Esports game publishers must invest in development leagues before their communities do it for them

July 25th, 2018 | /esports-game-publishers-must-invest-in-development-leagues-before-their-communities-do-it-for-them/

SuperData analyst Bethany Lyons discusses the importance of development leagues in esports

As the esports audience continues to grow, publishers are investing in franchised leagues and official stadiums to secure a future for esports. However, the most important area to protect and nurture is the players’ path to professional gaming. Because without the players, the leagues have nothing.

Only a handful of the top esports game makers have created secondary leagues to support their primary ones. For example, Blizzard uses Overwatch Contenders to ensure a consistent flow of talent. Not only does this organization offer players a way to enter the Overwatch League, but it allows them to improve by introducing steady teams and a highly competitive environment. The North American League Championship Series (LCS) has a similar program called League Academy Championship Series that serves as a development ground. All 10 LCS teams have Academy teams that they can use to establish future talent for the franchise and game.

But those are just two of the most prominent esports, and other big names struggle to support aspiring pros. Dota 2, for instance, has no development league and remains one of the largest esports titles today. The community has noticed, and recently Peter “ppd” Dager, the captain of the OpTic Gaming Dota 2 team, announced the North American Dota Challengers League, a “semi-professional” Dota 2 league. While there are few details right now, Dota 2 publisher Valve has nothing to do with the project.

There is a similar movement in the fighting games community with the announcement of the Local Fighter’s Network, a Street Fighter V database that tracks winners from smaller tournaments that Capcom often overlooks.

Community-backed projects like these are sometimes necessary to help fill the gaps left by publishers, but when they become the norm, there is a larger problem. Companies like Valve who prefer taking a hands-off approach to their esports should think twice before allowing their fans and players to organize leagues. In an increasingly competitive landscape, titles with the most standardized leagues will win out. Traditional sports have official pathways to professional play whether it be through minor leagues or collegiate teams, and the same should be true for all major esports.

There are also opportunities for well-organized minor leagues, especially during the offseason for main leagues. Nearly half of all US esports viewers (49%) tune in for standard league play, indicating that there is a healthy potential audience. Publisher-backed leagues have the most ability to capture those viewers through their official Twitch channels.

The esports industry is at its best when publishers work with communities to provide for their needs. Any minor league is a good thing, but with esports’ rise to the forefront of the entertainment industry it’s almost necessary for that league to be run by the game’s creator. Communities will try to pick up their slack, but that isn’t always the best way forward.