at Riot Games, he co-founded and served as CEO of Ember, an esports team. He has also delivered one of the most viewed TEDx talks on esports.
It seems like records are being broken every other day in esports and streaming. The International 2017 had a record $24.8 million dollars in prize pool. The ELEAGUE Major broke the peak concurrent users record on Twitch two years in a row, with a peak of 1.13 million users watching the final match. Most recently, the Ninja — Drake stream has brought all of these topics into the attention of mainstream media.
All of this record-breaking is happening with PC games and console makers — Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft — are looking to get a piece of the action too, each pursing a distinct strategy. Before we dive into each company’s strategy, we should take a look at what mobile esports has tried to do and is trying to do. It is arguable that mobile esports is the first non-PC platform to explore what esports means for their platform.
When I say mobile esports, I’m focusing on the big three — Vainglory, Clash Royale, and most recently Arena of Valor (the Western adaptation of Honor of Kings). Collectively, they’ve tried everything: pay esports teams to get involved, created leagues, hosted tournaments, created esports broadcasts, and more. Yet none of these efforts have gained as much traction as PC esports has.
And that’s okay, because the industry has yet to define what a successful “mobile esports” looks like. While I don’t have a definition, I offer the opinion that mobile esports is more suited as a participatory esport rather than a spectator esport. And as a participatory esport, mobile esports may be doing quite well. But it’ll probably never eclipse PC esports as a spectator esport.
Therefore, the biggest lesson learned that console esports can learn from mobile esports is to define it’s own success criteria.
Looking from the outside in, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft’s esports strategies seem to focus on one to three of these areas: first-party/exclusive games, input devices, and platform services.
- Creating an esport requires esports potential, financial investment, developer buy-in, and most importantly, community buy-in. In total, it’s a big commitment and only makes sense for first-party and exclusive third-party games where the publisher has influence or control over these inputs.
- Another lesson learned from mobile esports is that input devices matter. High-level and professional players of mobile games use keyboard and mouse when available because it offers more precision and complexity than the touch screen. We’ve seen this in the past with Vainglory and more recently with mobile PUBG. That’s also why arcade sticks are used by most professional fighting game players.
- Platform services make participating and watching tournaments easier. Tournament participation has demonstrated increased retention and monetization for some companies. For example, players in World of Tanks who participate in esports tournaments have 3x longer lifespan and 3.5x higher spending. Meanwhile, gamers watching esports on consoles can help console makers prove the case that watching esports can lead to increased engagement.
Nintendo has taken an about face on esports. After years of actively suppressing the Super Smash Bros competitive community, most notably at Evo 2013, Nintendo recently announced hosting the first official Super Smash Bros tournament and the first Splatoon 2 World Championship tournament at E3 2018.
Nintendo’s esports strategy appears to be focused on growing their two first-party games, Smash and Splatoon 2, on the Switch. Smash already had a vibrant competitive community before Nintendo’s official involvement. If Smash represents Nintendo’s past, Splatoon 2 represents Nintendo’s future. The team-based, family-friendly, third-person shooter has a burgeoning competitive community with professional and amateur teams. The Switch trailer in October 2016 ends with two teams playing Splatoon 2 in front of a huge live audience.
The Switch is interesting as it seems to straddle the unique space between console and portable. If you recall the participatory esports distinction I made earlier, the Switch definitely enables participation as you can bring it to tournaments — enabling larger brackets. There’s much more friction in bringing a PS4 or Xbox One and their accessories around. Outside of being a unique input device, the Switch has been a major commercial success. Nintendo has sold 14.86 million units of the Switch in 2017 with 52.57 million units of software sold alongside the system. It broke the U.S. record for the fastest selling console ever, with 4.8 million units sold in just 10 months.
Tomorrow will continue with Sony's esports strategy.