May 28th, 7:57pm America/New_York

FPS will return to the forefront of eSports

Taylor "Hydrolis" Linden on Mon, 12/31/2012 11:48AM

This is an opinion article, and is the sole opinion of the author. It does not necessarily reflect the official stance of ESEA or its subsidiaries.

It’s no secret that there is not a first-person-shooter (FPS) title at the top of the eSports world right now. The year of 2012 was the year of RTS and MOBA games, there’s no denying that. League of Legends (MOBA) and StarCraft 2 (RTS) dominate the competitive gaming world at this given point in time. These games pull in huge stream numbers (it’s not uncommon for a top LoL player to average 10-15k+ viewers while practicing from home, and tournaments frequently break 100k+ viewers), have a huge number of tournaments (we all know there’s a bunch of SC2/LoL tournaments every month), and players in these games compete for the largest prize pools ($540k was given out in the month of November for SC2 alone).

The current landscape of eSports is somewhat disheartening to me, as I was introduced to competitive gaming through CheckSix Gaming, a team founded in 2003 (in the FPS title America’s Army) that went on to become one of the first North-American multi-gaming eSports organizations. I joined x6 as a CS 1.6 writer in 2005, moving onto X3O and SK to do much of the same. I am definitely a CS ‘guy’ at heart and to this day I much prefer playing/spectating team-based FPS games than any other genre. I also have a soft spot for Quake, having done a lot of coverage of its various versions in the past.

I feel like there is a void in the electronic sports world right now, and that there is something missing. The competitive gaming scene has a rich history in shooting games, and eSports is where it is today largely due to the past success of FPS games in competition. To be completely honest: I don’t think any other genre brings the same level of exhilaration and excitement to professional gaming fans that an FPS game can.

FPS eSports & their popularity in the past:

Lets go back in history to 2005-2009. I explained in one of my prior articles that Counter-Strike 1.6 was THE eSports game. Every big time professional team had a CS 1.6 division, and most of the major tournaments ran CS 1.6 competitions as their premiere event. The prize money, the viewership, and the fan bases were very much centered on CS 1.6. There were definitely superstars in other games, and there were other popular eSports titles – but I don’t think anyone would argue against the claim that CS 1.6 was definitely one of if not the biggest eSports title globally for a very long time. The big juggernaut organizations of today (Fnatic, EG, SK, mouz, coL, NiP, etc.) built their brands around CS 1.6, and a lot of the sponsors/support they have to this day are at least partially due to the success of their former 1.6 teams.
CS 1.6

Having an understanding of this history, and being a fan/journalist that got to experience first hand the excitement and the intensity surrounding some of the greatest moments in CS 1.6 competition – it is perplexing to me that there isn’t another FPS title sitting atop the eSports mountain with LoL and SC2. That being said, I think it is only a matter of time until we see a shooter featured at every big event.

Before I go any further, I should take this opportunity to say duel games have a deep rich history in competitive gaming, and I have a lot of respect for the duelers of the past. I know someone is going to construe my focus on CS as hating on 1v1 FPS games or ignoring them, but that is not the case. I also acknowledge that console FPS games have made a mark in the world of electronic sports, and continue to be very popular to this day. I am choosing to focus on team-based FPS titles on the PC in this article because I feel they have the best chance to ‘break through’ at this moment, because they’re the most viable competitively, and because ESEA is a team-based FPS centric community.

Why isn’t there an FPS title as popular as SC2/LoL right now?

Well – I’m sure if we asked everyone on ESEA this question, we could get hundreds of responses, all of which hold some validity. Let me outline four reasons why I think this is the case currently:

1) There just hasn’t been a competitively sound FPS game (1v1 or team-based, on the PC) released in recent time. This is a pretty generic answer that does not need much elaboration. Quite simply, there have been no FPS games released that have garnered anywhere near the casual/competitive following as a CS 1.6 or a Quake.

2) The timeline of game releases seem to have benefitted SC2/LoL. Right as CS 1.6/CSS/Quake (and other FPS titles, such as Halo in MLG events) were slowly being dropped from tournaments, these other titles (SC2/LoL) swooped in to fill the void. Even the IEM events put on by the ESL (which built their brands around CS 1.6/Quake) had to close the door on these games. A shift occurred in competitive gaming, the spectators/fans started looking elsewhere, and there’s no denying that. I am not at all saying that LoL/SC2 would not be popular eSports titles if the other FPS titles hadn’t died off – but I do think that they wouldn’t be SO far ahead of every other game in terms of spectatorship/popularity right now.

