Cliff Bleszinski Believes eSports Still Has Some Work To Do

Cliff Bleszinski, who has a pro gaming background, explains how he'd like to see eSports evolve in this exclusive interview.

Major League Gaming (MLG) did a trial run of Gears of War 3 in eSports after its release. Former Epic Games Game Director Cliff Bleszinski is a big fan of eSports. He has attended the Raleigh MLG events over the years and had conversations with Sundance DiGiovanni and others involved in what has become a big part of the gaming culture around the globe today. With his time away from development, he even got hooked on Dota. But for eSports to truly make the next leap into the mainstream, Bleszinski believes some tweaks do need to be made. He offers some advice in this exclusive interview.

What are your thoughts about League of Legends selling out an NBA stadium, Staples Center, for the LCS World Championship?

It is absolutely incredible. I have a personal relationship with this sort of thing because I was in the Nintendo World Championships when I was about 15 years old. It’s taken it that long for it to get to this point, but we knew it was coming sooner or later. That multiplayer competitive gaming is a community. These events are basically expos in their own right.

And these are cyber athletes. That term used to be laughable about ten years ago, but the key often to seeing where things are going in the West is to look to the East. Look at the StarCraft tournaments from however many years ago and how they played in Korea and how these players become rock stars and everybody has a giant endorsement deal. Everyone has such enthusiasm for eSports, but only a few have really cracked the formula. The key is to make an amazingly great gameplay experience and then see if it can translate to being an eSport. You can’t just force it and say, “It’s going to be an eSport game.”

What are your thoughts on the state of eSports today?

My main thing about eSports is not every game is easy to follow. I just started getting into Dota and I can appreciate it for what it is. I haven’t played much League. I was at the MLG’s out here in Raleigh last year and I watched the Mortal Kombat games being played.  I can figure out what’s going on in watching StarCraft. I’m watching League and I’m like, “I got nothing.”

It was such a deep-layered experience. It was just fantastic for competitive gaming, but for your outsider -- you’re not going to get a person who doesn’t fully understand League of Legends sitting down and watching the match there. I think Riot probably knows that. I would love somewhere down the line to find a way to have an eSport – whether it’s camerawork, or broadcast quality, or whatever -- where a person can sit down and appreciate it. Look at football. A person who never even tossed a football can sit down and appreciate a football game. You also can have your friend with a Saints shirt on next to you who’s willing to explain it to you, then it becomes interesting. 

So you want eSports to become more like real sports.

I’ve spent plenty of time this last year down at the coast. I was sitting in a restaurant having dinner and NASCAR was on the TV in the background. As I’m watching it, I’m starting to find it very interesting because these guys are going 200 miles an hour. But it’s even more interesting when you realize there’s safety gear in their peripheral view. I turn to the guy next to me and ask how they know they can change lanes or if somebody’s coming up on them and he explains they have spotters -- people in the stands that verbally tell them whether or not it’s safe, whether or not somebody’s coming up.

First, I thought that was a great idea for a video game as a co-op game mechanic, but second, the fact I relied on the community and a friendly person next to me to explain it a little bit. Similar kinds of things can happen in eSports in regards to influence.  There are some people who actually play the games. I think watchability is one of the main things that we really need to solve when it comes to the majority of eSports to help grow it. If you told people that you’d fill the Staples Center with a video game crowd ten years ago they would laugh you out of the room. I think it’s awesome.

And they did it in just over an hour.

I have friends who have kids who you know they’re playing there. They have the League addiction, so to speak. Some kids don’t even play the game. They just sit and watch YouTube videos of it. That further supports my hypothesis that the better your game is, the more YouTube videos it can yield. It’s kind of funny how that works in 2013 and beyond.

Featured Columnist

John Gaudiosi has been covering the video game business for over 20 years for outlets like The Washington Post, Reuters, Fortune, AOL and CNN. He's EIC of video game site Gamerhub.tv.

Published Oct. 4th 2013

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