Amazon-owned Twitch is doubling down on eSports. The social video platform for gamers has partnered with San Diego-based independent developer Psyonix to launch the Rocket League Championship Series later this month with registration opening on March 25.
The league will debut across PC and PlayStation 4, but Nick Allen, director of eSports operations at Twitch, says Xbox One will be added to the competition down the line.
“We’ll be focusing on online play for the early stages of the competition (qualifiers and regional finals), with the capstone event being a live, international championship,” Allen says.
Gamers will compete across the U.S. and Europe over a three-month season with the ultimate goal being to take home a portion of the $75,000 in prize money. Twitch will livestream the event, tapping into its audience of 100 million gamers.
“The Rocket League Championship Series is our first eSports partnership effort since partnering with Capcom on the Capcom Pro Tour back in 2014,” Allen says. “This marks a venture into a very deep, robust, and multiyear relationship, and while we’re not ruling out partnering with other leagues, we’re very selective with the game and developer we’d be open to working with.”
Rocket League, which was developed using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 technology, is a downloadable game that boasts captivating visuals and fully customizable vehicles. That’s helped the game get nominated for over 100 Game of the Year Awards last year, and it’s allowed Psyonix to grow a global audience of over 12 million players. It also helps that the gameplay blends arcade-style soccer played with souped-up vehicles.
“What we admire about Rocket League is the accessibility of the game,” Allen says. “Its parallels to traditional sports, combined with its fun and fast-paced style, make it entertaining for all audiences. Even if you haven’t played the game before, you can watch a clip and understand the core tenets of the gameplay—something that very few eSports games benefit from.”
Another indie studio, Riot Games, was able to build out a global eSports ecosystem that now sells out soccer stadiums with its League of Legends game. And that multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game is very complex for the average viewer to understand at first view. That didn’t stop 85 million people around the world from playing the game, and even more from watching professionals play it. Riot’s eSports success led to Chinese tech giant Tencent acquiring the Los Angeles-based game developer.
In its first month of release in July 2015, Rocket League catapulted from 165th place to a spot in the Top 5 on Twitch, and had over 5 million copies downloaded.
“We continue to see viewership growth around Rocket League on Twitch, as streamers from all different gaming backgrounds continue to go back to playing it because of its fun and easy to learn gameplay,” Allen says.
Twitch plays a key role in the eSports community. In fact, professional gaming is what helped the company grow into the behemoth it is today. And it’s why Amazon acquired the company for $1 billion in 2014. Allen says this eSports background has served the company’s second venture directly into an eSports league.
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“The biggest thing we’ve learned is to listen to the community and remain flexible and amenable for what they want out of the competitive ecosystem,” Allen says. “One of the reasons we were so excited to partner with Psyonix around Rocket League is because developing and supporting a highly professional eSports league is exactly what the community has been asking for.”
Rocket League follows Hi-Rez Studios’ Smite and Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege leagues in offering multiple platforms for gamers to compete on.
“The passionate fan base can be found on both platforms, so we wanted to ensure both platforms had the opportunity to compete,” Allen says. “Also, since Rocket League has the benefit of cross-platform play between PC and PS4, it made including both platforms an easy decision.”
505 Games will launch disc-based versions of Rocket League on PS4 and Xbox One in Q3.