The esports industry is evolving rapidly – expanding to new categories and genres, introducing global league structures, and moving ever-closer to the mainstream. While most of the major esports have stood for years, the ever-changing nature of the video game industry means that most games will see their popularity ebb and flow as new titles rise to challenge the established order.
2020 will be a landmark year for change. I have watched several esports steadily grow for years which are now poised to explode, while others are hoping to capture success with an overhauled ecosystem. With that in mind, these are the top five rising PC/console esports of 2020 – the games I predict will see the biggest positive change this year.
Call of Duty: Modern warfare
Activision Blizzard is taking a major gamble in 2020 by jumping straight to home market events with the inaugural season of the Call of Duty League. While it is entirely possible that the whole venture will ultimately fall apart, that is unlikely to happen in the first year. Between the popularity of the Call of Duty brand, the resources invested in getting this league off the ground, and the raw power of the fear of missing out, the CDL is likely to push Call of Duty esports to viewership and sponsorship heights it has never seen before.
The question then becomes whether or not Activision Blizzard can maintain that level of interest, but that’s a question for next year’s article
While I acknowledge my inherent bias towards fighting games, the steady growth of TEKKEN 7 over the last three years can no longer be ignored. Fighting games simply do not grow like this years after their launch. Looking at entrant numbers for the largest and most-watched annual fighting game tournament, Evo, TEKKEN is the only game franchise that has seen its numbers grow year over year since 2015 without a new title being released.
After the story of Pakistani competitor Arslan “Arslan Ash” Siddique shook up the global landscape of esports, TEKKEN 7 became one of the most intriguing international competitions in the industry. Now with a well-established pro tour and an almost guaranteed spot in the Sunday finals at Evo 2020, TEKKEN 7 is poised to have its best year ever.
Rainbow Six: Siege
Like TEKKEN 7, Rainbow Six: Siege continues to defy typical expectations by growing steadily year over year. Not only is viewership up, but esports organizations have flocked to the game due to its commitment to providing revenue sharing opportunities for teams and crowdfunded prize pools. R6 is a unique game within the shooter genre, and its popularity in growth markets like Brazil only adds to the game’s long-lasting potential.
Team owners are already speaking out about their excitement for new structural changes expected to be announced at the Six Invitational in February, which could help overcome some of the game’s remaining barriers such as watch-ability. So far, Ubisoft’s structural improvements have helped the game grow in viewers, organization activity, and prize money. If that trend continues, 2020 could be the year R6 truly breaks out.
The auto-battler genre as a whole is so new that it’s best entry for esports likely has not been developed yet, but right now Riot Games’ Teamfight Tactics has the best chance of becoming a major competitive title. Riot has already confirmed that the game will receive esports support in 2020, and given the company’s track record with building the global ecosystem for League of Legends, it is reasonable to think that support for TFT will encourage organization participation, distribute high levels of prize money, and entice brands to sponsor events.
On top of all that, TFT is set to be released on mobile, which will explode its playerbase. The larger the pool of active players, the bigger the pool from which to draw new esports viewers.
Like battle royales, it is still unclear whether auto-battlers truly “work” as an esport, and that could ultimately spell TFT’s downfall, but the watchability challenges are much easier to overcome with eight players rather than 100. With a powerful IP, an experienced esports operator, and the novelty of a brand new genre behind it, Teamfight Tactics has everything going for it to make the auto-battler genre a true esports contender.
Rocket League should already be a much bigger esport than it is. Between being the most brand-safe title in the industry, most closely resembling a “real sport”, and being the most watchable esport for non-players, the game has all the tools it needs to be a top esport.
While the game has yet to reach its full potential, 2020 is the year that could all change. Having been acquired by Epic Games, developer Psyonix now has all the resources it could ever want to develop a structure for Rocket League that properly incentivizes teams, encourages brand engagement, and brings in new viewers.
On top of that, the game will be directly linked to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, bringing widespread mainstream coverage to the esport the likes of which it has never seen. Psyonix has the opportunity to capitalize on unprecedented levels of brand awareness for its esports product and make its players into international stars. If Rocket League can’t create significant growth with these advantages this year, it likely never will.
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