We've long discussed the explosion eSports has undergone over the past few years. From a largely overseas pastime, eSports has since grown leaps and bounds, with collegiate and professional programs sponsored by educational institutions and sports leagues. Buy in from major media properties in sports has occurred at the same time, including from ESPN. The trajectory of eSports has seemingly moved in only one direction: upwards.
But it was always going to be the case that this progress would eventually hit a wall. Those of us interested in the acceleration of eSports have been looking for symptoms of this wall, unsure of where it would come from. Now we have something of an answer, with a prime example of why eSports needs to undergo its next step in evolution, as demonstrated by the chaos that was Blizzard shuttering its Heroes of the Storm league.
For those of you not in the know, the Heroes of the Storm Global Championship was a massive thing, with hundreds of players, production crews, broadcasters, commentators, and streamers building the whole thing in to a true ecosystem. Started in 2015, the game continued to be developed to support the eSport league. Until a few days ago, when Blizzard unilaterally decided to kill it off.
Last night, Blizzard announced plans to scale down Heroes of the Storm, moving its developers to other games and putting an end to its Heroes of the Storm Global Championship (HGC) esports league. The news came as a shock to hundreds of Heroes of the Storm players and broadcasters, many of whom say they now find themselves out of income streams with no warning.
“We are troubled by the way the announcement was made; namely the impolitic choice to use social media to share such a message that effectively ended the careers of hundreds of players, content creators, casters, production crews overnight - and broke the hearts of countless fans,” wrote Darrie, the general manager of an esports team called Method, on Twitter this morning, echoing the thoughts of many other former Heroes of the Storm players and managers.
Pretty much all the public comments from those involved in the league read something like the above, though many are far angrier and harsher. And you can understand why. Blizzard never gave any indication that the league was in jeopardy and then decapitated it via a blog post. This would be akin to James Naismith disbanding the NBA by literally taking his ball and going home. Such a thing wasn't possible, of course, as the NBA grew as an organic third party league built off of the game Naismith created.
eSports needs to take this next evolutionary step itself. Game publishers can't hold the keys to livelihoods like this, if eSports are to continue to grow in size and popularity. That kind of single point of failure is going to curtail investment, both of the monied and interest varieties. So what could hold this next step back?
Copyright is the likely culprit. The idea of trying to create a third party league out of a video game property, with all of the licensing that would be required, sounds inherently like a full on nightmare. But it absolutely needs to happen. Otherwise, eSports, controlled and siloed by each individual publisher, may just have seen its zenith.