By Pavo Jurkic
December 24, 2018
Remember when RTS games dominated the competitive gaming scene? When South Korea had Starcraft schools? When games like Warcraft 3, Dawn of War, and Starcraft II were considered the most impressive games to watch?
What happened? Where have they gone? What are MOBA titles giving players and viewers that RTS games aren’t? Let’s take a look at the history of RTS games, the fall of RTS games, and the current state of the competitive esports scene.
During the early years of the Internet and LAN gaming, RTS games ruled supreme. There were the occasional Dota and CS 1.6 tournaments (even Source but less so), but no genre could compare to RTS, not by a long shot!
With graphics, sound, level/story progression, mechanics, and everything else getting better and better, RTS games were still considered to be at the top of the food chain. From Red Alert to Supreme Commander, RTS games were a league above the rest. And the competitive scene reflected that.
Starcraft was especially popular with players, and it was the game to learn if you wanted to be a competitive gamer. Warcraft 3 also made its mark on the competitive scene, especially after the creation of Dota. All of these games were the pinnacle of professional play; players such as Flash, Boxer, and NaDa changed the scene in a significant way and have already made their place in gaming history books.
Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. As years passed, RTS games’ dominance in the esports scene started to dwindle with the appearance of new titles such as League of Legends, CS:GO, and recently even Fortnite.
Back in the good old days, RTS games were the most sought-after games in the market. You could find so many variations within the genre; each unique in their own sense. The target audience of some of the largest publishers of that time were people who wanted strategy, thinking, and the thrill of controlling vast armies of units.
However, this genre began to fade away; no more Terran units getting blown to bits, no more Orcs smashing humans. It was the beginning of the end for one of the longest-lasting video game genres out there. Part of the reason for the fall of RTS games was due to a new generation of gamers. This new group was not interested in pure strategy, as before. No, the current ‘meta’ of new-age genres was action-packed, fast-paced, and filled with loads of in-game options.
RTS games usually had just 3-4 factions, which simply wasn’t enough for the next phase of gaming. MOBAs especially trashed RTS games in this regard. Dota 2 and LoL each have over a hundred hero characters, while your average RTS only has two or three heroes per faction.
Additionally, MOBAS allowed players to purchase new items, each specifically suited for one type of playstyle. This was a brand new, unexplored world for gamers to jump into. The good old RTS games we grew up adoring were simply not good enough for the new generations. A tale for the ages, really; what was once considered the peak is now all but the head of a needle.
And so, the fall of RTS games is complete. MOBAs, FPS games (CS:GO, PUBG, Overwatch), and even card games (looking at you Hearthstone) have emerged as the main focus of gamers.
Sponsors play a major role in determining whether a tournament will become successful. Sometimes, the game’s developers organize such events themselves, but this isn’t always the case. Take DreamHack, for example. This event isn’t organized by any game developer, but by dedicated fans and veteran organizers.
Back when RTS games were popular, sponsors were major players as well. However, they saw that the new generation of games are climbing the steps to the top and they slowly started bouncing ship.
What’s the purpose of an esports tournament if it isn’t broadcast? What if the prizes are too small? What if nobody’s spectating? When you look at the bigger picture, it’s evident that these trends don’t change because of a single, huge thing, but multiple, smaller ones. How can a genre survive when its main contributors are leaving them behind for better prospects and a more attractive future? As they say – money brings changes, often unwanted ones.
This is how it works in every sport. Take motorsport for example; sponsors come and go on the regular. If a team underperforms, they’ll lose their sponsors and will have to withdraw from the sport if there are no other solutions.
RTS games, unfortunately, didn’t have a way out. MOBAs stormed in, League of Legends and Dota 2 shared the crown between themselves. Meanwhile, the likes of Warcraft, Age of Empires, and others have been shoved aside. But not all is grim for RTS games; after all, MOBAs will meet their demise as well, so it’s some kind of consolation for the aged crowd favorites.
“Nothing lasts forever” should be the motto of the competitive scene. It’s no secret that genres change over the years. Sure, it happens slow (every 5-10 years or so), but it still happens. We’re already looking at the next big thing in esports – battle royale; or should I say – Fortnite and PUBG.
Dota 2 and League of Legends are still highly popular games, mind you, but there is evidence of gradual decline. This isn’t surprising when you think about it. LoL launched in 2009. Dota 2 is only five years old, but the concept goes back to the early 2000s. Riot Games has released fewer and fewer champions and major updates for League over the years (although sometimes they have a huge creative spell) while Dota 2 is faring a tad better in this regard.
However, none of this is enough to keep them on top. And this isn’t saying they’re becoming bad games. It’s just saying that Fortnite (and the like) are becoming more and more relevant. MOBAs have effectively run their course. Younger generations are interested in new things – like Fortnite. Eight years ago, LoL was the center of attention for the younger public. In the end, the fall of RTS games was due to a combination of multiple factors.
Things change on a constant basis, but the legacy they leave behind stays forever. MOBAs will fade just as RTS games did. It’s the circle of life.
What else is there to say? The RTS genre had a good run; a great run even! Ultimately it wasn’t enough to keep them in the competitive scene. At least we can still watch videos of how it used to be just a few years ago.
And look at Fortnite now – it’s the biggest video game in the world at the moment. If you stop a child on the street and ask them if they play Fortnite or know about Fortnite, you’ll get a positive answer.
Who knows, maybe MOBAs die out tomorrow, or maybe they survive for another 10 years. It would surely be better if all game genres could coexist in the esports world, but at this time and age – it’s just not possible. Sadly.