A new year means a new season for esports, and as the industry continues to grow we’ll also be seeing big changes in the scene as more games are rising in prominence to compete with the likes of Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Expect to see some big changes in 2017 as games continue to evolve and the esports industry itself asserts its role in the larger world of competitive sports. These games, including up and comers and established favorites, are the ones to watch in the new year.
Call of Duty
Call of Duty has been played at a competitive level for years, though it never gained the massive following that fellow first-person shooter CS:GO did. Activision is looking to change that. The company bought MLG early in 2016 and established the Call of Duty World League (CWL) to add more structure to its tournaments. The 2017 season with its $4 million prize pool had its start at MLG Vegas, and Activision looks to make the CWL a major esports draw over the coming months.
Don’t expect Dota 2 to be going anywhere soon. The game continues to draw in new fans and its prize pool, which hit $20 million in 2016, is expected to grow again in the new season. And let’s not forget that 7.00 update, which changed the game so significantly some people have dubbed it Dota 3. Maps got a major overhaul, with shifts in geography that alter visibility, slower creep spawn times, and much more that will completely change how players approach strategy. Add to that updated skill trees, a new Hero, and more, and we’re going to be seeing a very different game in Dota 2 competition this season.
Blizzard is making a big push for Overwatch this year with the start of the Overwatch League. The company hopes to stir things up by establishing regional teams, something new to esports. They’re also making player support a priority, offering steady pay and benefits to teams that go pro via full-time contracts. If it works, it could bring some much needed stability to teams, and shift the way other esports approach these sticky issues.
League of Legends
League of Legends is setting up some much needed infrastructure, requiring full-time contracts for professional teams, again ensuring that players get the benefits and the pay they need. Riot’s also streamlining its queues to make the road to the top tiers of competition more transparent and accessible.
LoL could be making big changes in how we watch esports, too. Riot just recently partnered with BamTech, the company which also owns the streaming rights for Disney and the MLB, for exclusive rights to League of Legends content. Expect to see premium LoL streams of some kind coming soon. Given the numbers esports draws, we can expect to see other games pursuing this model in the future, too.
So it’s not one singular game, but 2017 could very well be the year for this sub-genre to finally shine. Prize pools are increasing, as are the crowds, drawing more people to Super Smash Bros. and Street Fighter V events than ever before. There’ve been whispers of a Melee re-release on the upcoming Nintendo Switch’s Virtual Console, too. And let’s not forget that Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is out later in 2017 as well. These upcoming titles could very well bring renewed spark to fighting games this year.
Esports is huge, but the entire industry as a unified organization is still very young and nebulous. As companies continue to work out the kinks in team management, production, and content licensing, we will be seeing some big shifts in how things work for some time to come, both good and bad. 2017 is shaping up to be a real doozy, and we’ll likely be treated to some serious excitement in the coming months.