The announcement of the Valkyrie Challenge 2.0 quite unexpectedly split the esports community violently in two. The event has been covered at length on various sites (GLHF: Including ours.) and caused much debate on Twitter. We use debate here like we would use gathering to describe a WWE Royal Rumble. For us, this raised an interesting question: Why do people actually watch esports?
On the surface it seems simple. We want to watch the best players in the world play the games we love to play, so we can learn from them and enjoy their control and manipulation of games in ways we never even imagined. Much like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi with a football. Or even the way Carlos Santana coaxes incredible sounds from his guitar.
But looking deeper, why do we want to watch that? Because it delights us to see players do the things we can’t, but wish we could. It surprises us to see the things they come up with and pull off. They entertain us.
It makes people who ask the question, “You just watch other people play games?” sound like idiots. Yeah well, you just watch Ed Sheeran play his guitar. Why don’t you go play it yourself? Oh, because he’s amazing and makes us believe in love? Ah…We meant, makes ‘you’ believe in love, not ‘us’. Ahem…Moving on.
Like it or not, Mettlestate and the tournament sponsors haven’t upgraded the Valkyrie Challenge from a once-off show match to a multiple season event out of pure philanthropy. The first edition was popular enough to convince them to double down. It showed there is an appetite for high-level women’s competition in this country and, probably more importantly, for something different.
No matter which side of the fence you are on, there is one undeniable fact: There has been more spoken, discussed, debated, argued and shouted about this event than any local tournament in recent history.
We would never argue that the best players should not be given centre stage. We’ve written countless articles (GLHF: You could actually count them if you want to. We didn’t want to.) about the top players in the country and have promoted them as best we can.
But the fact of the matter is that watching the best players in the country is only one form of the entertainment that is esports. It’s the skill side. Limiting ourselves to just that would be limiting our own growth. It would be foolish. And we know yo’ mamas didn’t raise no fools.
Here’s a good example of what we’re getting at – skill based entertainment and a more theatrical type of entertainment. There are two streamers who play Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, both are extremely talented. One is definitely a better player than the other. The other consistently gets more viewers. The two streamers in question are none other than Shroud (skill) and the controversial Dr DisRespect (theatre).
Shroud is unquestionably one of the finest PUBG players in the world and has a massive, and well deserved, following because of it.
Dr DisRespect (his real name is Guy Behm) is a great player himself, but not as good as Shroud. He has admitted his awe of Shroud’s play on numerous occasions when they have teamed up together, and anyone who has watched him will know he never admits anyone is better than him. It’s all part of his…er…charm. But Dr DisRespect pulls in more viewers than Shroud almost every day.
Why? The answer, of course (GLHF: Unless you’ve read this whole article without noticing the title.), is entertainment. Brehm’s stream is almost non-stop, over-the-top chaos. His Dr DisRespect character is rude, arrogant and incredibly funny.
When he wins games, he steps away from his desk to dance. When he gets close to winning, or dies and his teammates make it to the final stages, he adds an overlay that makes it look like he is at a casting desk and he commentates the final moments of the game to keep things interesting. His whole stream is about engaging his viewers and entertaining them. Most of the time he seems borderline insane, but it’s undeniably entertaining and he’s incredibly successful because of it.
After some controversy last year he took two months away from streaming, and when he returned he broke the Twitch record for viewers of an individual streamer, topping out at a shade under 390,000 concurrent viewers.
Now are we going to turn around and go, “Oh no, but that’s not esports. You see, esports is about the best players competing at the highest level.”? Hell no. We’re going to give that insane person views and watch this rocket soar until it reaches the stars or explodes in a fiery mess. A glorious, fiery mess. Either way, we’re going to be entertained. And that’s the whole point, right?
Another example: Who are the most popular Dota 2 streamers on Twitch? If Arteezy shows up, it’s him. But more consistently it’s AdmiralBulldog. Now he has won The International, watch his stream and he’ll remind you, so he is definitely at the top of the Dota game. Or was. But he’s not popular because he won TI. He’s popular because he’s entertaining. He does crazy things in matches all the time, but makes them work, and he’s basically a meme machine.
If skill was the be-all-and-end-all of esports then events would just be teams rocking up to play their games, fans would cheer, casters would cast, analysts would analyse, winners would pick up their trophy, four confetti cannons would shoot confetti and we’d be done with it. And we’d be happy about it.
We weren’t happy about it. That’s how esports was just a few years ago. And we, as fans, wanted more. And now you get your esports with a healthy dose of entertainment. You get opening and closing ceremonies, all-star matches, celebrity show matches, highlights segments, cosplay contests.
Just look at the Overwatch League, with their dancing casters, addiction to dabbing, crowd engagement and team intro songs with dramatic entrances, that, if we’re being honest, still probably need a little work.
We could go on and on (GLHF: And on.), but you don’t have all day. Simply put (GLHF: Again.), people watch esports because it’s entertaining. The Valkyrie Challenge received a lot of negative feedback because, according to the haters on social media and elsewhere, what’s the point of hosting a tournament if you’re not only inviting the best players and teams?
Clearly, we disagree with the naysayers. Esports isn’t only about being the best. It’s about adding the most value to a viewer. Entertainment is adding value.
Tournament organisers should be striving to create an experience that makes their viewers sad when the stream ends, and excited for the next time they get that ‘Now Live’ Twitch notification. They’re not there to feed us a purist form of esports. They’re there to entertain us.
Mettlestate made the decision to upgrade the Valkyrie Challenge because it was popular and they saw potential in the tournament. And it was popular because it was entertaining and added value to the viewer’s life. It was an interesting narrative we could all very easily invest ourselves in.
At the end of the day, it’s all about entertainment. Whether it’s the best players in the world, the best players in South Africa, the best female players in South Africa, or GeeMax, Tiny and co. entering a Dota tournament. (GLHF: This is really happening.) People want to be entertained. And if they think it’s going to be interesting, they’ll watch it. It’s as simple as that.