Every year in the world of eSports has its ups and downs, but 2016 would make even Ronan Keating consider getting off the rollercoaster. We saw investment like never before, Counter Strike: GO had weekly TV broadcasts and The Dota 2 International yet again broke its prize pool record.
Almost every measurable metric grew significantly and there was so much entertaining action to watch. But on the other side of the coin there was the major CS:GO betting scandal, team owners demanding that Riot remove relegation from competitive League of Legends and Riot telling them to get stuffed and the current situation with Pro eSports Association (PEA) teams forcing players to play in a league they don't want to.
All this meant that while those on the inside of the industry considered 2016 one of the best ever years for eSports, those outside only saw the more negative aspects. It's been a rocky road, but the future is bright.
2017 looks set to be another massive year for eSports, and with a bit of luck the industry may finally be able to convince onlookers that eSports is more than a corrupt boys club largely inhabiting basements and playing for £50. There are a number of exciting developments that will make 2017 better than ever, and perhaps the biggest comes from Blizzard.
Despite scant details about Overwatch League, it's safe to say that it has potential to become the most important league in all of eSports. We don't know the format that it will take, we don't know when it will take place, we don't know what the prize pool is and we don't even know who will be competing in it, but we do know two very important pieces of information.
The first is that teams in the league will have a home city. Outside of one or two minor examples, no eSports teams have ever based themselves in a city, like traditional sports, but it does have some clear advantages. Firstly it should bring in more fans. As we know from UK football – people like to support their local team and often will do even if they are stuck in the Vanarama National League North or something.
In eSports this has never really been possible, with most orgs not having a fixed location, but the introduction of the Overwatch League will change that, and should make people in the cities with a team more open to the industry.
The second is that we know Blizzard flew out some very wealthy people to Blizzcon to discuss the league with. While it is probably a safe bet that major eSports teams Dignitas, EnVyUs, Fnatic and Cloud9 will appear in the league in some way, they will probably be joined by more than a few traditional sports clubs. Sports team owners from across the US, were in attendance at Blizzcon and Blizzard is supposedly keen on getting them involved. Who knows, we might see the likes of the LA Lakers or Manchester City fielding an Overwatch team before 2017 is done.
Blizzard aren't the only ones dabbling with the world of traditional sports. Riot Games has just signed a multi-year deal with a division of Major League Baseball's parent company worth $50 million a year. The deal gives MLB the rights to monetise and stream the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), and they are already working on an app to do so. Chances are we won't see the real changes to LCS broadcasts until the end of 2017, but it will certainly have a big effect on the League of Legends product when it hits.
In League's more immediate future we have to look at the changes coming to the LCS in 2017. Europe's failed best of two experiment means they are now on best of threes, and that means even more broadcasts, some weeks the EU LCS will have a massive four broadcast days. NA remains largely the same, although across both leagues Riot has committed to giving teams more money, which should hopefully mean we see even more investment in the scene.
2017 will be an interesting one for League of Legends. With a few missteps the Overwatch League could become an immediate challenger to its crown as the biggest eSports league in the world, but a strong year could leave the LCS almost out of sight.
While Riot and Blizzard are perfecting plans they have been working on for years a new challenger wants to enter the world of eSports and that is, weirdly, Nintendo. After years of barely acknowledging the competitive Super Smash Bros community, Nintendo now seem hyper focused on competitive gaming. It's no coincidence that the Nintendo Switch reveal trailer showed competitive Splatoon, played by two teams battling it out on the new console in front of an arena audience even the LCS would be proud of.
If Nintendo manage to finally get online multiplayer right on the Switch then there is no reason why we couldn't see Switch games at major eSports events. Its portability would arguably make it easier to work with than say the Xbox One or PS4, and players could use their own device on stage to speed up change over times between games.
There is also the incredibly exciting rumour that Smash Bros. Melee may be coming to the Switch via its Virtual Console, and if GameCube controllers also work we could see the Melee scene grow massively.
Nintendo aren't the only ones looking to make a new venture into eSports in 2017. A quick look at the release calendar shows that both LawBreakers and Paragon are both set to launch in 2017, and both have the potential to foster decent eSports communities. Bethesda also has Quake Champions lined up, which could put a bit of a dent in the Overwatch scene providing it isn't rubbish, and we just got what is effectively Dota 3 with the new 7.00 patch changes everything.
Of course it's impossible to look at everything that will happen in 2017 in one article, but even outside of what's already been mentioned we have more ELEAGUE (CS:GO) to look forward to, which has undoubtedly been one of the best additions to the eSports world in 2016. There will be all the CS:GO majors, and Dota majors to look forward to, and if recent reports are anything to go by even more sports clubs are looking to add teams for almost every game imaginable.
FIFA is set to grow even more popular next year with club specific leagues starting up and Blizzard really is trying to make something of Heroes of the Storm with its new competitive circuit.
2016 may have been a difficult year for eSports, with more than a few scandals, but 2017 looks to be the year that sees a more mainstream audience getting involved.