ESports have been a serious contender both in entertainment and competition potential for many years, comparable to traditional sports. Having said this, many still don’t truly know what it means or is. Let’s start there.
The definition you’ll hear the most for the concept of eSports is a competition and competitive field where combatants play one another through a video game. Effectively, a video game tournament. eSports is so much more to so many, however.
eSports represents the idea that video gaming is just as skill-intensive and talent-driven as any other sport. Yes, any other sport. Yes, a Starcraft 2 professional player will not often look like an NFL wide receiver, but this doesn’t mean it takes any less skill to be one.
eSports have exploded in popularity, on top of an already steady rise over a very lengthy period of time. The most popular Esport representatives today include League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: GO, World of Warcraft, Street Fighter V, and Starcraft 2. These games run the gambit of styles, ranging from real-time strategy (or RTS), first-person shooter (or FPS), multiplayer online battle arena (or MOBA), to even fighting games. Not only does this range of type echo the range of different sports, but often, they’re on similar scales already in terms of fanbase and events, even with so little primary media coverage. eSports run on an engine all to its own, groups of players and fans coming together to make something great out of video game franchises and styles of all sizes, competing to see who the best is, and entertaining all the while.
The Economics of eSports
Before we delve further into the competitive side of things, let’s start there, on the entertainment. Much of esports began surging and is sustained by the concept of entertainment, by the concept of streaming.
Streaming is the act of a player, group, or even event, filming gameplay and often a personal camera on a live feed of video, live-streamed to many different popular sites. The art of streaming has funded and jumpstarted the careers of thousands and is populated and frequented by millions every single day. The most popular of these resources is Twitch.tv, a site that boasts over 200 million views a month, from well over 17 million unique monthly visitors/users. Not bad, all for (mostly) people watching a single gamer, in front of a single camera, playing a video game.
Through streaming, eSports reaches an incredibly expansive viewer-base. These viewers allow for large scale tournaments and careers to be funded, and for people around the world to consider “Gamer” as their career title, as they compete to upkeep this status. While this is largely on the entertainment side of the coin, this also very much affects the competitive side as well.
Through this extreme viewership, and a strong foundation of an equally strong community, competition for video games is funded. Not only does streaming fund prize pools all around the globe, but it also funds the ability for these competitions to reach scales previously unimagined.
ESport Events Are Big
In fact, let’s take July 17th, 2016 for example. On this day, one of the biggest fighting game tournaments in the world, known as the Evolution Championship Series (or EVO for short) hosted its finals for many of the game tournaments hosted there. Most notably, these games include Street Fighter V, a game with one of the most tight-knit and dedicated competitive communities around.
Street Fighter V’s finals, as well as it’s top 8 to reach these finals, were broadcast to ESPN 2. Following the first two days of its over 5100 competitors attending and battling for survival, the twitch streams for the event overall often sat at around 100,000 concurrent viewers. These 5100 battle it out for these many thousands of viewers, until only 8 competitors stood above the rest, none losing more than 1 match to get there. The competition was steep, as it always is, and the viewership was as well. Despite fighting games being historically some of the least viewed globally within the Esport parameters, these numbers stayed steady throughout the EVO weekend for Street Fighter V, culminating on the 17th, on ESPN 2, in front of millions. This was one of the first times a fighting game has ever been brought forth to such a medium, put on such a pedestal. The players certainly didn’t disappoint.
In three hours of gruelling and incredibly close, incredibly skilled matches, the top 8 players of EVO 2016 for Street Fighter V fought in the centre of the packed Mandalay Bay Event Center for the prize money, and for the ability to call themselves the first EVO champion of this instalment of the game franchise. We saw intense story lines play out, like the extreme favourite Infiltration being knocked down to the loser’s bracket by another former EVO champion, Fuudo, only to meet again in the very finals of the event two matches later. These two players, taking on a field of over 5100 tried and true competitors, not dropping more than 2 matches across the entire way.
Fuudo and Infiltration put on a show only rivalled by some of the greatest sports moments in history, something like your Michael Jordan stepback jumpers to take the 1998 NBA finals in game 6, or your three-round MMA slugfests to crown the first Ultimate Fighter like Forrest Griffin vs Stephan Bonnar.
Fuudo, by beating Infiltration and sending him to the loser’s bracket initially in the semifinals, left Infiltration in the spot of having to win back to back sets of best of five matches to take the EVO crown, and only after beating another strong competitor in the loser’s final. Millions watched, holding their breath or screaming their lungs out, as Infiltration managed to do exactly that.
This was just on the 17th, and just the biggest tournament of likely the fourth most popular type of Esport. For other major events for more popular genres, events like The International of Dota 2, the World Championship Series of Starcraft 2, and the League of Legends World Championship, numbers can reach much higher. Prize pools alone for some of these events reach over a million dollars and draw viewership and dedicated community equal to it.
This is what the term eSports truly means, and truly stands for. This is why it has continued to grow, despite largely being left in the shade by traditional media. This is why if you aren’t already, you should be paying attention.