Could Age of Empires be the next big esport?
In a world dominated by esports like Dota 2, League of Legends, Overwatch and similar titles, it may seem a bit strange to consider Age of Empires as a potential esport. The historical real-time strategy game does have a long history of successful titles, with seven main games and even spin-offs having been released since the initial title in 1997.
Now, when it comes to esports, RTS isn’t exactly the most popular genre out there… with one notable exception. StarCraft 2 may not be the most popular esport in the West, but in South Korea – one of the biggest nations when it comes to pro gaming – it’s a cornerstone and an incredibly popular hobby. The only other games that could be considered RTS esports are StarCraft: Brood War and Warcraft 2/3… all of which are Blizzard games. Age of Empires is not affiliated with Blizzard at all, however it does still boast an impressive and dedicated player base decades later.
There have been unofficial tournaments for years now and, as of last year, Microsoft gave some legitimacy to the esport when it offered a $60.000 prize pool for one such tournament. Sure, that’s not quite as much as the prize pools of other games which sometimes exceed hundreds of thousands of dollars or even cross the million mark, but it is enough to lend some validity to Age of Empires as an esport.
Clearly the developers see potential as they are about to release a new version of the most popular of the series – Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition. This will definitely increase interest in the game, especially from players a bit too young to remember just how popular these games were in their prime time. Age of Empires partly revolutionised the genre and many gamers still remember it fondly – why else would there (also) be a new AoE on the way? Age of Empires IV doesn’t have a scheduled release date yet, but it has been announced for Windows 10. It will be the first new title since Age of Empires III in 2005 – quite a break!
While Age of Empires is unlikely to see the same sort of explosion in popularity that games like Fortnite and PUBG experienced, it is steadily gaining more traction as a competitive title. It’s also by no means easy to play – RTS games require their players to perform hundreds of actions per minute, and the difference between winning and losing can be just a few clicks at the beginning of a game.
As for the future – while it’s impossible to say just how popular Age of Empires the esport will get, it doesn’t seem like it’s about to go under either – there are several events planned, a few of them officially backed by Microsoft.
That said, the last two big series were the I Escape Champions League and King of the Desert 2. The competition featured separate tournaments in Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Americas and finally Europe.
The King of the Desert 2 competition on the other hand launched on the 31st of December of last year covered 3 rounds leading up to the semi-finals, after which a grand finale took place in February. If all of this has raised your interest in AoE as an esport, have a look at the official ageofempires.com website, where you can find more details on the tournaments.