I am a perfect example of someone who started watching SC2 not because I particularly liked the game (heck, I don’t even play it), but because there was nothing else to watch. The tournaments switched games, the pro-gaming organizations switched games, and so did I. I love eSports and I immensely enjoy seeing the best of the best compete. I needed something to fill that void for me, and with no competitive FPS game to regularly watch, I moved on over to SC2 (having never really cared about SC1:BW, WC3 or any other RTS title to any great extent).

3) While the popular FPS eSports titles of the past were on their last legs, there was a rapid change of spectatorship & social media in eSports. I wrote an entire article about that HERE. It seemed that right as our beloved shooters were loosing steam… the entire world of streaming/Twitter/Facebook fan pages started to explode. All of the former ‘eSports celebrities’ of the past had never tapped into these tools, and all of the rising stars (in LoL/SC2) were turning themselves into individual-enterprises with them. Professional gaming teams could now go to sponsors with metrics like Twitter follower counts and Facebook fan page ‘likes,’ and those metrics were being directly fueled by the huge numbers of fans that are now watching SC2/LoL.

How does a professional gaming organization explain return-on-investment (ROI) to a sponsor when trying to justify picking up a CS:GO team when the mega-superstars of the title aren’t already established brands themselves? I am not saying that teams and/or tournaments shouldn’t pick up CS:GO – but it’s a lot harder to justify than a SC2/LoL team or event. It’s not f0rest’s fault that Twitter wasn’t around/being used when he was one of (if not the) biggest name in all of competitive gaming, but that’s just the way it turns out. The fact that EG.IdrA (a SC2 player) has almost 60,000 followers versus f0rest’s 2000 is a surprisingly large driver for a tournament organizer to host a SC2 event versus a CS:GO event. For example: if you have IdrA and iNcontroL (another SC2 player) tweet about a match or a tournament, that’s instantly ~100,000 people that could potentially know about it. Viewership (stream numbers), revenue, and reach (how many eye balls are on a tournament, how many people see a sponsors banner/logo) are all interlinked with how popular the professional players are themselves.

4) FPS gamers are diluted across many platforms. Console gaming holds a huge market around the world, and FPS games on the console are always top sellers. Millions of people just prefer using a controller and playing on PSN or XBOX LIVE. People don’t have to upgrade their computers, they don’t have to install the game – they throw in the disc and they click ‘Start matchmaking.’ It’s a lot easier to play with friend’s in-person (and online even) on a console versus a PC. League of Legends pulls in millions of unique viewers for their world finals tournaments not because millions play the game competitively, but because of the massive casual playerbase. MOBA and RTS games are almost exclusive to PC because those genres are terrible on console/with a controller (or in the case of SC2/LoL, they're not even available on console). The spectator-base is all housed on one platform for MOBA/RTS titles, whereas in FPS games, this is not the case.

Where have all the FPS eSports fans gone?

If we focus on say, North-America and Europe for a second here: I don’t see how two regions of the world that absolutely loved competitive FPS titles 3-4 years ago suddenly only want to watch MOBA/RTS titles. I don’t think it’s the case that FPS titles aren’t interesting for spectators anymore and that’s why everyone watches MOBA/RTS, I don’t. I personally think that there are a lot of factors (four of which are briefly outlined above, but there are many others) that have lead to this shift in genre-viewership. I would love to hear in the comments your thoughts on why FPS titles aren’t at the forefront of competitive gaming right now.

FPS titles still have a place in eSports, and they always will. I attended the ESWC Grand Finals in 2008, and to this day, I have not experienced anything remotely as enjoyable as watching two great FPS teams (or two great duelers) battle it out in a high-stakes competition. I’ve attended a few major SC2 events and for me, even the most intense moments within RTS do not rival the experience of seeing fRoD hit insane no-scopes, or n0thing pulling off a ridiculous 1-deag across the map, or Cooller landing a flick railgun shot.

Which FPS game will succeed?

