The very best esports games all share one common link. They are all arcade action-based games.
Sure, Dota 2 and League of Legends may be examples of Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games, while Counter Strike: Global Offensive is a first-person shooter (FPS), but both have strong arcade elements in that players control the action.
Even in StarCraft II, billed as a real-time strategy video game, the arcade element is equal, if not greater than the strategic element at play. What else? Rocket League, World of Tanks, FIFA, Madden, Call of Duty, Rainbow Siege, and Overwatch all have a very strong arcade theme to them.
Games composed entirely of strategic decisions aren’t popular within the esports community. There is a very good reason for that: it isn’t as fun to watch an individual look over a set of tables and charts to make a decision by clicking a mouse. It is far more enjoyable to watch an on-screen battle between two players in whatever form it takes.
Clearly, strategy games face an uphill battle to convince the esports community they have a place alongside these more viewer-friendly and immediately accessible games. But does that mean strategy games are never going to break into the upper domain of esports?
One game in particular could well be the first pure strategy game to make it big — Football Manager.
Football Manager’s story
This history begins in 1992 when Paul and Oliver Collyer released a soccer management game called Championship Manager, a game they developed from their bedroom in Shropshire.
The game was immediately a hit for the brothers. They released several versions throughout the ’90s and into the 2000s. Each grew increasingly popular with fans. That allowed the Collyer brothers to form Sports Interactive (SI) in Islington, London.
With a massive and still growing fan base, the company’s Championship Manager series continued until 2003-04, when SI and their publisher, Eidos, went their separate ways. Eidos retained the naming rights of the game, while SI retained the source code and then signed with Sega.
Change of name, not game
In 2005, what was previously Championship Manager became Football Manager. It grew to become the de facto football management simulation game of choice for millions across the globe.
Its influence, however, stretches beyond those who play the game religiously. The game’s extensive scouting system to ensure accurate ratings for players — which incorporates thousands of individual scouts from all over the world — led to professional clubs using the database to scout opponents and opposition.
Nowadays, each year around November or December, a new iteration of Football Manager hits shelves. Some releases perform better than others. They all see players and teams updated, plus the occasional tweaks and new features.
Football Manager Live fails
Interestingly, Football Manager has already attempted to become an esport of sorts. Back in April 2007, Sega and SI announced they would soon release a new MMORPG version of Football Manager called Football Manager Live. The idea was that managers would compete directly, rather than against the computer.
Despite sounding promising, the Football Manager Live experiment failed. Sega and SI announced the game would cease operations in May 2011, chiefly due to lack of interest from players.
So why would it work now?
In 2008, the esports industry in the UK was tiny compared to today. Ten years later, that market is far more established, and playing online against opponents is far more the norm. Technological improvements have also helped with faster internet services, making these games more accessible and playable.
The other thing that goes in favour of Football Manager nowadays is that SI found a formula for Football Manager that works as an esport. It particularly focuses on the key demographic of viewers. The company recently ran several events around the country where players competed in a knockout format to win a cash prize.
Unlike the Football Manager Live game, which worked on a football season, these events are timed. Managers receive limited time to make decisions so on-screen action flows. This makes for a far more pleasing watch. That said, it is still the strategic decisions that decide the outcome of the match.
The acid test for Football Manager as an esport
Whether Football Manager has a future as an esport may well depend on how the game is received at the forthcoming Insomnia62 Gaming Festival. Birmingham hosts the event from Friday, March 30 through Monday, April 2.
Alongside other esports tournaments, including for CS:GO, League of Legends, Rocket League, and Hearthstone, there will be a £25,000 Bidstack Football Management World Esport Championship contested. The prize money on offer dwarfs that of many of the other esports tournaments at the event.
A total of 64 players will compete in this event. The winner takes home a big cash prize. They also get the chance to manage a Norwich City Legends XI team against Inter Milan Legends in a charity football match at Carrow Road on May 20.
More interesting will be how viewers on Twitch and other streaming services react to seeing one of the most popular computer games of all-time reinvented as an esport. If this works and people want to watch, more Football Manager-themed esports events will soon follow.