The games industry has been on the roll recently with competitions and tournaments being held all over the world. Electronic sports, or e-sports is a term referring to organized competitions where professional gamers or players will compete each other in electronic games for a prize pool.
E-sports are competitive in nature, requiring strategy, reflexes, coordination and technical skills and in this industry, this skillset translates into game genres such as first-person shooters, real-time strategy, fighting or multiplayer online battle arena.
E-sports viewership in general has grown drastically over the years. This in turn generates even more revenue and gives more solid reasons for sponsors to provide funding and endorsements to professional players. In fact, the growth of the e-sports industry has outpaced many other industries such as the traditional sports industry itself.
In 2011, Major League GamingADVERTISEMENT
recorded 3.5 million active viewers for the StarCraft II championships. The latest numbers now peaked at 11.7 million viewers for the Pro Circuit Championship in 2012. That’s over 300% increase in viewership.
In 2013, Valve’s “The Internationals 3” for Dota 2 attracted over 1 million concurrent viewers, just shy of the all-time e-sport record set by Riot’s League Championship Series Season 2 finals with 1.1 million viewers. With a prize pool of over USD 2.8 million, the event was the grandest ever held for a single game tournament with over 500,000 fans attending the event in Seattle.
The Early Days of Competitive Gaming
Competitive gaming isn’t exactly something new although in the early days, they existed in fairly different terms. High scores included in almost every early video game provide a benchmark for comparison between friends or gaming peers.
The closest format we can observe of the first competitive gaming tournament ,so to speak, would be in Stanford University, California, October 19, 1972 where a “Spacewar!”(picture below) tournament was sponsored by “Rolling Stone”. The prize was, unsurprisingly, a free subscription to “Rolling Stone”.
Come 1980 though, Atari hosted “Space Invaders”, the first game competition on a larger scale. The tournament attracted more than 10,000 participants. But it would not be until 1988 before e-sports took form in the game “Netrek” (pictured left), an internet game for 16 players and technically, the first Internet team game.
By 1997, the tournament Red Annihilation was hosted and the first person shooter (FPS) “Quake” game drew over 2000 participants. The winner received a Ferrari previously owned by John Carmack, lead developer for “Quake”.
While FPS games such as Quake was the focus of e-sports in its early days, the late 90’s saw a breakout in real-time strategy games such as Warcraft and StarCraft. The frenzy will then culminate in the early 2000s.
The Internet Pushes Forward Globally
Major League Gaming (MLG), launched in 2002, is now one of the largest and most successful e-sports league hosting a variety of games from FPS to RTS to multiplayer battle online arena (MOBA) games for players to compete for the hundred-thousand-dollars in prizes.
However, it was South Korea, which took the helm in global e-sports and introduced the World Cyber Games (WCG) in 2000. The event attracted hundreds of players to compete in various games of different genres e.g. Quake III Arena, FIFA and StarCraft, and had 24-hour TV coverageon special gaming channels.
WCG served a vital role in establishing and exposing rising talents within nations but with the advent of high-speed broadband, there was an excess of information available about foreign players and tournaments. Professional gamers began to travel to participate in foreign tournaments which lead to bigger participation pools for each tournament.
With the growth of online streaming and dedicated gaming streams, more and more tournaments are being watched online on sites such as Twitch.tv, where viewers can stream live tournament games with commentators. It is not uncommon to find players competing in online regional leagues before assembling at a spot for a local duel-to-the-finish among the 8 best teams from the leagues standing e.g. DOTA 2.
The Stakes & Dedication Of Players
Games like League of Legends, Dota 2, StarCraft 2, Counterstrike have some of the biggest prize pools and number of tournaments held. League and Legends had 1128 players and has held 231 tournaments offering a grand total of over $10 million in prizes.
StarCraft 2 had 959 players with 1340 tournaments held and a grand total of over $10 million in prizes as well. The numbers of aspired players playing professionally are increasing over the years as more players are recruited by teams like LGD, Team Liquid, Evil Genius and Fnatic.
Working Hard For Games
Gaming for a living is something most kids fantasized about, but in 2014 it can actually be a reality – with talent and plenty of hard work. It is all fun and games until you become a professional.
Professional players play the game 6 – 8 hours a day. With tight schedules and daily meetings it is sometimes more demanding than the schedule of the average working man. Strategy, team work and technical skills are vital in even the simplest of games. And there is a lot to study.
Studying the opposing team’s strategies and tactics are a necessity to stay akin with the gameplay. Some teams even live together in “Game Houses” where they discuss and practice together. Even with the help fo the Internet, teams still have to figure out way to work out the difference in time zones to meet up and practice together. Being a professional requires discipline and a high level of dedication to be on par with the best players at their game.
The Impact Of E-Sports
Long gone were the days when a PC is benchmarked on how fast it could process a document – the benchmark is now being set by games. Even hardware manufacturers have begun targeting gamers as part of their marketing strategy.
Gaming peripherals such as gaming mice and keyboards are marketed with additional functions such as additional keys, stylized lighting, multiple profiles to assist gamers, and other features that will give them added advantages in the games they play.
Blockbuster developers such as Blizzard, Spearhead Games and ArenaNet are now developing games solely to be introduced as titles for competitive gaming. Spearhead Games has released teasers for their upcoming “Project Cyber” for PC and consoles.
Virtual interactive handbooks such as Valve’s “Compendium” allow fans to interact with the tournaments by selecting their favourite teams, creating a fantasy team, predicting tournament results and rewarding successful predictions. This ties in together with the tournament as 25% of the revenue from the “Compendium” is redirected to the prize pool.
The Booming Industry
The competitive gaming industry is beginning to change views — it is now ready to be likened to other sports like football or NBA. Conventions and tournaments held are flooded by millions as they swarm to live events such as “Pubstomps” and “BarCrafts” to cheer on their favourite teams and to share their passion for the games they love. Viewership has been growing exponentially over the past few years — in only 4 years it has grown over 15 times in viewership.
A definite step forward for the e-sports industry was to see League of Legends tournament, League Championship Series recognized as a fully professional sport by the U.S. State Department, allowing players from outside of the United States to move to the U.S. under specific visas, which are provided for pro sports players coming to America to work. Audiences anticipate the next League of Legends League, and StarCraft 2 professional players are idolized in South Korea.
The Shift Is Here
Parents who used to discourage their kids from gaming too much are beginning to realize that professional gaming is not only a viable career but the golden ticket to be part of a booming industry. With the efforts from multiple parties: the growing community, continuous effort by developers and the gaming community, investors have plenty of reasons to fund and help watch this industry grow larger. In fact, investors are pouring $35 million into Major League Gaming.
“[I]n 15 years, e-sport is going to be bigger than football, than basketball, than everything” said Bruno Carlucci in documentary movie titled “Free to Play” by Valve.
The support the community provides, the dedication and passion of the professional players, and the endorsement and support the developers provide are the building blocks of an entertainment industry moving towards something greater.
Many question the longevity of the industry, but for the developers, the fans and the players, all they see are clear skies and a bright future ahead, and I couldn’t agree more. From what statistics and data are showing right now, e-sports is snowballing hard and is going to be an industry to be reckoned with.