The Next Generation of Esports
With the release of the next gen consoles last week, it’s worth looking into the future of esports on the console platform — by Michael Oliver
I’m sure many of you reading this now have been spending the past week sinking many hours into the glorious, buttery smooth 4K gameplay that the next generation of consoles have brought to the table. Whether you’re team PlayStation or team Xbox, I think we can all agree that the future of consoles is looking brighter than ever. PC gaming features such as raytracing, framerate surpassing 60, and lightning-fast SSDs have made their way to the modern consoles to make them the most formidable pieces of entertainment hardware. The question for esports fans however: is whether these next gen consoles can break into the PC dominated market of esports with their flashy new tool?
To begin a conversation on the proposed impact of new hardware, it is fitting to first look into the specifications of said hardware. The trademarks of next generation that are driven by both Microsoft and Sony are speed, framerate, and fidelity. In order to achieve these, almost every aspect of the machines have been upgraded to meet the needs of their developers.
PS5 vs PS4
CPU: 8-core 3.5 GHz vs 8-core 1.6 GHz
GPU: 36 CUs — 2.23 GHz (10.28 teraflops) vs 18 CUs — 800 MHz (1.84 teraflops)
Memory: 16GB GDDR6–448 GB/s vs 8GB GDDR5
Storage: 825GB SSD vs 500 GB HDD
Now, bear with me to help explain if you think I’ve headbutted my keyboard to create a jumble of numbers and letters (and feel free to glance over this part if you know what it all means). The CPU is responsible for processing information and tasks, whereas the GPU handles visuals and rendering. To put it into a gamer context, the CPU works out what enemies and objects should be spawning in front of the player at given times, whereas the GPU establishes what it should all look like visually. The GHz (gigahertz) represent the speed in which the machines can process information, and a higher GHz equals faster/smoother gameplay when completing multiple tasks. CUs (Compute Unit) are the GPU manufacturer AMD’s measurement unit for the amount of computing resources they have…
I could go on and on, but the point of all this is that these machines can operate fast, and I mean fast. The GHz, CUs, GB/s add up so that these bad boys can run up to a 100+ framerate per second, resulting in a buttery smooth ride whilst maintaining the best visual fidelity we’ve seen on a console to date. Alongside that is the hard drive upgrade to SSDs (Solid State Drive). Long loading screens are a thing of the past, along with many other loading aspects that ultimately make the console run at a higher pace. All of these key elements add up to meet the features of speed, framerate, and fidelity; but are they enough to break through the esports barrier?
Esports on consoles have usually been from a select pool of game titles; sports, racing, fighting, and FPS. Madden and FIFA have been highly popular esports, with FIFA producing numbers like 2.3 million hours of live viewership on events at the end of 2018. The popularity of racing sim esports has risen through the roof with the halt of motorsports; organisers from Formula 1 created their own virtual F1 Grand Prix event earlier this year and achieved over a whopping 30 million views.
Consoles are very much the home of fighting games like Super Smash Bros, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat. The esport fighting scene produces millions of views through top multi-game players like SonicFox, who has earned over $676,000 over multiple fighting game titles (37% of which on Mortal Kombat). And finally, the renowned console FPS esports of Call of Duty and Halo. These old timers have stuck around console esports since the beginning, and are largely responsible for the popularity of online console play around the globe. Important to note, when looking at the top earners of console esports, CoD and Halo very much dominate the high end of the list.
Game titles such as CoD will benefit hugely from the development of the new gen consoles, particularly in departments such as reaction time and framerate. Game genres such as FPS, fighting and racing all depend upon the reactions of the player in an competitive environment and with each extra frame that surpasses the standard 60 of each console, they are more available in order to react to. The simple fact of the matter is, a higher framerate enables better gameplay, meaning more competitive gameplay across the board which could result in a better standard of CoD esports and other game titles.
The evidence for this claim lies with PC esports that have had access to high refresh rates for many years now. Every esport player on any title has at least 144hz displays that see a constant 144 frames per second, and now most Counter-Strike players even have 240hz displays. In 2016, the Dota 2 Shanghai major saw controversy over only having 60hz monitors for players to practise on leading up to the main event. Peter “PPD” Dager of Evil Geniuses spoke on the matter saying it was, “definitely not acceptable… if you ever switch between the two you can definitely know the difference, and it’s pretty considerable.” This was accompanied by a tweet of current Alliance player Simon “Handsken” Haag also showing his displeasure around the situation. Although nuanced, these technical differences have a considerable impact on the performances of professional esports players.
The Future of Console Esports
The hardware upgrades and super-fast SSD can bring consoles on par with the speed of PC machines and penetrate the barrier of technology handicap. Sure, it’s a bold claim to suggest that a simple frame rate increase can change the future of consoles esports, but everything else is already there. Consoles have a lead in gaming popularity, with most families having a console somewhere in their home. They also house the most popular gaming titles, with a prime example of Call of Duty seeing an average minute audience of 206k at the championships with Dallas Empire vs Atlanta FaZe in September.
With the popularity of the consoles and their game titles, the foundations of a successful esport platform are already set and solid. Now with the introduction of hardware on par with computer systems, the PC dominated market of esports may now see a challenge in the near future. Competition is always welcome in industry, so it will be interesting to see how the next year or so plays out for esports on all platforms; especially when the new iterations of the popular console esport titles have either already been released, or are soon to be (e.g. Black Ops Cold War). At Espo we enjoy all forms of gaming whether it is via keyboard and mouse or controller, so we are thrilled to see what the future holds for esports and consoles alike.
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