8 things you need to do to become a successful eSports developer

Smite dev Hi-Rez shares insights

8 things you need to do to become a successful eSports developer

Smite didn't establish itself as a leading MOBA and eSports PC game overnight.

But now it sits alongside DoTA 2 and League of Legends, offers multi-million dollar tournament prizes, and is about to enter new territory with an Xbox One release.

An encourgaing thought, then, for those developers attempting to make the genre take off on mobile - most notably with Vainglory and Fates Forever - to no avail.

“It's a very complex ecosystem," said Hi-Rez co-founder and COO Todd Harris, speaking on stage at Develop:Brighton 2015.

"Even more so than traditional sports, I would say.”

As such, he laid out several points of advice for developers intending to enter the eSports space, based upon his personal experience of developing and growing Smite.

Todd Harris on stage at Develop:Brighton 2015

Here are some of his most important tips - click through below to see the list.

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Game balance & skill curve

    Harris's first tip, and perhaps what differentiates the MOBA most starkly from the 'accessibility is everything' message ordinarily preached in mobile development, is that more dedicated players need to feel as if their playtime is translating into mastery and superiority.

    “The success of eSports shows that [accessibility] isn't the only key to success," says Harris.

    "There needs to be a very steep skill curve, there needs to be a huge difference between someone who just started playing and someone who plays 10 hours a day.”

  • 2 Start early

    “Back in 2012 we took a very early build to PAX... the art was ugly, almost embarrassingly so, but we wanted that hands-on insight,” Harris says.

    That philosophy is important to Hi-Rez, and it played an instrumental role in Smite embedding itself in the eSports community

    Indeed, the firm supported the burgeoning tournament scene with free virtual currency for the winners, encouraging the progression to even more competitive players and even bigger prize purses.

    And just as Hi-Rez is betting big on Smite's Xbox One release as a worthwhile venture in bringing the free-to-play MOBA to console, perhaps history will prove that mobile developers are doing the right thing by getting into the MOBA/eSports space early.

  • 3 Build audience organically

    Despite the previous point's imperative to get things moving early, Harris is also keen to differentiate between "early" and "quickly".

    “Build it slowly... that's going to work a lot better than trying to be too big right out of the gate," he says of marketing.

    “When we started out, it was one guy - Bart [Koenigsberg, Competitive and eSports Manager at Hi-Rez] - who was basically shoutcasting games from his bedroom with his unmade bed in the background... So you can definitely start humble.”

  • 4 Empower community leaders

    “Early on we identified Twitch as an awesome platform,” says Harris, explaining that Smite features an integrated button for immediate streaming.

    He goes on to say that a third of Hi-Rez staff were hired from the community - be they Twitch streamers, competitive players, or other key figures.

    It's a strategy that's been tried in the mobile space as well, with Vainglory developer Super Evil Megacorp hiring Twitch personality George 'Zekent' Liu as its video community manager last year.

  • 5 Create online video to drive viewership and engagement

    eSports being a new phenomenon, Harris believes that the methodology for promoting them has very much changed in step.

    “What game marketing used to be is these big tentpole moments for traditional games media," he says.

    However, he suggests that bombastic and infrequent has been replaced by little and often: "just last week we put out 9 new shows."

    Video is a key part of the Hi-Rez strategy, keeping audiences personally engaged by allowing users to submit particularly impressive  'plays', the best of which are featured via official Smite channels.

  • 6 Amplify word of mouth with external influencers

    However, despite its strategy to share content from its own channels, the influence of external personalities - particularly YouTubers such as PewDiePie, whose Smite videos boast over 2 million views apiece - is certainly not lost on Hi-Rez.

  • 7 Robust and fair tournament rules and format

    The worst thing for any eSport, according to Harris, is the lack of any reliable system.

    For gamers as dedicated as MOBA players, anything other than clarity and fairness is unforgivable.

    "The leagues and the amateur teams basically come together," he says, "and that feeds into a world championship, almost like a world cup."

    "Every eSport has its own system, but you want reliability."

  • 8 Crowdsource

    Obviously it takes a while to reach this level of engagement, but Harris also discusses how MOBA and eSports developers shouldn't be afraid to crowdsource.

    He talks particularly about Smite's 2015 World Championships, and how the prize purse was enhanced dramatically by community pledges.

    “$600,000 was going to be the purse, but [after crowdsourcing] the community raised another $2 million,” totalling $2.6 million for the season - the 4th biggest prize pool in eSports history.

    Another area in which the power of the player-base has been harness by Smite is in the tricky issue of creating income for professional players. The prize pools may be large, but they're infrequent - how is Hi-Rez attempting to address this?

    “We're working with the teams to create supplementary income for them... we're putting virtual items in there, so that when players buy cosmetics with the team branding, revenue goes directly to the team,” says Harris.

    You can follow Todd Harris on Twitter.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.