While many games are international hits, few can say that they achieve equal greatness across all regions.
This is especially the case in esports, where different countries can have vastly different levels of interest in the major titles. So, why does this happen, and how strong are these patterns likely to remain in esport’s future?
A Few Examples
Before getting into the reasons, consider a few standout examples of this idea in action. In contemporary terms, a strong illustration of the regional divide can be seen between the Asian and European FPS markets.
In Asia, Overwatch often reigns supreme as the most played and most-watched in the FPS genre. Centering in Japan and South Korea, many of the best teams in the world call this area home. In Europe, on the other hand, games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and the Call of Duty titles stand supreme. In both cases, there is a gap here that, while always changing in size, undeniably keeps these games apart.
Culture and Zeitgeist
In answering the why of how these disparities occur, it should be first noted that differences aren’t always a fact of the interactive entertainment industry. As an example of this, are the online casino slot games in Japan that share a much closer popularity to how they operate in the west. These often offer the same sorts of access, bonuses, and variety as they do in any other country, yet numbers remain comparable. Ultimately, the fundamentals remain the same in attracting new customers and maintaining interest, with the level of competition in the industry ensuring online casinos have to be innovative to stand out. Review sites ensure power remains in the hands of the consumer, though, as they do the hard work of searching through all the options available and using a variety of factors to provide a rating.
The similarities in popularity across regions can be said for many offline games, like practically any of Nintendo’s big hits. Breath of the Wild sold enormously well everywhere, as did Super Mario Odyssey, maintaining a strong legacy to this day. This is also true for their competitive games like the Smash Bros series, again doing well globally.
On the surface, these titles might make the success of certain games in the esports realm seem random, but this is far from the case. In reality, the popularity of certain esports games within specific regions is usually a matter of modern and historical cultural relevance, both in gaming and in general.
Overwatch is a game with a distinct artistic style, its characters are bright, exaggerated, and expressive. In places like Japan and Korea, where anime has long been a staple of popular culture, these games are a perfect fit.
In Europe and America, anime has much less of a legacy. While it’s still increasingly popular by the year, it’s still nowhere the dominant force as seen in Asia. Whereas, games like Call of Duty and the Counter-Strike series do tie into elements of western culture. In video media, action movies by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone have been staples for years, pushing a greater interest in (slightly) more realistic action experiences.
Another side of this equation from western gaming is owed to the original Xbox. Launched back in America in 2001 and the rest of the world in 2002, Microsoft’s first console served as the introduction of many western console players to the online world. Though it hit huge numbers in the west, it was nowhere near as popular in Asia. For reference, the system failed to sell even 500,000 units in Japan, though it sold 14.6 million in America.
As much as these elements have created a trajectory where the success and failure of certain games have been certain, these differences between the cultures are constantly being lowered. With each new year, we become a far more global online community, where barriers of distance and language grow less and less relevant.
In time, this will likely mean that this disparity between the different esports games and regions will decrease, though not disappear completely. In terms of creating larger and healthier online communities, we’d see this growth as a positive thing.
Also important to consider is the effect that remaining differences in culture could have on the games themselves. It’s very likely that, as with saw with Valorant, there are going to be more and more games released in an attempt to reach both sides of the market. This could mean games that are better for everyone, or it might lead to a jack of all trades, master of none type of scenario.
With the esports world bigger than it’s ever been, and only growing bigger, the resting point of the industry is difficult to predict. What we do know is that, at this rate, even the more niche and regionally lovely titles are going to become much more successful internationally. Whatever style of gaming you prefer, that’s a good thing.
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