During Microsoft’s E3 press conference, something happened that caused the entirety of the esports community to issue a collective red card. I’m talking about the sudden appearance of a certain bearded man yelling over a preview for upcoming game The Darwin Project. It wasn’t received well by the scene.
Say it with me, developers: My unreleased game is not an esport.
I promise this isn’t a callout. I have no personal beef with The Darwin Project or the bearded gentleman who shouted over it. This has become an issue industry-wide. Developers consistently present their upcoming competitive multiplayer games as esports, neglecting what makes games esports in the first place.
I’ve seen this sort of thing over and over again. At every trade show, whether it be E3 or PAX or whatever else, there’s always at least one developer who has hired a caster to shout over their upcoming game. It’s cheesy, no one knows what anyone is talking about, and it’s actually harmful for the reputation of the game.
You can’t force an esport. The best a developer can do is put out the best competitive game they can and hope the community rallies around it.
The players make the esport, not the developer.
And really, that’s what makes esports beautiful. By definition, they can’t thrive without the people surrounding them. League of Legends only grew to the behemoth it is because of its massive player base. Dota 2 has the biggest prize pool of any tournament in the world because of its dedicated fans. Super Smash Bros. Melee has thrived and grown with near-zero developer support since its 2001 release thanks to the hardest of the hardcore. Counter-Strike has remained a premier esport through thick and thin by sheer force of will from fans. With every major esport, success has come from within, not from a top-down approach from developers.
As a result, esports fans also tend to be extremely wary of inauthenticity. Many want their esports games to rise through the ranks because they’re actually good games, not created to capitalize on what grew as a grassroots scene.
Whether that Johnny-come-lately perception is fair for The Darwin Project or any other upcoming competitive game (again, I don’t want to make this about The Darwin Project in particular), presenting a game as an esport before its time is as close to a death knell as a developer can give a game. For a game to succeed in the esports space, it has to feel authentic, and a commentator shouting over a scripted moment is the exact opposite of that.
So, please. If you’re going to show a competitive game at E3 or any other event, leave the casters at home. Let your game speak for itself and, if the community gloms on to it, evolve into an esport. Then and only then should you have a bearded guy yell over it.
I promise your game will have a higher chance because of it.
Follow Taylor Cocke on Twitter @taylorcocke.