The esports phenomenon has irrevocably shaken up the gaming industry and leading developers need to factor it in when devising their latest titles.
The esports industry was worth almost $1 billion last year and it looks set to skyrocket in 2019 as popular titles like CS:GO and League of Legends continue to gather steam. We can all look forward to some huge new releases this year, but which ones look like a perfect fit for the esports arena? Here are the top five contenders to break into the big leagues:
This game was launched to great fanfare at the start of February and it managed to rack up an impressive 2 million concurrent players and more than 25 million downloads in its first week alone. It is billed as a genuine contender to Fortnite’s throne in the flourishing battle royale genre, and it has certainly taken the gaming world by storm. It is growing at a faster rate than Fortnite did, and it is arguably superior when it comes to shooting, movement and sound.
Epic Games is spending $100 million this year to make Fortnite the most lucrative esport in the world, but the developer may be nervously looking over its shoulder as Apex Legends gathers a head of steam. It will be hard pressed to overtake the juggernaut that is Fortnite in the popularity stakes, but it makes an intriguing addition to the battle royale genre alongside Fortnite and PUBG. These titles are not really a great fit for competitive gaming, but if Fortnite can blaze a trail in that arena then the likes of Apex Legends could certainly follow.
Magic: The Gathering Arena
The grand dame of collectable tabletop card games has been reimagined for the digital age and it is making a play for the esports sector in 2019. Magic: The Gathering is now a slick, modern game in open beta and developer Wizards of the Coast, backed by owner Hasbro and its deep pockets, has stumped up a $10 million prize pool for competitive tournaments throughout the year. This will bring 32 of the very best players in the world together for a Magic Pro League, competing in weekly matches and tournaments.
The showpiece event is the $1 million Magic: The Gathering Arena Mythic Invitational event at PAX East in Boston on 28–31 March. Leading stars have been offered play and streaming contracts worth $75,000 per person and that should help develop a competitive scene for this 25-year-old classic game. Competitive gaming fans love betting on their favourite esports at leading sites such as Unikrn, and this has really boosted the appeal of the sector. Magic: The Gathering Arena looks like a game that could lend itself well to wagering as it is sure to be a popular title and it could provide plenty of prop options.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege is already a flourishing esport tipped to soar in popularity this year, so the community is eagerly awaiting the release of The Division 2. The original Division title was extremely popular and the newcomer is set to follow a similar format. Players team up online to tackle missions, and this focus on connected, cooperative play could see it take the competitive gaming arena by storm. It feels a bit like Gears of War due to its cover-based shooting mechanics and its third person perspective. The game offers PvE and PvP options, and the latter takes place in a walled off area of the city, presumably Washington, D.C, called the Dark Zone. It ticks all the right boxes to break into the esports sector and it could well emerge as one of the biggest new entrants into this world.
The Dark Zone has the potential for high-octane showdowns, and this urban battlefield looks a perfect fit for another battle royale bonanza to rival Fortnite and PUBG, replete with rogue agents, backstabbing and tense face offs. It is sure to enjoy marvellous graphics, which will add to potential audience appeal, and the addition of single hit kills could see this one really take off.
EA is all about multiplayer games after wielding the axe on its Visceral Games division. Its Bioware studio is set to release another blockbuster this year in, which is played online and focuses on players grouping up to collectively take on missions. It is an RPG, a genre that does not easily lend itself to esports due to the pace of such games. However, this looks like yet another prime candidate for a battle royale update. Many believe it is this mode, rather than the actual game of PUBG or Fortnite, that has attracted gamers in their droves, so it would make sense for the likes of EA to replicate it.
Gears of War 5
The Gears of War franchise is one of the most important in the Microsoft roster and big things are expected of the latest release. It is due out this year and is follows on from where Gears 4 left off, with player focus from JD Fenix to Kait Diaz. Fans can expect the usual blend of intense, ultraviolent third-person shooter action and gorgeous graphics, but hopefully with some new and exotic weapons.
Playing the Gears campaign in co-op mode has always been possible, although it felt a little clunky with Gears 4, so The Coalition will be keen to provide a strong offering in this department before releasing it. The Gears series has seen plenty of highs and lows as an esport over the years, but Gears 5 could breathe new life into proceedings.