What FPS game will take its place alongside LoL and SC2 at the top of the mountain? I’m not really sure. That’s an extremely difficult question to answer, but I’ll take a crack at it. For the ESEA fan base, I’m sure you’ll be delighted to hear that I am pulling for CS:GO to be that game. I was around during the whole CS 1.6 vs CSS debate. I’ve read hundreds of threads, watched countless interviews, and sat in even more IRC channels listening to people argue that stupid debate time and time again. CS 1.6 was a perfect blend of everything in my opinion, it was an amazing eSports title that will be tough/impossible to replicate, but I think everyone is realizing now the competitive gaming scene is moving forward, whether we like it or not. PLEASE do not turn this article into a debate about whether CS 1.6 is better than CSS or whether CS:ProMod is better than CS:GO or whatever. That will totally detract from everything I am trying to say here. No one can deny right now that CS:GO is picking up steam and I think it has the best shot at grabbing itself a solid foothold in the competitive gaming scene.

ShootMania is another FPS game that has been featured in a few major eSports events such as ESWC, DreamHack and most recently IPL5. I know very little about this game and its community (besides the fact that a few former Quake stars such as rapha and stermy are competing in it, and the developers are putting a lot of their own money into prize pools), but since it’s release the hype surrounding the game’s eSports potential is a little underwhelming. That being said, not many FPS games have been fortunate enough to be featured at such prestigious tournaments such as ESWC/DreamHack/IPL (IPL5 had a $100,000 tournament for the game) – so who knows what will happen with competitive ShootMania come 2013.

Why Counter-Strike: Global Offensive?

As someone who is just starting to familiarize himself with the CS:GO scene, there’s a few things I’ve noticed. The developers over at Valve seem to be pretty responsive to the (competitive) community. They are patching things pro-gamers/hardcore enthusiasts dislike relatively quickly, they are implementing maps professional players (Volcano) are designing, and they are incorporating aspects of CS 1.6 that people love. Riot (LoL’s developer) and Blizzard (SC2’s developer) have been taking that same responsive approach to their communities for quite some time now, and it is nice to see Valve doing the same. The game has come a long way since beta and it's still a relatively young title, which makes me hopeful for it's future in 2013. Whether or not Valve will start pumping their own money into CS:GO tournaments (like they’re doing for DotA2, and like Riot/Blizzard is doing for their games) has yet to be seen.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of the major eSports organizations are starting to pick up CS:GO teams (NiP, mouz, ESC, Curse, among many others) and many former professional CSS/CS1.6 players are switching over to GO. I cannot overstate the importance of this. By having other prominent organizations pick up CS:GO teams, it helps legitimize the game in a big way. By having names like GeT_RiGhT, f0rest, neo, Volcano, and n0thing (this list is not exhaustive, their names just came to mind first) compete in CS:GO, it dramatically elevates the legitimacy of the competitive scene. It’s a domino effect, once leagues/other organizations see that respectable names/figures are investing time in a new game – they will as well.

Another obvious reason is because the game is based off of the same formula as the immensely successful CS 1.6. Terrorists (T) vs Counter-Terrorists (CT), one team of 5 tries to plant the bomb and the other team tries to stop them. The map layouts are very similar; the guns are similar, and first to 16 rounds wins. The engine and physics are different, yes – but the foundation that made CS 1.6 (and to an extent, CSS) successful still remain.

What must CS:GO do to succeed?

To succeed the CS:GO community needs to utilize the star power and fame of former CS players (and other known FPS competitors) to really break back into some of these major events. LoL and SC2 have such a foothold right now that a concerted effort needs to be made to take those strides. Fortunately, CS:GO sits in a privileged position because it is ‘Counter-Strike,’ it is a Valve title, and because most of the big shots in eSports are very familiar with the former success of 1.6. We have organizations like DreamHack and ESWC putting on CS:GO tournaments when the spectator numbers are no where near that of LoL/SC2 – and this is likely because of their roots and appreciation of CS titles of the past. It also doesn’t hurt that former 1.6 and Source players are now competing under the same game and closing that bridge between the two Counter-Strike communities.

Closing remarks:

Will another game besides CS:GO take the competitive FPS throne? Will 2013 be the year of FPS in competitive gaming? I don’t know – but I think CS:GO has the best shot right now, and I’m pulling for it’s success all the way.

PS. You’re a goof if you think ESEA having a CS:GO league has anything to do with my opinion on this matter. I promise you what I’ve written in this editorial and any future editorials is my opinion, with absolutely no influence from ESEA or bias towards their leagues.

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