Black Desert Online

Calpheon Journal: Is There a Place For Black Desert Online eSports?

April is eSports month here at MMOGames! At this point it should be no surprise to anyone who plays games that eSports are big business. But are eSports right for Black Desert Online?

Why eSports Matter

There’s a reason that every game publisher seems eager to get a piece of the eSports action: there’s a lot of money up for grabs, in an industry that is still in its infancy.

Championship events like The International (for DOTA 2) or Heroes of the Dorm are often run at a loss given facilities costs, technological infrastructure, and manpower, but the sponsorship and advertising opportunities that they generate are hugely profitable. Companies like Razor or Logitech will happily pay tens of thousands of dollars to be featured in promotional material and potentially have on-site booths.

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And of course, no eSports event is complete without a livestream! Although the cost of setting up a stream with high production value, a solid network backbone, and a crew of commentators is substantial; it’s also another avenue to feature sponsors and show advertisements, and potentially collect subscriptions or create a pay-for-view opportunity.

But the real benefit of creating an eSport opportunity for your game is less about profit, and more about promotion. You’ve instantly got thousands of viewers watching your competition streams and following your leagues on the internet. Subreddits spring up, merchandise is sold, and social media is buzzing about how Team X beat all the odds and won over Team Y.

We haven’t even touched on the peripheral free content that springs up around an active eSports community. There are amateur casters who host your livestreams and amateur players who stream themselves for hours every night honing their game. YouTubers create shows both about your leagues and of the gameplay, and in some cases entire podcasts are dedicated to covering the exploits of your star players.

eSports is an incredibly efficient way to turn players into eager fans. We enjoy watching players who are at the peak of their game, and imagining ourselves being equally as good and as recognized. We may not actually expect to be the best WoW Arena player in the world, but we like to log on and imagine that we could be.

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Why eSports Don’t Matter to BDO

While most of us could probably name at least 3 games that have a vibrant eSports component off the top of our head, the odds are unlikely that one of them is an MMO. League of Legends, DOTA 2, Heroes of the Storm, StarCraft, Hearthstone, Smite, Counter-strike, Rocket League – it’s a list that reflects a genuinely diverse group of games, but one without any MMOs.

The obvious exception, of course, is WoW’s Arenas, which benefited both from WoW’s gigantic player base at its inception and Blizzard’s early rich experience with eSports thanks to StarCraft. More recently, Guild Wars 2 has tried to develop a thriving eSports league with mixed success. Arguably, while Arenanet has generated some interest among existing players, the concept of GW2 eSports battles still hasn’t caught on as a self-sustaining phenomenon.

One of the big barriers to an MMO finding success as an eSport is the nature of the game genre itself. A game like LoL, or Hearthstone, has player progression that resets for each battle. As you play, your team gains levels, or your mana pool becomes larger, or your gather more resources, but once that particular encounter has finished you’re back to zero for the next one.

MMOs – definitely including BDO – on the other hand, generally reward time spent with player progression. It takes a long time to level to 55+ in BDO, and considerably more time after that to optimize your gear to +16 or +17. If, as discussed earlier, eSports are a kind of wish fulfillment for the viewer, a message of “you too can be this good after putting 200 hours into leveling up and processing a lot of Blackstone Powder” is pretty underwhelming.

There’s also the issue of “watchability,” something that MMOs often lack. A game like DOTA 2 has been designed from its inception to be interesting for spectators. Spell effects are unique enough to be identified (so you can be excited when a player uses their uber skill, for example), but not so flashy that they cover up the screen or become muddy when used in a team fight. The characters themselves are designed to be easily identifiable, so viewers have an idea of what might happen when they see Annie or a pyro or a pack of zerglings start to move in for the kill.

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But What About the Future?

While there are certainly many obstacles to Black Desert Online becoming the next hot eSports game, Daum themselves have not ruled it out completely. In an interview given a few months ago, Community Manager Oli said about the idea, “[I’ve said] that this is something we might consider due to the fact the game is really fast and can be competitive. Whatever may or may not happen, I believe players who are into competitive games or eSport should have a look at BDO as it might appeal to them as well.”

The combat style of BDO would certainly lend itself to competitive eSports! It’s fast-paced, and relies enough on skill to make for an excellent competition. I don’t think BDO will ever suit one-on-one fights, but certainly small group battles would work.

And BDO already has a potential battleground – the instanced Crimson Battlefield, which was introduced with the recent Mediah expansion. Currently, players can queue solo or in groups of five, and experience a 40v40 skirmish. Buffs and potion-spamming are currently allowed in the Crimson Battlefield. Gear is slightly equalized, with undergeared players receiving additional HP and defense/attack, but players report that gear quality still seems to be the leading indicator of who will win a battle.

So can Black Desert Online adopt eSports? Maybe, but at the moment it seems pretty unlikely. Daum will have to overcome the inherent conflict between eSports and player progression in MMOs, improve the watchability to attract viewers, and establish an even fighting ground.

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