The world of eSports continued to rise significantly in 2016 with event attendance up, significant investment made by professional sports teams and overall interest growing across the globe.
Moreover, while traditional sports continue to battle the issue of an aging audience, eSports have proven a draw in key market demographics and there seems little doubt that the growth will continue in 2017.
Last year saw numerous ups and downs, and here we highlight a couple of each that caught the eye.
The rise of Overwatch
For a game that was only released in May, Overwatch, Blizzard’s entrance into the first person shooter genre, took both the competitive and casual gaming world by storm. Released on PC, Xbox and PS4, Overwatch has been a resounding success for Blizzard, creating an incredible new eSport to compete with the likes of CS:GO, League of Legends and Dota.
The first major step for competitive Overwatch was the introduction of the OGN Overwatch League located in South Korea. With a structured season and playoffs, it gave Overwatch, in its infancy as a game, the legitimacy it needed to establish itself as an eSport with staying power.
Blizzard also held the first ever Overwatch World Cup event at BlizzCon, bringing players from all over the world to compete against one another, with South Korea coming out on top.
Last but certainly not least for Overwatch was the announcement of the Overwatch League, with multiple leagues all over the world forming teams via local talent pools, allowing for an NFL-like scouting system to help showcase players’ skills. This is just the beginning for Overwatch, with 2017 looking to be even brighter for Blizzard.
eSports rise across the globe
The other big winner was eSports as a whole in 2016. eSports continued to become more and more mainstream, finding its way into the daily reporting of ESPN, Yahoo and other major news outlets in the US. Significantly, Counter Strike broke into television with the introduction of the ELEAGUE, which was broadcast on TBS. From there it was also shown at the restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings throughout the United States.
Owners of the Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers got involved as the movers and shakers in the NBA saw the potential of eSports. Not to be outdone, European soccer teams have embraced eSports and there are still some excellent growth opportunities so more investment is likely this year. eSports have grown exponentially better over the last few years, and there’s no sign of that changing going into 2017.
Summit’s time in the fire
Meanwhile, while the trends were usually positive, there were a couple of interesting negatives of note. In one of the most infamous moments of the year, famous Twitch streamer Summit1G became a meme among the Counter Strike community.
Primarily known for playing Counter Strike and similar first person shooters at a high level, Summit would join former Cloud9 member fREAKAZOiD in playing as a substitute player for Splyce at DreamHack Austin, replacing abE and Professor_Chaos, who couldn’t attend the event.
While up 15-11 in a game that was first to 16 wins against Counter Logic Gaming on Train, Summit would win a 1v1 against CLG’s FugLy, seemingly clinching the game for Splyce. However, unfortunately for Summit, he had thrown a Molotov cocktail a few seconds previously to force FugLy out of position. This Molotov would spread and kill Summit, meaning he was unable to defuse the round, causing CLG to take the score to 15-12. To make matters worse, Splyce would go on to lose the series as a whole 0-2.
Riot removes Solo Queue
Riot’s decision to remove Solo Queue for the majority of the year for League of Legends ranked play was a decision met by distaste by an overwhelming majority of the community. Not only did this choice make it so players would consistently play against 3+ players that queued together, it also made high level players sit in queue time for up to two hours if they did not have a party of three or more.
The removal of a solo ranked play also made it increasingly difficult to judge people’s abilities, as a player playing with multiple friends with quality communication had much better odds of winning than someone more talented who was playing by themselves.
Eventually Riot would realize the error of their ways, reintroducing a Solo/Duo ranked mode towards the end of 2016. However, a large portion of the year will live on in infamy for most players of League of Legends as a time that Riot stuck to their guns for far too long after it was clear the original decision was the wrong one.
Moreover the misstep by Riot also came at a time when Blizzard was entering the market. Of all the times to get it wrong, this was the worst possible timing and it will be instructive to see whether Blizzard can take advantage in 2017.