21 Dec A Retrospective on Community-Created Esports
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One of the questions our writers and staff at The Esports Observer hear the most is “what is going to be the next big esport?” We can evaluate the potential of new games and upcoming releases, but predicting what kind of game the community will rally around is as foolhardy as making predictions about future technology (remember Google Glass?).
It is possible to create a sport from scratch that’s both fun to play and competitive, but competitive gaming actually shares a hidden commonality with traditional sports; the most successful games were accidental successes, usually developed by altering existing sports.
The longest enduring esports spawned from community-made projects, or more specifically, “mods.” Whether conceived as passion projects or genuine commercial endeavors, these titles are the closest the industry has come to creating an open-access esport, in which companies can only claim ownership to some of the game’s assets, but not the product as a whole—making these games much closer to traditional sports in terms of intellectual property.
Historically, commercial game publishers have hired the creators of these mods to build a commercial version of the game. In some instances, these companies didn’t even create the software that the mod was built from. Although the original mods retain some of their player base and popularity, the improved resources (i.e. graphics, in-game content) means the commercial version and its competitors will always supplant the original.
What’s Used to Create an Esport?
Competitive titles only comprise a small percentage of the videogame industry, and the successful esports titles barely make up 1% of every game ever made. That said, their influence on the industry is massive, both in terms of gaming’s influence on pop culture, and how other games choose to monetize.
No esport game has been developed in a vacuum. All have been developed from one or more previous games, usually as a combination of the following toolsets:
The software-development environment made in order for people to make games. These are typically available for use with a subscription or license fee, though some game publishers have different views on how widely they can be used. A number of esports have been developed using rules and gameplay elements from one game, but were ultimately built on an engine from an entirely different company.
Key example: Various versions of the Quake engine have been used to create a number of successful esports. Team Fortress, for example, was originally a Quake mod, but its developers were hired by Valve to create a standalone version using the engine for its game Half-Life (which itself, ironically, was built using a modified version of the Quake engine.)
Much in the same way that American football was created by changing specific rules from rugby, some of the more popular esports came from mods that altered the rules or gameplay from a previous competitive title. Since no company can own the actual rules of a game, other companies will typically follow the original with their own rival games—effectively turning the gameplay variant into its own gaming genre.
Key example: The multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre began with a single custom map in StarCraft, known as “Aeon of Strife.” Typically, the player is supposed to build dozens of units to fight for them, but in the altered version, they control only one “hero” character. This, along with changes to the map and objectives, was the basis for games like League of Legends and Dota 2.
Key Examples of Community Created Esports
The following list of “progenitor mods” have had the most impact on the esports industry. It’s worth noting, however, that there are numerous successful esports that weren’t mods, and simply the product of good game design.
While early first-person shooters such as Quake and Doom may have been the inspiration for popular multiplayer shooters like Halo, Unreal Tournament, or Call of Duty, these games were developed independently with their own rulesets (even though the original Call of Duty used a Quake engine).
Even if a game wasn’t community created, aspects of their sequels may have been. For example, Street Fighter II did not include a “combo” system, but certain players discovered that correctly timing moves would link them together, something the developers never intended. This system of play is now a staple in the fighting game genre.
Created: 1999, by Minh “Gooseman” Le and Jess Cliffe.
The Counter-Strike franchise will celebrate its 20th year in 2020, and it all came from one Vietnamese Candian programmer, who was game developing in his spare time. An interest in military and action films led him to build the original Counter-Strike atop GoldSrc, the game engine developed by Valve from id Software’s Quake engine. Jess Cliffe joined as a co-creator, managing the game’s website and community.
The tactical shooter’s core concept of team objectives and round-based gameplay has proved enduringly popular. Valve actually began to assist in the development of Counter-Strike by its fourth beta version, and later bought the rights to the game and hired both Le and Cliffe to continue work on its development.
Defense of the Ancients
Created: 2003, by Kyle “Eul” Sommer, Steve “Guinsoo” Feak, and “Icefrog”
Like most real-time strategy (RTS) games at the time, WarCraft III from Blizzard Entertainment included a map editor, allowing players to create their own custom scenarios. The very first version of Defense of the Ancients was inspired by the “Aeon of Strife” map in StarCraft and appeared in 2003. It removed the typical objectives of an RTS, such as resource management and base-building, and instead, a player’s main priority was…