While catching up on the last couple of days worth of Reddit threads posted to /r/esports, I came across a link post to someone posting on LinkedIn about esports. “Apple & eSports: A Perfect Match.”
For the most part, it’s a typical breakdown of how Twitch is positioning itself as the ESPN of streaming video services, but it varied heavily when it suddenly proclaimed the game-changing value Apple could potentially command with a microscopic $500m cash infusion into esports via a simple, five-step process:
- Buy a popular team, like Cloud9, by offering them a king’s ransom in salary.
- Develop and produce events like The International, with prize pools that dwarf The International, to be held in Apple-built viewer temples that don’t presently exist.
- Completely buyout AMD, Hitbox, and any game developer that Apple wants in order to secure hardware and software ecosystems.
The urge to write off his post as a fantasy for fantasy’s sake increased as I read on, but for some reason, I couldn’t let it go. It didn’t help that it was written by a corporate officer of a no-name esports organization networking on LinkedIn like he’s looking for a new job. It made me want to reply — even after verified Internet cool person and known esports pundit Chris “keekerdc” Schetter dispatched the entire idea.
In response, the author reiterated his belief that Apple should just throw nine figures into esports. He then suggested that Amazon, Facebook, and Google, could use similar strategies to get in, despite the fact that they already have!
In my response, I decided to go out on a limb and create my own ideal scenario for Apple, framed much more realistically. It all centers around one core idea:
Apple is a hardware company. Apple’s machines don’t esports as well as Windows PCs can. All that Apple needs to do is make its Mac gaming products competitive with Windows ones. It’s that simple, and more importantly, it’s not impossible.
My suggestion on how they do that? Ditch Intel integrated graphics across the board, buy up all the miniaturized graphics cards Nvidia can make, adding them to every single SKU they possibly can, and then throw that $500m at Microsoft to port DirectX to Darwin and iOS. While this would veer away from Apple’s tendency towards battery efficiency and power consumption, instead of performance, it would be a great first step towards making gaming on their products more feasible.
Another big step would be to get more esports titles on Mac platforms. Some developers — Blizzard springs to mind, here — have historically committed to leaving no mainstream computer gamer behind and including Mac OS X users in their product releases for years.
But other developers don’t have that same mindset, especially due to the current approach many of them have: emulating their games via CrossOver. The Mac audience is usually so small that there’s no net positive reason to devote development time or capital to port an entire game over to Mac. Unlocking the performance needed for esports while running the game through a translation layer like CrossOver is a very large task.
Then, there’s Aspyr, who currently serve a niche by porting top game titles to Mac with a white-label version of CrossOver to the Mac. It’s just not enough.
Bottom line? No serious esport ecosystem can really exist on Apple hardware currently, unless it runs Windows. DirectX and graphics drivers for Windows put games and the engines that run them on a whole other level in the realm of performance. Even Blizzard seems to have recognized this in the process of developing a brand new engine for its Overwatch—which isn’t coming to Mac anytime soon.
DirectX, and by association Windows, ends up with the lion’s share of games developed, because DirectX is an institution for facilitating graphics capability. Porting an esports title like League of Legends to Swift—Apple’s programming language—just to run natively with Metal—Mac’s DirectX equivalent—just for Mac users? I could see a cadre of Riot developers porting the game engine as a part of one of their routine internal hackathons, but I don’t think it’ll ever see a genuine release.
So there you have it. Apple’s most profitable route into esports is easy: let esports start to develop natively on Apple products. But the steps to get there are so complicated—and run so counter to Apple’s ongoing parallel development to PC—that it would take a serious shift. And, that would have to happen during a time where Apple is focusing increasingly on iOS growth, not OS X.
Of course, there’s always the option that Apple could throw money at Tencent to push Riot into porting League of Legends into a universal iOS app.
Then, however, Tencent would have to allow Apple to have 30% of the revenue from in-app purchases. The odds of that happening are infinitesimal for Riot—or any other esports company, for that matter.