Which Game Will be the Next Great eSport? Assessing the Contenders

COVER STORY: From Call of Duty to Smite, Kat takes stock of the games vying to become the next great eSport.

Analysis by Kat Bailey, .

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Halo 5: Guardians

Halo 5: Guardians

Halo has played host to tournaments and other major events almost from its inception, but it's long been eclipsed by the likes of StarCraft and League of Legends on the eSports circuit. Halo 4 in particular was a major misfire. With Halo 5: Guardians, though, 343 Industries and Microsoft have shown that they plan to compete directly with top-tier eSports games like League of Legends.

What are the odds: Not terrible, but not great, either. Halo has plenty of name recognition, a decent tournament series (the Halo Championship Series), and a committed publisher with a lot of money to burn. It helps that the game itself is pretty good, too. Of course, being a $60 console game - and an Xbox One exclusive at that - is a major impediment to accessibility. I think Halo 5 will roll right along, but I have my doubts that it can really break through into the highest tier of eSports, even with the investment by Microsoft and 343 Industries

Street Fighter V

There have been Street Fighter tournaments since the beginning of time, and EVO is a gaming institution. Nevertheless, the relatively limited prize pools and the fact that it's still played in Vegas hotels limits its perception as an eSport. There have been a lot of theories on why this is the case, with many of them centering on the perception that the genre's mainstream appeal is too limited. Still, Capcom is committed to elevating Street Fighter's status as an eSport, and Street Fighter V is their main vehicle for doing so.

What are the odds: I don't think a fighting game will ever be a top-tier eSport in the sense of being able to fill a stadium and offer multi-million dollar prize pools. Street Fighter's barrier to entry is quite high between the skill level required and the game's $60 price point. And no matter how much Capcom tries to streamline the inputs, the leap from merely "okay" to "good" is massive - a fact that will likely limit its mass appeal. In turn, a lack of investment in the scene will make casual fans less likely to tune in outside of major events like EVO, limiting its potential as a big-time eSport. Don't get me wrong - the Capcom Cup is a positive step forward, the action is excellent, and there's a sense of history and personality unequaled by other eSports. I just don't see it evolving out of the niche that it currently occupies.

Rainbow Six: Siege.

Rainbow Six: Siege

Reviews for Rainbow Six: Siege have been kind of lukewarm, and the competitive game has been held back by some serious bugs. Still, Ubisoft is committed to Rainbow Six: Siege being an eSport, partnering with Microsoft and the ESL to create two pro leagues for the Xbox One and PC version respectively. The league's first season will kick off in March at the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship in Poland.

What are the odds: Rainbow Six: Siege has so far failed to catch fire among competitive gamers, and Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, and Halo represent some serious competition. It has many of the same strengths as Counter-Strike, though - easy to understand, team-based, disinct objectives - and it has the marketing muscle of Ubisoft behind it. We'll see how the pro leagues pan out; but suffice it to say, Ubisoft has a lot of work ahead of them.


Gearbox's "Hero Shooter" mashes up elements of the first-person shooter and MOBA genres with an art style clearly meant to recall Team Fortress 2. It also has Borderlands' "trademark sense of humor," so enter at your own risk. What I played wasn't too bad - it's a fast-paced and fun arena shooter - but it doesn't strike me as going much deeper than that, even with the ability to upgrade your character's abilities on the fly. The apathy I've seen for this game is striking.

What are the odds: I suppose there's always a chance that Battleborn winds up catching on. Honestly, though, as a $60 retail game that wants to be all things to all people, I don't think it has the focus to be a top-tier eSport. It'll need to start with getting an audience.

EA Sports (Madden NFL, NHL, FIFA)

EA is making a big push toward turning their sports games into eSports, most notably through events like last year's Madden Challenge. Madden NFL, FIFA, and NHL are all adding the infrastructure needed for a successful eSports, but it's still early days, and there's an odd tension in watching sports sims versus their real-life counterparts. Still, there's too much money in the space now for EA to entirely ignore the prospect of turning FIFA and Madden into an eSport.

What are the odds: FIFA has a better shot than Madden or NHL just by virtue of the fact that it's a massively popular game worldwide. It needs better infrastructure, though, including a spectator mode and a more robust focus on Online Team Play. Unfortunately for EA, there are just too many competing areas of focus when it comes to developing an annual sports sim. Barring a total realignment of priorities, I just don't see any of these games breaking through. In this case, it really is too little, too late. The Madden Bowl is still kind of fun to watch, though.

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Comments 7

  • Avatar for ChairmanYang #1 ChairmanYang 2 years ago
    Personally, I'm not willing to invest any time or money into a pay-to-win e-sport. That's why I'm super-interested in Overwatch. I'm fine with paying up-front (or for cosmetic stuff) but I hate the pay-to-win aspects of other games like Hearthstone or League of Legends.

    Maybe charging up front is less accessible for most people. For me? It's a selling point.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #2 VotesForCows 2 years ago
    @ChairmanYang That's what got me out of Hearthstone actually. I know the best players can have good runs with basic decks, but for most people you absolutely have to have some good cards in there. There's a lot of talk around the cost of boxed games being an impediment to esports, but to really keep up with Hearthstone (again, as an average player) you'd have to pay a lot anyway.
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  • Avatar for Mooglepies #3 Mooglepies 2 years ago
    Pretty much the only esports I watch are Starcraft and fighting games because I simply have no interest in team games. I can't think of any on this list that I'd watch, except SF5.

    My personal observation would be that team games are far more popular than head to head titles, which limits the popularity of things like Street Fighter, as the article says. I don't think that will change, looking at the popularity of more traditional team sports.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #4 Kat.Bailey 2 years ago
    @ChairmanYang Fair point, but the teens and twenty somethings who make up the esports demographic also tend to have a lack of disposable income. Not surprisingly, they gravitate toward F2P over dropping $60 on a game up front. Hearthstone and LoL can theoretically be enjoyed without paying a cent, and they can be easily sampled, making it much more likely someone will download them on a whim (I did with Hearthstone).
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  • Avatar for Spectreman #5 Spectreman 2 years ago
    My bet is Street Fighter 5. More easy to non-players to watch. Every time they put a MOBA game on open TV is the worst choice possible.
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  • Avatar for gigantor21 #6 gigantor21 2 years ago
    Street Fighter V not having a free to play option with a few rotating characters is a huge mistake to me. Other fighters, like Killer Instinct or Dead or Alive, offered such an option alongside a full purchase for years with no problems. For all their talk about bringing in new players, I don't think Capcom's efforts go far enough. Especially when, as you said, fighting games are incredibly hard to play even semi-decently.

    How extensive is the tutorial mode? Does it go into advanced tactics like mixups? Are hitboxes/hurtboxes visible in training mode so people can see where and how their attacks hit? Is frame data available? Other fighters offered that stuff years ago, but Capcom continues to drag their feet on it. Even now, when Ono won't shut up about how SFV is supposed to be a "reset" that broadens the fanbase, or that they want the game to be less obtuse for new players, or how he wants it more of an eSports contender.

    Don't get me wrong--I'm super excited about the game and loved the beta. But I have serious doubts as to whether or not it's going to accelerate the franchise's eSports ambitions.
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #7 CK20XX 2 years ago
    If only the Bomberman franchise had survived this long. It was an eSport long before eSports were a thing.
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