Game On!

In the world of online gaming, 2017 brought its own surprises, accomplishments and achievements.

From the explosion in eSports participation and viewing to growth in virtual and augmented reality gaming, 2017 set many of the trends that will likely continue to grow in the new year.

Here are four patterns you need to pay attention to in 2018.

1. The Growth of eSports Leagues

The first trend is incredible growth in eSports and eSports leagues.

What was once a pipe dream of gamers has become a multimillion-dollar industry. In fact, industry experts predict that eSports could generate more than one billion dollars by 2020.

Hi-Rez Studios runs one of the more successful eSports leagues and championships for its popular SMITE game. Now in Season 4, the SMITE Pro League includes teams from around the world competing on both PCs and consoles. Every match is streamed live on the internet, and fans have the option of purchasing season passes which grant them access to see every event.

Each season ends with the world championships at the Hi-Rez Expo held annually in Atlanta, which also includes competitions for Paladins and Hand of the Gods. (Shameless plug: INAP is the title sponsor at this year’s event.)

With more eSports leagues and competitions on the way, 2018 will likely see further increases in audiences, revenue and market share.

2. Virtual and Augmented Reality

The next trend is a continued push toward virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology.

While the initial buzz and hype behind VR have begun to subside, several publishers and manufacturers are making significant strides towards bringing the technology to a wider market through increased investment and more content.

And while still small by standards of the wider video game industry, VR technology continues to move into expanded markets and has sales figures to prove it. Oculus’s Gear VR recently shipped over five million units, and the PlayStation VR sold more than a million headsets in less than a year.

While developers continue to experiment with creative ways to implement VR into gaming, it’s more likely we’ll see advancements in AR technology in the next year. There hasn’t been a major AR gaming breakthrough since 2016’s Pokémon Go (Remember when everyone was running around your neighborhood trying to catch digital creatures?), but retailers have discovered unique ways to add AR into the consumer experience. In fact, IKEA has been doing it for years.

Since AR does not require the use of expensive equipment like headsets nor the need for as significant an investment compared to VR, it’s just a matter of time before an AR developer comes up with the next big online or mobile gaming sensation.

3. Diversity and Inclusion

Boys aren’t the only ones playing video games. More than 40 percent of all gamers in the U.S. are female, and this change in audience is being reflected on the screen.

More games are being developed that feature minorities, women and other underrepresented communities. We Are Chicago has earned critical praise for its unique storyline and depiction of an African-American growing up in the city’s South Side. Nintendo Switch’s highly anticipated Seasons of Heaven will tackle unique character viewpoints in a puzzle adventure game based on a protagonist with Asperger syndrome. And writers revealed in an Overwatch comic series that popular character Tracer is gay.

Expect this diversity and inclusion trend to continue in 2018 as an audience eager for roles that no longer play on stereotypes is influencing publishers and developers to craft stories that include more voices and perspectives than ever before.

4. Make Way for Indie Game Developers

Independent game publishers and studios are expected to take a big step in 2018. Independent game makers have been on the rise for the last several years, but their growth has accelerated with new trends and technology sharing to foster a democratization of game development.

One of the top reasons independent game makers can compete with industry giants is due to digital downloads. Independents create and publish games without being forced to make deals necessary to secure shelf space in retail stores. This has leveled the playing field and allowed smaller game makers to sell directly to their consumers and target audiences.

And it appears to be working, as more games are published every year. A 2016 study of all the games on Steam ­– a digital distribution store for online games – revealed nearly 40 percent of available titles on the service were released that year.

Full Speed Ahead in 2018

As the world of online gaming moves into 2018, the industry will move to adapt to its changing circumstances and environment. But some things will remain the same.

At the heart of every online gaming experience is a powerful and robust infrastructure that gives gamers a seamless adventure with no lag. Contact INAP today to learn how our high-performance IT infrastructure solutions and data center services can provide your users an optimal gameplay experience with low latency, even during peak periods.