Competitive sports have been a thing since, well, let’s just say forever. Cave paintings from as early as 6,000 BC revealed the earliest records of people performing wrestling and swimming. Back then, sports were not viewed as recreational activities, though. They were performed either to train soldiers to fight or to complete a funeral ritual. Of course, we’ve already changed our perspective towards sports, quite a long time ago. And we still hold the Olympics every four years to celebrate the marvels of human physique.
But, with the Internet age upon us, we started to revamp the way we do things, and sports weren’t exempted. We have already entered an era in which eSports (portmanteau for electronic sports) is becoming the norm.
What are eSports?
eSports is a form of competitive video gaming that redefined sport as we know it. As you may have guessed, computers are the ones that facilitate this kind of matchup. Just think of it as your typical video gaming experience, only that eSports is more organized and it involves professionals. Matches are streamed live for the spectators to enjoy. Just like in sport (as the athletic activity), in eSports you can find many video game genres, from multi-player online battle arena (MOBA), like Dota 2 and League of Legends, to first person shooters (FPS), like Counter Strike, to name just a few.
eSports has been around since the 1970s. However, our limitations in technology hindered its growth. PC’s were interconnected by copper wires to ensure LAN connection. The audience back then was composed of a few dozen fans. But later, Internet connectivity also brought benefits to gaming, and live broadcasts of eSports became available for millions of viewers.
Professional video gaming rose to become a sustainable industry, since the late 2000s. A player can earn from $500 to $1 million, depending on the scale of the competition. League of Legends hosted a worldwide competition in 2011, where the winner was able to take home $50,000. The huge growth of eSports increased not only the number of viewers, but also landed sponsorships and raised the pool money to a whopping $1million in 2013.
Gone are the days when people who dedicate themselves to video games were considered socially dysfunctional. Stereotypes are slowly being dissolved in favor of gamers. Game development is now a stable career choice. The same can be said about gaming itself. People are now securing millions of dollars from winnings on online gaming competitions.
eSports as the New Norm
South Korea is the most receptive nation when it comes to eSports, even granting its citizens professional license since 2000.
However, eSports also became popular in Europe and in the United States. American media firms already started to present eSports commentaries on TV. Top eSports live stream games now attract audiences as large as 100,000 online viewers. Note that the 2015 League of Legends and Dota 2 worldwide competitions even garnered more viewers than the finale of NBA. Gaming now accounts for the second most followed topic on Youtube, following music videos. With figures rivaling those of traditional sports, eSports was embraced and offered sponsorship by major companies, such as Coca-Cola, Nissan and Red Bull.
The eSports industry remains predominantly male, although the female population clocks in at 44%. Statistics also revealed some pretty interesting results. About 44 % of eSports enthusiasts have full-time jobs, as opposed to the general stereotype against gamers. However, the young remains the major demographic, with only 28% of players having the age of 35 and above.
The Worldwide Craze for eSports
If you think watching people tinkering their keyboards will not work, the statistics state otherwise. By 2014, live viewership of eSports are reported at 206 million viewers. The estimates are optimistic, stating this might pool as much as 335 million by 2017. Amazingly, an event organized by League of Legends attracted 36 million viewers, this year alone. The figures are still smaller than American NFL’s (114.4 million), but these are on an upward trend.
The League of Legends event also sold-out Staples Center in 2013. More amazingly, its 2014 reiteration attracted 40,000 viewers in Seoul, South Korea. The number of eSport tournaments in the US also rose from 27 in 2000 to more than 2,000 as of 2015. Online streams have become the most significant source of views for eSports. Nonetheless, the figures show that not only traditional sports fill stadiums.
The launch of Twitch in 2011 elevated the competitive video gaming industry to the next level. Dubbed as a live streaming service, over 55 million players shared their gaming experience with the online community. Twitch became a reliable channel, were tournament announcements (and updates) are communicated.
Amazon saw an opportunity in this and bought the firm for $1 billion in 2014. The retailing giant probably made the correct decision. The eSports industry is currently experiencing double digit growth for several years. In 2016, a research study conducted by Newzoo showed that it boasts over 148 million enthusiasts. This is projected to grow at 215 million at 2019. Earnings from eSports are also on the rise. From 2014 to 2015, revenues rose 239% from a mere $194 million to $463 million. This might even reach $1 billion by 2019, if the positive projection is maintained.
The internet allows us to experience things with the click of a mouse, even without venturing outside our home. Youtube is the site to go when we need to watch videos, while music streaming platforms, like Spotify, fulfill audiophiles’ satisfaction. Social media sites give us the ability to interact with people, without the need of physical presence. The ways we enjoy these things changed, but our natural attraction for entertainment stayed the same.
We also changed our perception of the gaming industry. In the olden days, a game was for a single player and was meant to be put aside once finished. We only saw it as a product. However, developers realized they can earn profit in the long run, if what they offer has a longer shelf life. Then, there’s the element of surprise in games. A multi-player interaction signifies one may master his skills, but can never perfectly read the movements of his enemies. Ultimately, eSports tournaments fuel our never-ending need to compete against each other, while challenging our creativity, strategies and execution skills.
Who knows? It may be a matter of time before eSports are officially included in the Olympics. What do you think?