Purists argue that eSports isn’t a sport, as they often don’t involve physical activities further than controlling a joypad, or keyboard/mouse combo, however the mental dexterity required to compete at the highest levels isn’t something that is easily achievable, and can take just as much dedication to training and bettering yourself as any physical pursuit.
For those of you who haven’t heard of the term eGaming or eSports, they relate to a phenomenal movement, which has turned playing the humble computer game into a multi-million dollar industry. Franchises now span multiple gaming platforms and games, with their teams, often going as far as having community houses for one of their rosters.
An example of this would be FNATIC gaming, with current rosters competing for top honours in games such as League of Legends, DOTA2, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, and multiple versions of Counter Strike meaning over 30 full time eSports athletes are retained, plus management and other staff that help out.
With scores of tournaments boasting prize pools of $1 million+ and almost $220 million in prize-money awarded in 2019 it’s easy to see why they garner such interest and corporate backing. These prize pools, some in excess of $30 million, don’t take into account the sponsorship and merchandising fees that teams can realise.
So what has caused this whole phenomenon? The main reasons are…
Ultimately any industry’s rise is owing to money and demand. Gaming in the Asia’s is an even bigger deal than in Europe and America. The huge communications companies have joined in the sponsorship, lending more weight to the acceptance argument as Giants like Samsung and SK Telecom field multiple teams in tournaments in order to chase the huge prize pools already mentioned!
As outlined above, the larger tournaments offer huge bounties for the winners, this comes from companies being willing to invest these amounts safe in the knowledge that they will reach an adequate audience to recover their investments. By 2016 League of Legends (LoL) boasted that more people tuned into their Season 6 World Championship finals than watched the final of the NBA (31 million viewers vs 36 million). It rose to 43 million the following year and in 2019 the ‘League of Legends’ World Championship brought in more than 100 million viewers, including a peak of 44 million concurrent viewers, during the competition’s final round on November 10.
These figures may pale in comparison to sports events like football’s World Cup but let’s remember, the World Cup has a 90 year history, LoL has yet to reach its tenth birthday. The world cup is every four years, LoL is annually pulling in these figures while generating more income streams and viewing figures in the weeks in the run up to the finals weekend. All in all, it’s easy to see why sports execs and advertisers are keen to sign up these new eSports to their labels in the quest for larger audiences. Which moves us onto the factors that facilitate the money being in the industry.
In a world where most of us are tethered to a device of some sorts on a daily basis, we live in a fully connected time. Advances in computer technology has made game aesthetics ever more pleasing, while production advances have meant that high spec gaming PCs are available to a wider audience, breaking down high cost barriers to entry that may have existed previously.
Alongside the hardware advances though, possibly the biggest reason why eGaming has taken off would be improvements in how we’re all connected! Superfast broadband and mobile connections keep us closer than ever, no matter how far apart. Mobile networks capable of streaming large amounts of data, devices that allow us to utilise this data and digital streaming platforms mean that our favourite game can be watched, downloaded, replayed and analysed wherever we’re connected.
eGaming has taken advantage of platforms such as YouTube and Twitch to reach an ever growing connected audience (in 2014 US developers Riot Games stated that over 70 million hours of footage was watched around the world. That rose to 390 million hours for the finals in 2016 a figure which was trebled in 2020.
As this popularity grows, so does the potential for eGaming to reach more players, watchers and sponsors. With some games even offering offline functions to stay in touch, such as mobile chat messaging it also meant that teams can communicate while offline, games have become like social media, a way to communicate and a place to hang out with friends.
For the average everyday gamer this ability to build bonds and stay in touch outside the game has helped to build communities across geographical boundaries. Let’s not ignore social media too, clever use of this has enabled eSports teams and players to set up accounts with huge followings, cross pollinating people’s feeds with games they may not have even known about and in turn making evenmore revenue streams for sponsors.
While the stigma behind someone who plays computer games rather than other more societally perceived ‘normal’ pastime/hobbies hasn’t changed in leaps and bounds (see the Southpark episode – Sword of a thousand truths), in reality eSports has generated its own icons and poster boys. In the UK alone, eGaming has now reached a place where even the mainstream media recognises how much potential there is from the industry. You can watch eSports on BBC3, BT Sports and SKY Sports (Channel 433 GINX eSports TV).
Another place where eSports can be watched is online bookmaker streams with sportsbooks offering betting opportunities, often ‘in play’ as well as pre-event, on eSports matchups. The world of eSports betting has grown at a remarkable pace. Major bookmakers such as PaddyPower and Betway take bets on eSports and changes in Nevada laws means eSports betting and streaming can now take place on the Vegas Strip with the same freedom as traditional sports betting. eSports is a great gambling product very similar to Tennis betting allowing for in-play price fluctuations and correct score betting.