As a video game fan for most of my life it has been truly great to see the meteoric rise of eSports over the last few years. Going from a few people huddled together in basements and garages all the way to massive sports arenas, what used to be an interesting pastime has become a legitimate force in sports entertainment. However, a few things still hold eSports back from all that it could be, and I think that Rocket League is the one game that can fix them all.
By far the biggest eSports event every year is Valve’s DOTA 2 championship, The International (The League of Legends Championship Series might actually be bigger in terms of overall viewers). Featuring the biggest prize pool in eSports, and even one of the biggest in sports overall, the event is essentially the public face of eSports. Events like EVO and the League of Legends Championship Series are great, but they don’t draw the same numbers just yet.
Despite its massive popularity, I still haven’t actually sat down to play DOTA 2. I find its complexity, and especially its community, a daunting wall that keeps me from actually diving into the game itself. However, I did watch the Grand Finals of this year’s The International, have watched various tutorial videos, and thoroughly enjoyed Free to Play: The Movie, the Valve produced documentary about the first tournament.
Watching these things was like viewing a foreign language film without subtitles. Sure, by looking at the images and catching the occasional word that I recognized, I could sort of figure out what was going on. I knew that the green guys had just dealt a lethal blow to the red guys, but exactly how they did it, and what the overall strategy was were a mystery.
This continued for some time, only really getting a grip on things after multiple matches, and a lot of follow up reading. Even now the higher level of play is confusing, with me mostly understanding the general direction of play, rather than the higher level strategy and meta-gaming.
Most popular eSports games are too complex for casual fans to join in.
All of this is to say, essentially, if I can’t get fully into the sport, than how do we expect more casual fans to? DOTA 2 and eSports in general won’t, and don’t have to become as popular as Football or Basketball, but as it currently stands it won’t even get close. This is, by my estimation, because most popular eSports games are too complex for casual fans to join in.
If you want to become a fan of an eSport like DOTA 2, LoL, or even Super Smash Bros. you usually have to play the actual game, or have someone deeply explain to you how it works. Conversely, more traditional sports usually make a decent amount of sense just by watching them for a few minutes. You might miss the deeper levels, like how downs work in football, or how the shot clock affects a basketball game, but you can follow along pretty easily.
While this isn’t true for most current eSports, it is true of Rocket League. The basics of Rocket League are so simple that someone wholly unfamiliar with the game, and video games in general, can probably pick it up after watching one or two matches. Even the higher level play, such as aerials, and player rotation, will show themselves pretty much right away.
This is exactly what is needed to propel eSports to the next level in terms of community size, and casual acceptance as a genuine entertainment medium. ESPN has some trouble talking about eSports as they currently exist, but talking about Rocket League would be as simple as discussing a normal soccer match.
Fans as well would be able to watch matches, understand what is happening throughout, and really get into the game. I’ve found myself, over the last few months, watching many of the top Rocket League players in tournaments and casual games. While I may not be able to pull off the moves that they can, I get how they did it, and can see what level of skill they are showing. This isn’t the case with DOTA 2, where pulling off a $6 million winning Echo Slam is probably extremely difficult, but the general audience would have no idea how it happened.
I know how this might sound to those that are truly invested in eSports and DOTA 2 specifically. “He’s just too dumb/lazy to figure it out” you say. I’ll totally admit to that, I just don’t want to put the time and effort into learning the entirety of DOTA 2 just to watch top level players compete, and there are millions more like me. If eSports are to get my, and those other millions’ attention then it needs a revolution, and Rocket League is the game to pull it off.