The dividing line between sports and esports will always be clear. Yet a growing number of sports are now looking to the esports industry as a strategy for fostering fan bases.
We have already seen the NHL make its foray into esports. Then, the NBA, albeit somewhat controversially, has also set up its first esports event. The eMLS (Major League Soccer) event is due to take place at PAX 2018 in April. Plus, an F1 eSports Series event took place last year, but now there are talks of developing a much larger and official F1 eSports Championship, which could involve all of the current teams that started the F1 season this past weekend in Australia.
Add to this the already established FIFA eWorld Cup and the Madden 18 Championship Series for American Football gamers, and you can see that many top sports are already well represented in esports. Of course, they’re not quite at the same level as games such as CS:GO, LoL, or Dota 2.
Tennis World Tour
To this point, one sport has been conspicuous in its absence on the esports scene — tennis. That’s rather odd, especially when you consider the very first video game ever produced and played by the masses commercially, Pong, was very similar to tennis.
That fact is set to change. French Open organizers and sponsors BNP Paribas have set up their own esports tennis tournament. However, the fly in the ointment here is that the particular video game for the event hasn’t been released yet.
The game is Tennis World Tour. It’s developed by Bigben Interactive, and it is perhaps an alarming leap of faith by French Open and BNP Paribas officials to assume this unseen new game is worthy of an esports dynasty.
Ace or Double Fault?
Unlike other esports tournaments, which are chiefly devised when a game establishes itself over a period of time and has built up fans and pro players, the Tennis World Tour esports event is approaching things from the opposite direction.
Instead, players in the Tennis World Tour from April will compete using a demo version of the game. This is obviously a decision that could either work out brilliantly or disastrously.
The positive aspect with an unreleased game is it will produce a much more competitive field of players than an established title. No one will have had time to develop disparate skill levels on the new game.
Then, there are the numerous cons to this strategy. Demos, while playable in many respects, are not the finished article. They are more likely to contain bugs, and these may well be exploitable by players in the event. The fact that the game will not be road-tested before an esports tournament of this scale is also a worry. It is almost unheard of for the V.1.0 version of a game to be the best incarnation.
This heaps untold pressures on Bigben Interactive to produce a tennis game that not only works as an esport at its demo stage but also has enough depth and complexity to make it a challenge to players. Of course, it must also be simple enough for players to pick up and play. They must be able to perform, with limited experience, to a relatively high level.
Grand slam of an esports event
Part of the roadblock facing Bigben is that its initial tournament is not a small, local affair. It can’t just get feedback from a small number of players and then go away and refine the game.
The Tennis World Tour esports tournament will see regional qualifiers in the UK, France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, China, India, and Brazil. With this level of scrutiny and scale, all errors will be blatant.
The winners from each of the regional qualifiers will earn themselves a place at Roland Garros on May 25 during the French Open. At the moment, no details of the prize pool or any other terms and conditions are available.
The idea of tennis as an esport may well be appealing. Yet there is still an inordinate amount of risk involved in approaching developing a large-scale, global tournament on software that isn’t tested, tried, or public.
Therefore, the success of the Tennis World Tour doesn’t lie so much in the success of the tournament itself. It depends more on the game being up to scratch and playable as a genuine esport.
Editorial credit: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com