Opinion: Can Large Team Esports Ever be Popular?

by Kevin Knocke

Personality driven sports are dominating traditional sports viewership growth right now. Many of the fastest growing sports, like mixed martial arts and basketball, are either 1v1 fights or smaller team sports.

Of the four major sports leagues in the United States, the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, the NBA has the least players on the court/field/rink/whatever of any of them. It's a 5v5 game, whereas football is 11v11, MLB is 9v9, and the NHL is 6v6.

Internationally, some massively popular games like Rugby union sport 15 players per side or more.

Ok great, so a bunch of sports have tons of players on a team. What does that have to do with esports?

Well, in esports, games seem to have a sweet spot of five players on a team. The world's three most popular esports, League of Legends, CS:GO, and Dota 2, all use 5v5 formats for their games.

As shown above, this is equal to the smallest of the major team sports in the US, but also the fastest growing.

This isn't a coincidence. The esports world has been extremely personality driven at this point and 5v5 games, as they are in sports, are a great sweet spot to highlight teamwork and cohesion but also allow for every player on a team to carve out their own identity and personality.

In bigger traditional team sports, there are dozens of players per team if you include reserves and substitutes, and most are role players that don't play every play of every game.

Take baseball, for example, where teams will staff a deep bullpen of pitchers that are specialists in particular situations, coming in to get key outs and then removed from the game.

That concept simply doesn't exist in esports yet. Yes there are teams that are getting and using substitutes in major games more frequently, so it's not like this won't happen in esports, it just hasn't happened yet.

There are some games that are testing whether or not esports fans are ready for bigger team games with more role players though. Overwatch is a 6v6 game and World of Tanks is 7v7. Both have limited or regional success, but have yet to become major players in the esports world up to this point.

Expect that, especially as today's 5v5 esports titles are starting to see an uptick in role players and substitutes, the appetite for larger team games will grow a bit but ultimately esports has proven to be run on personalities and that's not likely to change.

If that's the case, smaller team games and individual esports will ultimately always be more appealing and bigger team esports will have a harder time succeeding.

And that kind of sucks, because it would be awesome to see a million dollar massive space battle, or FPS game where a commander oversees a platoon of troops that are real players.

Maybe someday.

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