As e-sports profitability booms, don’t forget the players

E-sports are a big deal. How big of a deal? How about $5 million split between a five member team that won the “Dota2” championship tournament known as The International? This is only the beginning as e-sports are primed to get bigger and all genres of competitive gaming would be wise to ride the coattails of games like “Dota2.”

The International, or TI4, descended on a sold out Key Arena in Seattle, Washington for four days as sixteen teams competed in ”Dota2,” one of two of the most popular multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA, games in the world for a total prize pool of almost $11 million. ESPN provide live coverage of the tournament and was so “delighted” by the success of the broadcast that they are looking to expand coverage of competitive gaming.

So how did The International’s prize pool jump nearly four times the amount it was in 2013? Valve, developers of “Dota 2,” “Half-Life,” and “Left 4 Dead” offered a purchasable prize Compendium that unlocked more items for players the higher the prize pool got. The kicker is that $2.50 from the $10 Compendium went towards the prize pool. That’s 25% of a grand total of $46 million in Compendium sales.

“Dota 2” is a special case though. Not every e-sports league or competitive gaming tournament can boast those kinds of numbers, but there’s no reason why they can’t grab a bigger piece of a lucrative pie.

The Evolution Champion Series, Evo 2014, took place on the before The International. Evo 2014 is North America’s longest running and most recognized fighting game event. Thousands of people attend or participate in various official and unofficial tournaments over the three-day weekend. The estimated prize pool for the event’s biggest game, “Ultra Street Fighter 4,” was a mere $29,790. In fact, the total prize money for the eight sanctioned tournaments topped out at $111,960.

Major League Gaming’s Call of Duty pro league has a prize pool of $75,000 with $30,000 going to the top team at the end of its season. MLG is one of the gaming leagues in talks to be featured more on ESPN. They recently partnered with ESPN at the X Games in June.

Valve came up with a unique way to offer “Dota2” players an opportunity to participate in the tournament’s prize offerings. It would behoove the publishers and developers of competitive video games as well as event organizers to take advantage of the new money that is out there. Capcom has been notorious for the downloadable content practices over the years by selling numerous costume packs for its fighting game characters over the years. Why not make that practice seem less egregious by offering in-game unlockable items just like Valve did with “DOTA 2’s” Compendiums?

It could be a fluke. It might be a trend. It might not work outside of the MOBA ecosystem which tends to be friendlier to paid downloadable content since most of the major MOBA video games are free-to-play. But it’s worth a shot to get these competitors better prize packages. Practicing and competing can be like a full-time job to many e-sports competitors and they deserve a better piece of a pie that looks like it’s going to get much wealthier as e-sports grows.

 

Reach the reporter at Michael.Jerome.Martin@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter at @Bizarro_Mike