Top 5 Game Developers To Watch In 2020
It is no coincidence that some of the best esports titles in the world have top-notch, world-class developers behind them. After all, it takes immense talent, dedication, and knowledge to pull things off and actually find success in this ever-changing industry. In many ways, it feels like we’ve seen it all, and yet every so often there comes a huge, tectonic shift in the status quo.
No one really expected Battle Royale games to pop off, and yet once they hit the market, the gaming realm changed forever. The same can be said for Apex Legends, a polished, triple-A title that seemingly came out of nowhere. Respawn Entertainment took a well-known formula and basically perfected it — all behind closed doors. Once they were satisfied with the product, they released it and took the world by storm.
Finally, all of these developers do things differently. Some of them prefer a more frequent patch cycle and communicate with their playerbase on a daily basis. Others, however, update their IPs a bit more sporadically and rarely engage with their players, and even when they do it is often in a reticent manner. There’s a lot that can be learned by observing the amount of success each title has, and how popular it is at this point in time given its age.
So let’s dive a bit deeper into each developer, their history, and highlight their biggest strengths and weaknesses.
We simply have to start off with the developer behind one of the most popular games in the world: League of Legends. What Riot has been able to accomplish over the last decade is nothing short of awe-inspiring. League is, in many ways, much more than just a video game — it is a phenomenon, and an unavoidable part of pop culture.
They’re organizing tournaments in sold-out Olympic stadiums, they’re succeeding in making their venerable IP profitable and engaging through an ingenious, constant patch cycle, and have, in short, created one of the best video games in history.
To make matters even more interesting, Riot recently announced a bevy of fascinating new releases for both PC, consoles, and mobile which they’ll release over the coming months and years.
Now, Riot didn’t always have such a spectacular track record, as they often didn’t communicate with their playerbase. That, however, changed considerably over the last couple of years. Heck, maybe that’s even an understatement. These days, Riot is constantly listening to player feedback, they’re browsing the League subreddit along with their own forums — they’re actively trying to make the game as enjoyable as possible and have killed many long-standing memes in the process.
They’re not perfect, but they’re doing many things right, at least when it comes to developing their most important IP.
A list of Top 5 esports game developers simply cannot be complete without the one and only Valve Corporation. To say that they’ve left a mark in the gaming realm would truly be an understatement. Titles like Half-Life, Team Fortress 2, Portal, Left 4 Dead, Counter-Strike, and many others completely changed the video game landscape — these releases were like tectonic shifts, and most of them are still being played en masse to this day.
The moment they released Dota 2 is also incredibly important. After a two-year-long beta period, Dota 2 was released in its full free-to-play glory in mid-2013 and has maintained a respectable number of players ever since. It’s not the most played game out there, nor does it have the most viewers. But its fascinating competitive scene and sheer depth have kept millions of players across the globe engaged for over half a decade.
Much like Riot, Valve has a proven track record, although they’re not doing things like many other developers on this list — they have their own, rather unique M.O. That’s both a positive and a negative thing, but questioning them often feels impossible. How could we, really, after all they’ve done? Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are some of the best and most popular esports in existence.
Still, it kind of feels like they’re losing a bit of their edge. Their most recent release Artifact imploded in spectacular fashion (even though it was being heralded as the successor to Hearthstone), and Dota 2 is in dire need of a refresh (in any way, shape, or form) as it has lost quite a big chunk of its playerbase over the last couple of months.
Despite this, if there was ever a developer who had all the right tools to right the ship, it has to be Valve.
Prior to Fortnite, Epic Games was basically only known for Gears of War and Unreal Tournament. Well, and Jazz Jackrabbit, on the off chance you grew up in the nineties. In 2017, however, they’ve made history by releasing Fortnite.
To say that Fortnite took the world by storm would be putting it mildly. It wasn’t the first Battle Royale out there (that honor goes to PUBG), but it certainly did many things right, and it didn’t have a price tag — anyone could just download and queue up. That, along with many upgrades and a more attractive design, allowed it to become what can rightfully be deemed as the biggest phenomenon in gaming history.
Two years ago, it was hard finding someone who didn’t play the game. And even though it’s no longer the hottest commodity around, Fortnite still has a monstrously big playerbase and is one of the most lucrative titles in the world. The fact that you can also play it on virtually any device definitely allowed Fortnite to have as big of a reach as humanly possible.
Want to game on a large TV in your living room? You’re covered. Want to go for a quick match while waiting in line at the post office? That’s possible as well, thanks to amazing ports for both iOS as well as Android.
Respawn was founded by Jason West and Vince Zampella, the former co-founders of Infinity Ward (known mostly for their work on Call of Duty). Before Apex Legends was released, Respawn was known as “the studio that created Titanfall” and not much else. Little did anyone know, that their FPS expertise and creativity would soon be used to create one of the biggest surprises in recent video game history: Apex Legends.
To say that it took everyone by surprise would be cutting it short. It really felt like Apex dropped out of nowhere. Now, many felt that the Battle Royale genre was already overpopulated with Fortnite and PUBG. The latter offered a more realistic take on the whole shebang, with the former being a bit more user-friendly and, well, free.
Apex Legends, therefore, didn’t have much of a chance. And yet despite the odds, the game broke multiple records and took the world by storm. For a brief moment, the world forgot about Fortnite and PUB and that, in itself, is a seismic achievement. Respawn released a bona fide hit, a game polished in the extreme with many exciting elements and design choices. It was, and still is, a spectacular title.
Over ten million people downloaded it in the first 72 hours — a feat that took Fortnite two weeks to achieve. Thirty days later, Apex Legends reached fifty million downloads. A monumental, seismic accomplishment in every way, shape, and form.
Last but not least, we have Blizzard. The company hasn’t been getting the best possible rap over the last couple of years, but not all of the hate is justified. Now sure, the Blizzard of old is slowly fading away as the developer is struggling to meet the demands and expectations of their parent company Activision. Still, they’re one of the biggest and most important developers in the world, and their contribution to both gaming and esports is second-to-none.
World of Warcraft, Diablo, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, StarCraft, Overwatch.
What a mind-blowing portfolio. And, frankly, all but one of these games have left a permanent mark (Heroes of the Storm unfortunately couldn’t break through with League and Dota having a stronghold on the genre). A couple of them became fantastic esports as well, with Overwatch being the most successful (and high profile) example.
Blizzard is a legendary developer and watching their next move in gaming and esports will be an absolute must. They’re not guaranteed to find success, but at least they’ll try things out and go for the unexpected — for better or worse.