What Is Esports? This. Is. Esports
December 12, 2018
Ask the average punter what they think of esports and they’ll probably laugh at you. It’s just a load of kids playing on their computers, right? Wrong, Esports is one of the fastest, growing competitive industries in the world today and while it may not have hit the mainstream in the west yet, it has a huge following overseas. It isn’t just groups of mates getting together and playing a game anymore, the sheer spectacle of esports events has to be seen to be believed.
Stadiums and Communities
Just like any other sport, esports has its own arenas. While there are tournaments scattered around Europe, they’re nowhere near the scale of the events held in East Asia and America. The International, for example, is a tournament for the game Dota 2 and was first held in Germany in 2011. It was conceived by gaming giant Valve and has grown exponentially since its inception. Thousands of people flock from all over the world to watch the event live and millions more watch it online.
What’s more, the organisers are aware that this is a growing industry and make special streams for newcomers who might not have an understanding of the game. During this, overlays are shown with contextual information explaining all the action in a way that is both entertaining and informative, so the viewing experience is just as good. There are even esports pubs in various countries that showcase the events like any other sport. This sense of community is perhaps esports’ greatest strength. There is already a huge, connected audience that will follow their teams as passionately as any football fan. It’s not just the crowds that are big though, the money is too.
The numbers are astounding. This week it was reported that Japan’s esports market has incredibly increased by thirteenfold to a total of around $42.5 million. The International tournament for Dota 2 in Seattle 2014 had an eye-watering prize pool of $18 million. These are not small sums of money by any stretch of the imagination and should solidify the medium as an actual sport. Why, then, is it still not being taken seriously?
An Underappreciated Phenomenon
It probably comes from the fact that the very foundations of esports are video games, a commercial product that is generally considered for children. However, viewing it in this way is wrong for a number of reasons. Let’s first tackle the idea that this is a market primarily for children. If you were to take the most popular games, both commercially and in esports, the vast majority of them would be age restricted games.
Some of these titles have graphic violence or themes that are totally inappropriate for children, as they are specifically designed for a mature audience. The highest grossing game of the last decade is Grand Theft Auto 5 which, unless you’ve been living under a rock, tells you a lot about the gaming audience.
What about the idea that esports isn’t actually a sport? Let’s look at the dictionary definition:
‘An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment’
By that criteria, esports passes the test. The top players aren’t just there because they like gaming, they’re the best because they dedicate their lives to it. One notable story that illustrates this is the case of professional Call of Duty play Douglas Martin, known by his online moniker FaZe Censor. He broke up with his girlfriend, a popular weathergirl in Mexico, to focus on his COD career.
This was predictably met with ridicule and shock in the press and on Twitter, with the man himself suffering a torrent of online abuse. If this was a young footballer who had given up a large part of their personal life to focus on improving his game, he would be praised, not laughed at. That story should be used as a way to show just how competitive the industry is and how seriously the players take it.
People may point to the ‘physical activity’ part and ask where esports fits there. My reply would be to question the amount of physical activity in darts and golf. The physical skill in those sports come in the form of finesse, not overt displays of physicality. I would argue that the hand-eye coordination and reflexes needed to excel in esports is similar to this.
The Players and the Games
So, we’ve firmly established that it is a sport, but what do the players actually play and how? One of the biggest attractions of the medium is the variety of content on offer. There will always be the same level of competitiveness and commitment on display, but the action could be completely different! The fighting genre of games is probably the biggest in the whole of esports, with titles like Street Fighter and Smash Bros drawing a huger player base, but there are so many options to choose.
If you prefer a more strategic watch, the popular League of Legends might tickle your fancy or if you want instant action, the shooter Counter-Strike might be more up your street. Like football? No problem, there’s literally a virtual World Cup organised by FIFA to scratch that itch. The point is that there’s a wealth of games out there, each with different rules, mechanics and playstyles. There’s constantly more being added as well, because the gaming industry isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
What about the players? There are huge markets for both Individuals and teams in esports, it mostly depends on the what game is being played. The superstars are as revered as any other sport too, you just have to look at the number of followers the top competitors have online to see the size of their fanbases. Rivalries develop, storylines emerge and the personalities become just as big a draw as the actual medium does. The games might bring the fans in initially, but it’s the players that keep them.
Where Does Esports Go From Here?
Any notion of esports being a passing trend should be dispelled quickly, it is most certainly here to stay. More traditional sporting institutions like the Premier League are starting to get involved too, with nearly every club having an official player representing them in these events. Both the BBC and BT Sport have esports events incorporated into their scheduled broadcasts and soon England will have its first 24-hour esports channel. More and more things in society are moving to the virtual landscape and sports is no different. This will be a hugely popular and influential industry in the future, the only question is how long will that take?
And nowadays you can even find esports betting odds on CS: GO, LoL, DOTA 2, Hearthstone, and Starcraft, plus loads more!
A quite beautiful madness!
Cyrus has been writing about sports and many other topics for major publications over the past five years. Now working in digital marketing, he spends his days arguing over football and dreaming of his beloved Manchester City winning the champions league.