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djWHEAT talks the rise of eSports, who’s doing them right, and why they shouldn’t return to TV

djWHEAT talks the rise of eSports, who’s doing them right, and why they shouldn’t return to TV

TwitchTV's Marcus “djWHEAT” Graham doesn't think eSports belong on TV – he's been there, done that. It didn't work.

“It's one of those things where I'm glad I was a part of it, because I learned so much, and I'm glad that it failed, because it really does show us that the future is on a global Internet scale,” Graham told an audience at PAX East last weekend during his panel, “eSports in 2013: The Past, Present, and Future.”

“I'm so sick and tired of journalists asking me, 'Gosh, with this getting so popular, when is it gonna show up on TV?'” Graham said. “Because you know what? It's already been there once. It's already been there once, it didn't work out too well, and it makes zero sense to me that you would limit the ability for someone to watch eSports or competitive gaming.”

“The moment it's on G4, suddenly you just fucking… remove access from every single person who's outside the United States, and why would you ever want to just sacrifice… why would you ever want that to happen?”

An independent league (of legends)

The limited availability of television isn't the only issue, however. Organizations like MLG and IPL compete with each other and show off multiple games in multiple genres, while developers like Riot host and stream their own titles. “Things are not hunky-dorey right now between the teams and the leagues,” Graham's co-host, GameSpot's Rod “Slasher” Breslau said.

“Throughout history, they've tried to work with each other, but now money infused into eSports, making this a legitimate industry, there have to be standards set between each of the different parties.” Breslau said that something “has to happen” to rectify the situation, and it'll have to happen within the next several years. “It's pretty much been the wild, wild west up until this point,” he told the audience.

If eSports is the wild west, then Riot and League of Legends may be the sheriff, come to whip everyone into shape, and Graham couldn't be happier. “When you look at a game like League of Legends and what Riot is doing, they control their own game,” Graham said. “If they think they know how to cover their game better, fuck yeah, they should code something into their game to facilitate that.”

Graham expects the developer-managed model to expand, and for more developers and games to start taking cues from how Riot structures itself. The Riot model allows developers to facilitate and manage the community, market the game, and have more control over when and how patches are implemented.

That last point is particularly important, Graham said, as he recalled how the development team behind Painkiller promised to add spectating while it was touring with the Cyberathlete Professional League. It never happened. “I just wonder, if Painkiller would've gained more popularity, more users, more people playing, if they wouldn't have added that spectacting,” Graham said.

Learning from others' mistakes

Graham said he's aware that the idea may sound “foreign” to a game development company, but he sees it becoming the new norm. Riot is currently leading the way with League of Legends, but Graham said that he could see Blizzard, Ubisoft, and Red 5 following suit with StarCraft, Shootmania, and Firefall, respectively.

That's a good change, Graham and Breslau said. Too many companies have already let opportunities pass them by. When someone shouted out “Unreal Tournament!” during the panel, Graham explained how Epic Games just nearly missed the boat with their classic FPS:

“Epic Games was one of the one companies who was very flippant about competitive gaming,” he said. “It's actually unfortunate, because they could have been one of the strongest contenders.” 

“Where id Software was making their strides, and was making their advance into eSports, Epic Games – I love Unreal Tournament, I'm sorry, but you would agree if you were a player or competitor – Epic didn't quite get behind it the way that they should've.”

Breslau also had several examples, which he fired off in rapid-succession near the end of the panel. “id Software had a community in place with Quake, Valve could've done something with Counter-Strike, DOTA was a mod inside of Blizzard and they let it go, StarCraft: Brood War, they've had issues with customers where they've had to go through a lawsuit just two years ago,” he said.

“They had their opportunities to let this happen and it might be the way of the future for many of these games.”

State of the union

Graham and Breslau both remarked several times how happy they were to be able to have this discussion surrounding a topic that was once considered niche. Graham said it was “next to impossible” to find two hours' worth of content for his old show, Live on Three, when it started in 2009.

“Now we get bitched at when we don't cover everyone's favorite league, or everyone's favorite game, or the top athletes of the week,” Graham told the audience. “It's crazy to think that even back in 2009, it was like, a week would go by where we were like, 'Fuck guys, what're we gonna talk about? There's an event in two months…' It was that bad.”

Breslau said he's optimistic, and that, for the first time, he could say out loud that he doesn't think eSports will face the same downturn it once did.

“As far as the present is concerned,” Graham said, “Look around you. Open your eyes. eSports is absolutely existing and flourishing wherever we are at.” There was a larger than average crowd at the panel, for instance, and the crush of people at the Riot booth proved his point.

These are just a few snippets and stories from Graham and Breslau; the whole panel was worth a watch, and if you've got an hour to spare, check it out for yourself.