How do you make an esport? Epic Games’ creative director Steve Superville doesn’t really know—or, at least, if he does, he won’t tell us. There’s a lot of pressure, from media and from fans, for Epic Games’ Paragon to become to next League of Legends (2009) or Dota 2 (2013). Superville says that’s not on the team’s collective mind. Epic just wants to make a community-driven, highly competitive MOBA. It’ll become an esport if—and only if—the community deems it so, Superville said. “When we started this, we had watched other companies look to design ‘The Next Great Esport,’” Superville added. “The community’s response was always like, ‘What the hell are you talking about? We will tell you when your game is good enough that we want to compete in it.’”
“The Paragon community thinks the game is ready.”
And the Paragon community thinks the game is ready, or, at least, a small portion of the game’s most dedicated players do. Twitch streamers Shane Lynch and Josh Cornwell got involved during Paragon’s early access period. The moment Epic gave players the ability to create lobbies, the community began holding tournaments. Lynch and Cornwell’s first two-day event was held in early April—they call it Agora’s Rising, named for Paragon’s one and only map. “It was more popular than we could have ever imagined,” Cornwell said. “We had 32 teams sign up and we got close to 500 viewers each day during the event.”
Agora’s Rising now runs roughly every two weeks. A small team helps out with the organization, but Lynch and Cornwell do much of the casting, production, and administration work. It’s a full-time gig for both of them; on tournament weekends, the team casts for four to 10 hours a day. Add in the un-fun back-end duties, like keeping track of teams and sorting brackets and you’ve got a very long day. “The hardest part, in all honesty, is being away from my family,” Cornwell said. He’s got a wife, and a few kids. “I stream eight hours a night and do more on the weekends when we run events.”
Cornwell isn’t a partnered streamer on Twitch, and doesn’t have the backing of any sort of esports organization; he does most of this work for free. That’s intense dedication—and a hearty sacrifice—for a game that’s still in its open beta period, a game that’s got to carve its way in a world full of Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm, and League of Legends players. Not to mention the tidal wave of hero-based shooters to hit the market recently. Overwatch’s success basically turned Battleborn to mush. Who’s to say the same thing won’t happen to Paragon?
Cornwell and the team over at Agora’s Rising aren’t thinking about that right now. “My main goal is to help promote a healthy community and a growing competitive scene,” he added. “I think even if we have a smaller community, we can still have a healthy competitive scene.” Regardless, he’s sticking around; Cornwell plans to organize tournaments as long as there are folks around to play in them.
“I know they will do this right.”
Epic Games isn’t backing Agora’s Rising financially, but the developer’s support is partly what keeps Cornwell going. “I was amazing by the transparency of the team and the level of dedication to the community from day one,” Cornwell said. He has “complete faith” in the developer—his livelihood is in its hands. And it sounds like Epic knows that. The developer has invited Cornwell and Lynch out to the Epic headquarters three times so far, the last of which was to shoutcast the launch of Paragon’s open beta. “I know they will do this right,” Cornwell added. Until then, when and if Paragon can be casted from a stage, Cornwell will continue to work towards becoming a partnered streamer on Twitch so that he can monetize the hours he spends streaming. He’s got his family’s support, and that’s what matters to him. “I know it’s hard on [my wife] at times, but overall, she’s has been nothing but supportive.” He can only hope the same for Epic.