Esports (ESports, eSports, the name has been a long debated topic) are not a new thing, although they have started to gain more popularity and traction in recent years. What many might not know is just how huge the esports scene actually is. They see video games as a way to destress and unwind, not as a competitive sport. In this article you might spot a lot of similarities between esports and physical sport, and therefore understand why it is becoming just as popular.
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So what are esports?
Esports are competitions that are done through video games. They involve multiple gamers, usually professional, facing off against each other in multiplayer games. The competitions are usually held in convention centres or stadiums, generally with an audience. The game is projected onto a massive screen behind the players for the audience and commentators.
Some of the more popular games are League of Legends, Counter Strike, Overwatch, Super Smash Bros and Fortnite. These are all different types of games with different playing styles, making esports one of the most diverse sports to watch.
The Professional Gamer
Now, many might wonder if it’s possible for someone to be a professional gamer. And the answer is yes. Just like in physical sports where you must know how to play, develop skills and learn the rules of the game, so too must esports players. All teams have coaches and professional solo gamers also.
Most games, even non multiplayer ones, have multiple moves and strategies that can be learnt to optimise your chance of winning. For certain games, this is split into even more strategies when there are multiple characters to select from, and professional gamers try to memorise the strats for most of those characters.
Many professional players put in hours of work so that they can compete at a high level. For those willing to put in the work, it has become a viable career option, either going solo or being picked up by a team.
One of the earliest known esports tournaments was held in 1972 in Stanford University using the game Spacewars. From there, people went on to campaign for esports games and promote video games and establish esports. Global conglomerate Nintendo set up their World Championship tournament in 1990 that was held again in 1994, 2015 and 2017.
In the late 90’s many games benefited from increased Internet connectivity, which allowed more people to play games in multiplayer mode.
As developers saw the interest rise, and its potential, they started to invest a lot more into the tournaments, such as better broadcasts, higher production and getting sponsorships.
From a small tournament held in a college, the esports tournaments of today have grown exponentially. For example I will be talking about the game League of Legends.
It is one of the top competitive esports games to date. This game has multiple different tournaments but I will be talking about the World Championship.
Teams of 5 players from around the globe compete in knockout tournaments within their own regions – North America, South Korea, Europe China and PCS being the main locations. From there, each of the top teams compete against each other for the world championship title. The whole process takes just over a month of eliminations from the beginning of the Play-Ins, to the main event.
The first tournament was held in 2011 with a prize of $100,000. The 2020 World Championship took place in China. There is no set monetary win, rather a prize pool that is split into percentages for the winning teams
Money and Sponsorships
Money is a big part of esports. When they first started off the money was a small amount for the winning player or team. Now, as the events get bigger, so too does the prize pool. The DOTA 2 championship game in 2019 had a prize pool of $34,330,069.00 split between the teams.
A lot of the games and teams have sponsors, just like physical games. Alienware, a computer company, is one of the sponsors of League of Legends, BMW and Puma are some of the companies who sponsor Cloud9, one of the major teams on the North American esport scene.
So why are esports so popular?
Not only are they popular among the players, but they have a massive fan base. The major events such as The International and the League of Legends World Championship averaged around one million concurrent viewers over various streaming sites. In 2019 the League of Legends World Championship peaked at 3.9 million concurrent viewers worldwide (excluding China, as Chinese viewership information isn’t released), with the Fortnite World Cup reaching 2.3 million viewers just behind them.
The reason why esports are so popular is simple. People like to watch pro players battle each other out in one of their favourite things. Like some might love basketball, and watching the NBA, others find esports just as interesting. Watching something you love played at the highest level is something everyone loves to do.
Especially now, with a lot of physical sport championships cancelled, on hold, or over, watching esport tournaments has been on the rise, as they have managed to isolate themselves, and as they are played online, it is easy to set up.
They are also easily accessible as they are streamed across multiple free platforms. The likes of Twitch.tv has been one of the main reasons for esports to gain popularity in recent months. Not only can people view the games, they can set up accounts and let others watch them play the game as well. This lets everyday viewers set up their own esport matches with friends. Twitch also allows gamers to bring in a steady income if they gain enough popularity, and allies players to hone their skills.
Of course, people also love the drama and controversy that any sport has an esports is no different. From allegations of match fixing, watching players become ‘tilted’ to finding bugs in the systems, people love to watch drama unfold on the esports system. Check out this video on some of the biggest esports dramas.
There is also the social aspect to consider. While a lot of people still consider video games to be a single player thing, that hasn’t been true for a while. A lot of the games involve playing and communicating with a team. While some people play with only their friends, a lot of people play with others from across the globe.
Esports brings together a lot of people for games and tournaments. On Twitch, people can interact with a live audience. So, in actuality, esports can help people with being social. It just looks different from the traditional type of socialisation then is portrayed by the media. It is also easy to chat from your own home, making it ideal for those who are housebound. Communication is one of the most valuable skills you can have on an esport team, and this can be trained and honed through playing with friends
Esports are just beginning to take off in a major way. As more people tune in to watch them, and more people look to it as a viable career option, we will see it grow even more in popularity over the next few years. From how accessible it is, how social to how diverse the games are, people can find something to watch or do. As demand increases, we see no end to how popular esports will become.