Why Do We Like Esports?

I've been thinking a bit about esports lately. I recently had the pleasure of participating in the Squidboards Splat Series, a monthly Splatoon 2 tournament. There were nearly 70 teams that participated, all of whom are intensely dedicated to the game. Of course, in the world of esports, Splatoon is still small scale; games like League of Legends, Counter Strike, and Star Craft all have millions of dollars in prizes available for the best players.

What makes esports compelling? Sports in general arise from our competitive instinct- we want to say that our tribe is better, and we look to sports as a way to (hopefully) prove that. As such, any good esport needs to be competitive. That is, there needs to be a wide variety of skill levels that can be found in the game, and the best players should be able to consistently beat lower skilled players. Whether that arises from strategic/tactical thinking, or from quick reflexes, or a combination of both, it's important that there is a clear winner who deserves to be the winner.

While competitiveness plays a role in sports, there is also an aspect of being fun to watch. A game is fun to watch when you can take one look at it, and you understand what is happening - is the player in a good position, or a bad one? Did that play have a major impact on the course of the game, or is it simply going to stall the inevitable victory of the opponent? In MOBAs and shooters, if you see a player killing another player, you automatically know that is giving an advantage to the team, although other parts of the state of the game might be less immediately readable.

Readability benefits from our ability to associate what we are seeing with our past experiences. Of course, the ultimate case of this will be if the audience has played the game before, but ideally, you want the game to be readable by someone who has never played your game. I enjoy watching the occasional baseball game with my family, even though I have never played baseball. Rocket League is easy to follow, because if you have ever played Soccer, or Basketball, or Hockey, or any of most sports, you know what is happening - if the ball is on the other side, that's good, if it's on your side, you might be a little worried. You can see who is ready to score, and who is ready to make an epic save.

I think there is a decent chance that Splatoon can make for a decent esport. It is instantly readable - as mentioned before, if you see a player splatting another player, you know who that benefits, but also, the core mechanic of the game- that you must claim turf by painting it in your team's colour before you can enter it, means a quick glance will reveal where each team is allowed to go, and where they will have to work to get to. A look at the map will reveal all you need to know about the current state of the match.

Splatoon is also very competitive. In the three ranked modes, the players are all encouraged to close in around a small area, and fight for control over an objective. If the team can maintain constant control over the objective, they can win quite swiftly, but if the other team is able to take control, then some of the progress the team made will be undone, slowing down their progress. This means that the match will be decided over an extended period of time, unless one team has a clear significant advantage over their rivals.

Esports are a fascinating area, and I feel that there is plenty of room for development within the field.