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Sports of Our Age: The course of the Ukrainian esports market development — an expert discussion

On June 18, the largest IT forum in Ukraine — iForum 2021 — included a discussion about the Digital Fun market. The event brought together a panel of three representatives of the Ukrainian esports market: Stepan Shulha (Head of Esports at Parimatch Tech), Valentyn Shevchenko (Head of Business Development at WePlay Esports), and Ivan Danishevskyi (Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Esports Federation) and was moderated by Dmitrii Bazylevych.

Esports only recently (September 2020) received official recognition as a legitimate sport in Ukraine, so the sector’s ecosystem is still in its early stages. In this article, we discuss the development of the esports market in Ukraine as seen by the iForum speakers, including their views on upcoming changes and existing problems within the industry.

Major industry events in the past year

The pandemic has brought significant changes in the world of sports. The 2020 Summer Olympics have been postponed and are scheduled to be held in 2021. The same fate befell the 2020 European Football Championship. In the interest of public health, sporting events around the world took place without spectators — and most importantly, sustained tremendous financial losses.

It seems that under such circumstances, only one sport has an advantage — esports. On the one hand, it’s true: Gaming platforms everywhere announced a record increase in the daily activity of gamers. Streaming platforms also experienced a boom: The number of content views on Twitch in 2020 was up by 54%, compared to 2019, that’s 1.194 billion hours versus 772 million.

But the pandemic has left its mark on the esports market as well. Social restrictions were responsible for the cancellation of most offline events and tournaments across gaming disciplines. However, we weren’t left entirely without the big competitions.

According to the Head of Esports at Parimatch Tech, Stepan Shulha, two important events in the world of esports have been held over the past 12 months, namely, two Dota 2 tournaments. The first competition, the Singapore Major 2021, was held in Singapore in March. The second, WePlay AniMajor 2021, took place in Kyiv between June 2 and 13.

According to Stepan, the tournament gained record views in many languages, including Ukrainian. Also, the Kyiv Major set a record for viewing hours — 37.3 million. In total, the tournament was watched by about 645,000 people.

Threatening market trends

As with any market, esports is prone to threats and challenges, especially as it’s a young industry. All the speakers in the discussion concluded that, like all professional sports, esports could face the threat of match-fixing.

This problem became especially evident with the many online tournaments conducted during the pandemic. In most cases, the competitions weren’t regulated in any way. As a result, problems arose with the leaking of players’ data and the carrying out of various forms of falsification.

In addition, Stepan Shulha draws our attention to another big problem — Internet and technology penetration worldwide.

“Esports consists of different games. The problem with inequality lies in the fact that videogame copyright holders tend to target specific markets. As a common practice, game creators pay most attention to the US, China, and Western Europe markets. This promotes the development of different games in different markets but harms the industry's overall development,” says Stepan.

Stepan Shulha also confirms his colleagues’ statements about the problem of match-fixing. According to Stepan, “Parimatch is working to eradicate the problem.”

Ivan Danishevskyi says that “the show will go on,” and all the existing problems are insignificant. He believes that the esports market is already so large that it is almost impossible to hold on to its development.

Can copyright holders interfere in the way tournaments are conducted?

The panel also discussed the impact of game copyright holders and tournament organizers.

For example, could Valve ban CS:GO or Dota 2 tournaments?

Valentyn Shevchenko believes there’s almost no chance of this happening. In his opinion, by imposing such a ban, the copyright holder would simply be “shooting himself in the foot.”

“The copyright holder would never prohibit tournament operators from holding tournaments. No one would ever give up the opportunity these tournaments offer to expand their product to new players and markets for free. Not even for free — this is a marketing promotion paid for by someone else,” says Valentyn.

According to the speakers, copyright holders are, on the contrary, interested in staying in touch with the best tournament operators. This way, they quickly understand what needs to be improved in the game regarding operational processes.

How to create the perfect esports product

The following question became another hot topic in discussion: “Is it possible to create a game that is specially designated for esports competitions? Or does each project first have to take the path from simple games to big tournaments?”

Stepan Shulha says that all developers want to create their own masterpiece. But as a general rule, this process depends on multiple factors, not least a lot of luck.

“For example, the creators of League of Legends and Dota 2 were friends who fell out with each other. Nevertheless, they managed to create two similar games, and both of them are extremely popular. Everyone wants to create a masterpiece, but only a few are lucky enough,” emphasized Stepan Shulha.

Valentyn Shevchenko believes that gaming and esports are often confused in this matter. Even by the developers themselves. Some developers once tried to introduce him to their product — online Tetris, which they actively promoted as “an esports discipline.”

Therefore, Valentyn says that not every product with an online component can become an esports discipline. To do so, a game must take a long walk on the journey of user experience — from local tournaments in dorms to large events.

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