GDC: The Importance of Storytelling in Esports


In its second year at the Game Developer’s Conference, the esports summit had a little under a dozen talks in regards to the state of the industry. Some of the more interesting discussions revolved around the importance of storytelling in esports. Regardless of the game, situation or platform, storytelling is the driving force behind cultivating fans and creating a vibrant esports community.

Without a doubt, the presence of esports has grown at a staggering rate. Traditional, established sports and leagues were grown from grassroots organizations that eventually inserted themselves into pop culture and people’s lives. The same can be said for esports. Small regional LAN event results and tournament videos were tucked away on niche websites, but now receive major news coverage.

Panelists at GDC identified engaging storylines as major necessities for garnering attention and consistent viewership. For example, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors are vying for a chance to break the single-season record for wins. This feat brings with it a lot of attention from people not usually interested in basketball. Word of mouth and gripping storylines about the team and players draws attention and if the story continues, viewers will most likely follow suit.

A common story popular with the public is the classic “rags-to-riches” tale. For big media outlets such as ESPN that just began covering esports, the story of Sumail “Suma1L” Hassan was an obvious story to highlight. A teenage boy from Pakistan who started playing DOTA at age eight, Sumail immigrated to the United States and within the year joined a professional DOTA 2 team and won over a million dollars at Valve’s “The International 2015.” Sumail’s humble origins, and his family’s struggle with poverty, attracted attention from a diverse audience, including traditional sports fans. Using this relatable story, ESPN enticed viewers and potential esports fans by illustrating a familiar story from a new medium.

Having a captivating story can most certainly fall on deaf ears if there are little opportunities to share it. During their “Running an eSports Tournament” GDC panel, Stephanie Harvey (Counter Logic Gaming) and Morgan Romine (AnyKey) emphasized the need to create consistent exposure for female Counter-Strike players so their often unheard stories can develop. Their goal to eventually cultivate more female talent in premier esports leagues is an arduous task, especially considering the often toxic gaming community for female players. However, by promoting stories of female players and teams, they hope to grow a more diverse esports industry.

Even for those involved in the established esports scene, prioritizing storytelling is a must to keep fans wanting more. Travis Gafford (Yahoo! eSports) and Brittany Brown (Twitch) of the “Storyteller of eSports” panel also expressed the importance of depicting professional players as interesting and relatable to viewers. In the video below, you can see the rapport Travis has with professional League of Legends player Doublelift as they conduct a personable and charming interview.

Interviews humanize these players, helping fans relate to the esports athletes they love to spectate. By watching your favorite player wreck face with your signature hero, you may aspire to achieve similar success, queueing up for a game to follow their build and recreate what the action.

It’s these stories, and the glimpses we get into players’ personal lives, that transform spectators into fanatics. It’s a simple formula that takes hard work to execute with finesse. Nevertheless, these stories are at the heart of numerous growing esports communities.