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eSports - The Rise And Rise of Competitive Electronic Gaming

Updated on January 23, 2018
Ray Kay profile image

I am a writer and researcher based in Manchester, England, UK

A Dota 2 tournament at the KeyArena in Seattle
A Dota 2 tournament at the KeyArena in Seattle | Source

Introduction

Since the late 2000s, there has been a significant growth in the popularity of eSports. The term ‘eSports’, is short for ‘electronic sports’ and refers to the playing of video games, competitively.

eSports have been around for many years now and of course, competitive gaming has been happening for decades. However, many people are unfamiliar with the sport. They are also unaware of the potential growth and development of eSports, worldwide as it becomes increasingly mainstream.


It all started with ‘Pong’

Computer games are nothing new, of course.

The earliest mass-market video game was Pong. That was a two player ‘tennis’ game which was both exciting and innovative when it came out in 1972. However, it was very basic by today’s standards, consisting of a dedicated console, two basic handheld controllers and a cable that you connected to the back of your TV.

Significantly, 1972 was the year that the first video game competition took place. (The venue was Sanford University and the game was ‘Spacewar’).

However, it would be a while before we were to see large scale competitive gaming. Perhaps the first large-scale competition of this type was in 1980. It was in that year that games developer Atari launched the First National Space Invaders Championship. This involved 10,000 competitors battling it out across the US with the finals being held in New York.


The rise and rise of eSports

Unsurprisingly, things have changed a lot since Pong was considered state-of-the-art.

Now, video gaming is more sophisticated, more popular and more lucrative than ever before. In recent years, eSports really has become big business and the industry attracts investment in a number of ways, including the sale of broadcast rights, direct payments from live streaming services and advertising revenues.

The figures speak for themselves.

Industry experts NewZoo predicted that the size of the eSports economy would grow to almost $700 million during 2017. Many industry observers suggest that the industry is likely to be earning in excess of $100bn annually, before 2020.

It is also predicted that eSports audiences could number in the region of 385 million in 2017, of which around half are committed eSports enthusiasts with the rest being involved casually and occasionally, much like in any other sport.


How Southeast Asia is driving the eSports explosion

Interestingly, it is not Silicon Valley that is driving the growth of eSports, although it is likely to benefit from the development of the sport.

The driving force behind the growth of eSports is South Korea and China. In these countries, eSports are very well supported and the sport is far more popular than it is in the west. That may change, of course as eSports gains more followers in Europe and North America.

Many eSports fans argue that eSports should be officially considered sports in their own right, in the same way, that archery or shooting are. Supporters of this move will receive a welcome boost in the next few years through the increased exposure that eSports will receive when they are featured as a demonstration sport in the 2018 Asian Games, in Indonesia, and they are expected to be included in the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.


eSports Tournaments

eSports tournaments are played by teams of competitors. Each team is generally comprised of 5 players. The profile of eSports pros tends to reflect computer games players in general. So we find that the sport is currently dominated by young male players with only a small minority of professional players being female.

Tournament games fall into one of a variety of categories. These are real-time strategy games, first-person shooter (FPS) or multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, where each team member becomes a specific character in the game.

Many of the games played professionally are reasonably new, although others have been around for a while. Some of the most popular eSports tournament games are:-

Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)

  • League of Legends (LoL)
  • Fortnite Battle Royale
  • Dota 2
  • Heroes of the Storm
  • King of Glory / Arena of Valor
  • Playerunknown's battlegrounds
  • Smite

Real Time Strategy

  • Starcraft 2
  • Warcraft 3
  • First person shooter (FPS)
  • Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO)
  • Halo 5: Guardians
  • Overwatch (FPS and MoBA)
  • Quake Champions
  • Call of Duty

Other

  • Hearthstone (Digital Trading Card Game)
  • Artifact (Digital Trading Card Game)
  • Rocket League (Soccer sport)
  • World of Tanks (MMO)

The attraction of watching eSports

We all know about the pleasure that can be derived from playing computer games. However, is there much pleasure in watching other people play? Surprisingly, competitive video gaming is also a very popular spectator sport. Huge numbers of fans are watching eSports, both online and in live venues.

Live tournaments are being watched by audiences of tens of thousands of spectators. Tournaments are reported to have an electric atmosphere as spectators are able to follow the action taking place on stage, on large screen jumbotrons (jumbo-visions) placed strategically within the venue.

At the same time, tens of millions more cheer their teams on while watching online. Just to give you an idea of the numbers involved, the 2017 League of Legends World Championships final attracted 60 million viewers. The ease of viewing tournaments, online is one important factor which is driving the growth in the popularity of eSports. Live video streaming platforms such as Twitch (owned by Amazon) MLG.tv and YouTube (owned by Google) now make it easier than ever before for fans to watch tournaments, from anywhere that has a reasonable internet connection.

Furthermore, the lure of big money is making more and more people consider playing eSports professionally. Tournaments can be lucrative, with winning teams can receive significant amounts of prize money in addition to the fame and celebrity that is an inevitable part of life for tournament winners. If current trends continue, and there is no reason why they should change significantly, eSports is likely to attract more and more corporate sponsorship, the sport will increase its public profile, rewards for the most successful eSports players will get larger, and they will be guaranteed a high degree of worldwide celebrity.


eSports Betting

No discussion of the growth in eSports would be complete without noting the growth of eSports betting. Inevitably, the rise of eSports has led to increased interest in eSports betting. More and more betting companies such as Bovada, William Hill, and Betway eSports are responding to this by adding eSports betting to their offering, making betting on the outcome of eSports tournaments simple and easy.

The demand for up to date information about the sport has led to the growth of a wide variety of websites catering for eSports enthusiasts who require reliable and timely eSports related news and analysis. The information provided by these websites, such as player details, tournament events, and league news is invaluable not just for eSports fans who want to keep abreast of what is happening, but for those who wish to make informed bets on the outcome of eSports tournaments.

It is hard to see what would halt the growth in eSports as technological improvements and corporate involvement make the sport even more accessible and more attractive to investors, players, and fans. We are only at the beginning, of course, and a lot has to happen before eSports reaches the popularity of football or baseball. Yet the growth in eSports over a relatively short time has surprised many observers and many people involved in the sport believe that eSports will be surprising a lot more of us, very soon indeed.

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