Conference gives game developers a sporting chance

Derrik J. Lang
Associated Press

San Francisco — With tens of millions of gamers now regularly spectating video games online and in real-world arenas, game developers looking to create the next “StarCraft” or “League of Legends” might learn a few lessons at this year’s Game Developers Conference.

For the first time, the annual gathering of game creators that’s usually centered on polygons and artificial intelligence, was hosting a special summit Tuesday dedicated to competitive gaming — or e-sports, as it’s known. Influential e-sports figures were scheduled to give talks with such titles as “Legal Issues in Competitive Gaming” and “Building a Sport: The Design Philosophy of ‘League of Legends.’ ”

“We’ve had a few individual e-sports talks in the past but nothing stand-alone,” said Simon Carless, executive vice president at UBM Tech Game Network, which hosts GDC and other technology conferences. “This is an entire day dedicated to e-sports that covers an entire breadth of topics, from producing live e-sports events to including more women in e-sports.”

Over the past 10 years, e-sports has evolved from a niche genre of gaming to a lucrative spectator sport capable of packing arenas like Los Angeles’ Staples Center and Seoul’s World Cup Stadium to capacity for championship bouts of “League of Legends,” the arena battle game developed by Riot Games that’s easy for most folks to play but difficult to master.

Carless said a survey by GDC organizers of more than 200,000 developers found 79 percent believe competitive gaming is a sustainable business model and 12 percent were currently working on an e-sports competitive multiplayer game. The rise of spectating games is already reshaping how many designers are approaching their latest creations from the outset.

“There are a lot of people watching games and not playing them, so that’s definitely a consideration for future projects,” said Chris Ashton, design director at “Evolve” developer Turtle Rock Studios. “I don’t know what that means for the industry. I never thought I would watch someone play through a game, but I have done that on YouTube and enjoyed it.”