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What it takes for a computer game to make it big in eSports

Vendors used Gamescom 2017 to showcase a plethora of computer games. Many are or will be big sellers, but only a few can make it big in eSports. What does a title need to become a successful eSports brand?

Köln Gamescom 2017 | Breakaway (DW/N. Peters)

Some computer games have managed to attain worldwide success not only as a game, but also in the world of eSports. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends, for example, attract not only millions of players but also live spectators and many more watching on television and over the internet.

However, not all big sellers make it as big eSports titles, in fact, most of them are not. Out of the 24 best-selling games that were released on the distribution platform "Steam" in 2016, just eight have featured in eSports tournaments and only five have begun to establish themselves.

So what does a computer game need to make it in eSports?

For one thing, the concept of the game needs to lend itself to competition between two or more players. Grand Theft Auto, for example, is one of the highest-grossing games of all time, but it because it lacks the competitive element, it never stood a chance in eSports.

Another thing that is required is a ranking system so that how good or bad a player is, is clear for all to see. One also needs tools for players and coaches to scout and analyze the competition. Dota 2, for example has a demo player, which makes this possible. Counter-Strike coaches have a similar vehicle available to them.

The element of chance

Another thing is, that the element of chance needs to be reduced to the lowest-possible level. The makers of Counter-Strike have been successful at almost completely eliminating the element of chance, something that is crucial to creating a level playing field.

USA Microsoft xBox E3 Event (Getty Images)

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds incorporates the element of chance, something that is not every gamer's cup of tea

However, this doesn't apply to Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) - here the element of chance plays a central role.

At the start of the game the players jump out of a moving plane and skydive towards cities and locations of their own choice while the playing field is constantly being narrowed down - eventually bringing the players together in a small area. The players' task is to loot the buildings for weapons to battle it out against their opponents. However, what the different players find can vary significantly, putting some at a decided advantage over the others. 

German gaming personality Danny "Dansen" Hamann took part in the PUBG Invitational at Gamescom, where a total of 100 professionals and amateurs faced off against each other. What others see as a major flaw, he sees as an advantage.

Köln Gamescom 2017 | Danny Hamann; Euronics Gaming (DW/F. Schlößer)

Danny "Dansen" Hamann

Opinion split

"The current state of competitive PUBG is really interesting, because it's never the same team on top. Looting introduces the element of chance and having to make the best of a bad situation divides good from bad players," Hamman told DW. "The eSports scene had never seen such a game mode before."

Stephan "Scars" Barth, manager of the eSports club Alternate aTTaX, believes that random factors should not be a part of competitive play.

"In Counter-Strike, if a team loses its top spot to another one, it is usually due to hard work by the latter," he said. "There's always a reason for it, it doesn't happen by chance."

Only time will tell whether the greater eSports community will embrace games like PUBG, which include the element of chance as a significant factor in the outcome.

However, what is clear is the process by which s titles catch on: First of all players need to be presented with a competitive platform, then, if they really love it, they as a grassroots movement, just transform a successful computer game into an actual electronic sport.

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