Finding the Next Esports Superstar


Esports has gone from a private community of like-minded gamers who won modest prizes to a worldwide phenomenon that garners millions of dollars in prizes for the participants and organizations involved. All that money has not gone unnoticed by many in the traditional sports world, and many esports teams are now funded by owners and organizations with ties to professional sports, such as the NBA and some its players. Anybody looking to get involved in this business will want to know the answer to one crucial question: How can I know what makes a given gamer talented?

The answer is not simply as easy as jumping on a game streaming website like Twitch and seeing which players have the most views, although there is a certain amount of limited value to that approach. The data and analytics required to weed through legions of quality gamers to find the truly talented are more complex.

The starting point for any investigation of a potential star gamer should always be statistics. There are numerous sites dedicated to the most popular games that post almost every imaginable statistic for all who play them. While a simple win/loss ratio is an important stat, it is not the only one that needs to be analyzed.

Stats that focus on player accuracy are key for talent evaluation of the best players. Depending on the game, these may center around things like damage dealt to enemy players per minute, headshot percentage, creep score per minute, and so forth. All these stats highlight the player’s ability to accurately pull of game-critical mechanics. While there are a number of players that play solely to achieve high accuracy stats with complete disregard to teammates, I think that accuracy stats are still the key starting point for any sports tech evaluation.

Once talented mechanics have been identified, things get a little more hazy. In simple one versus one fighting games, not much more needs to be learned. In team games, however, the ability of a talented player to interact with teammates is crucial, and this can be very difficult to judge by stats alone. There is a long history of players who are legitimate solo stars who do poorly once played on a professional team.

Data and analytics can struggle at using specific statistics to measure team integration and communication, so firsthand testing is almost always required. Many teams will call in potential players and have them scrimmage with members of the team to gauge how seamlessly the player would mesh with an existing lineup. Also, team coaches will want to interview the player and gain insight into his/her mindset concerning the approach the player takes toward the game in general. Common questions in these sorts of interviews are:

  • How would you describe your individual play style?
  • Knowing our team’s current lineup, how do you think your skills would mesh with our team’s strengths?
  • How would you feel about playing a more supportive role on the team compared to the dominant role you may be used to?
  • When things go wrong, how do you handle it?

A sports tech evaluator can gain tremendous insight into the potential star power of a possible team member based on the answers to these kinds of questions. Obvious red flags to watch out for are players who are combative with and derogatory towards their teammates, players whose communication skills are poorly developed, and players who can become unglued under pressure.

I also think a highly underrated aspect of talent evaluation concerns what a player does outside of gaming. It is simply not possible to perform at the highest level in the professional gaming world and have no outside life. Players need friends, hobbies, and interests outside the game to fall back on when things don’t go their way during competitions.

So, I have a player that has amazing stats, is a team player, has a good attitude, and a balanced life outside of the game. Everything should go well, right? The answer in many sports is yes, but professional gaming is not like an average sport due to the ever-changing nature of the games themselves.

Games are continually updating, introducing new patches that affect gameplay sometimes several times a month. Compare this with something like baseball, where any changes are carefully considered and voted on during the off-season. To give an idea of what baseball would be like if it followed gaming changes, imagine bat weight, density, and length being changed every few weeks along with the size and hardness of the ball, mitt dimensions, and cleat lengths. It would be absolutely dizzying, yet that is what pro gamers must be able to contend with.

The ability to adapt in very little time to major changes in a game are what separates the very good players from the great. Some players can thrive under certain iterations of a game that reward players who are extremely aggressive but struggle heavily if a patch is introduced that punishes that play style. Adaptability is crucial for a player and team to survive in the ever-changing environment that is professional gaming.

Esports, though a very lucrative industry, is still very much in its nascent stages. As money and talent rise, the need for professional evaluation of players will be at a premium. The metrics discussed here will continue to evolve, and talent scouts will be a highly sought after commodity by team owners. Only time will tell how difficult it will be to accurately pinpoint the best players, but one thing is certain: The teams that hire the best players will win.

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