The birth of esports came about mostly thanks to the huge popularity of online gaming.
The multiplayer modes became a real success among the gaming industry and the whole community, as it fulfilled the players’ need for competition, while at the same time remaining the source of entertainment they knew from the single-player games.
Although streaming and spectating have been a part of the cyber gaming culture since the very beginning, it took some time to form the shape we know from the present days: global tournaments, big prize money, and developers designing their games so that they fit into the expectations of professional players.
Each esport even draws a huge audience, both on- and offline, and devotion of the fans is like that of the biggest football or baseball teams. However, even with such a large following, it’s still not commonly known what esports are.
What defines them, and what’s the difference between esports and other online games?
When a Game Becomes an Esport
Not just any game, even if can be played online with other gamers, earns the right to be labeled as an esport.
There are certain expectations to meet, competition being the first and most important feature. After all, this is what cyber gaming and the traditional sports disciplines have in common – two teams (or two athletes) fight each other to determine the better one, and there must be a winner and a loser.
The Fanbase Is the Key
Next, the competition has to be watched.
There’s no point in fighting in an empty arena, and that’s what would happen if a game didn’t have a large enough fan base. Dedicated community fuels the entire business of esports and gaming. They attend the tournaments or watch them streamed online, they read interviews with the pros, they follow the news from the leagues, but – first and foremost – they play the game. Developers may aim at the pros, but in the end, video games have to be inclusive. Remember that there is no professional game without amateurs.
A good example of building a community before starting a league is Fortnite – the new hit that mesmerized the players all across the world. This Battle Royale survival multiplayer, even if still in its early stages, was the most streamed game on Twitch in March 2018. The uniqueness of Fortnite gathered a great number of fans in a short amount of time. Those fans then eagerly pushed Fortnite in the pro direction.
However, the slowly-forming leagues still have a long way to go before reaching the highest level of pro gaming. As the community claims, the game needs to lower the importance of luck and put the bigger emphasis on the players’ skill, just like in Quake – where a gamer also starts with no equipment, but in the end, that part doesn’t matter as much as the skills themselves.
Need for Funds
Large popularity among the gaming community always brings the sponsors. And they are very important when it comes to professional gaming, since in the last few years, esports has become a quite fancy business. With all those millions of dollars to be won, games need to be well funded. Just like in the traditional sports, high prizes may truly motivate the players and draw their attention.
Esports tournaments are expensive ventures; they earn a lot, but organizing such events also costs some serious money. In the process of preparations, companies must pay for video and sound technicians and service staff, and they need to rent an arena big enough for thousands of spectators, to list just a few of the most indispensable expenditures.
Minecraft’s Example of Failure
There are still very popular games that didn’t make it into the world of esports, despite both their big fan base and recognizability among the gaming community. One of the best-known examples is Minecraft, which tried but failed to become an esport.
The main reason behind the lack of Minecraft’s success is the little rivalry in the game. When focusing on building, exploring, and making resources, there isn’t much room left for competition and adrenaline, which usually accompany such popular esports as League of Legends or Counter-Strike.
The game isn’t optimized for a combat, and it would need a completely new mode to be as playable as other esports games. And there’s also the reputation; Minecraft is widely known as a game for kids early in their teens, whether it’s true or not.
So, to become a lucrative esports game, it would need to have a lot of money put into advertising and rewards – these things are simply unprofitable, as developers prefer to create a game that was designed to be an esport from the very start.
Spectated for Millions
Surprisingly (or not), many games meet the above expectations. The list of esports is growing rapidly and usually grouped by genres, the most famous ones being first-person shooters, fighting, real-time strategy, and multiplayer online battle arena games (the last two used to be one category, but later MOBA evolved into a separate genre).
The real popularity of the esport games can be tracked in a few ways, one of them being how many spectators watch them on Twitch – a streaming Amazon-owned platform.
Thanks to the statistics shared on Twitch, everyone has a view of the number of channels dedicated to specific games, how many hours the fans spent spectating, or how many fans each game has.
The numbers are clearly impressive; League of Legends streams have been viewed by over one million viewers and over 70 million hours in total (and it’s just the second place, with Fortnite being first).
Tournaments Double It
As the Twitch statistics claim, the most watched (and popular) games are PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, Hearthstone, Dota 2, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. But there’s a difference between the spectating time in general and viewership during large tournaments.
The biggest events bring a new audience to Twitch, as it’s enough to say that during ESL’s Intel Extreme Masters World Championship that took place in Katowice, Poland, in March 2018, the number of spectators doubled. That’s a great hint for the sponsors, showing how profitable the tournaments are. According to research firm Newzoo, by the end of 2019, the sponsoring brands are going to spend over $800 million on esports.
Some of the companies engaged in funding esports, like Coca-Cola, Vodafone, or Mastercard, are already known for sponsoring the so-called real sports. And there are a few options for what the brands can sponsor, such as a team, a league, or an event. And all those numbers are only going to get higher as time passes and more games start their own leagues.
The New Kind of League
In January of 2018, Overwatch League kicked off with regular-season play, at once becoming a hit among the whole community. The OWL features 12 teams and was created to resemble the North American sports leagues: the teams play against one another to determine their position in the playoffs.
That’s a rather new thing in the world of esports; usually, the teams’ movement from one division to another is based on how they performed for the entire season. Although the teams competing in the OWL are from three continents (North America, Asia, Europe), all the matches take place in the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles; the arena is prepared to welcome 450 spectators.
The pro players’ opinion is taken into account during further development of Overwatch, but Blizzard doesn’t forget about their amateur fans; they always remind them of the matches, and there’s a special link in the game leading to the Twitch stream. Moreover, everyone can put their favorite team’s special skin on each of the playable characters.
Blizzard keeps doing their best to maintain great interest from their fan base, and they clearly know how to do it: they have experience many companies could be jealous of, as they’re the ones behind StarCraft and World of Warcraft.
Esports Are Games, But All Games Aren’t Esports
The term “esports” is often confused with “gaming” itself. There’s a huge difference between the two, and repeating the mistake of saying the pro players are simply “gaming” is hurtful towards both the gamers and the entire community.
The truth is, esports wouldn’t have even existed if it weren’t for the video games. But nowadays, it’s like calling professional basketball players “ball throwers” – it just drags their effort and hard work down. But to fully understand the contrast between playing video games professionally and doing it just for fun, the “esports” term should be explained.
Where the Name Comes From
Not everyone knows that “esports” is a shortened form of “electronic sports” – sports played virtually by professional gamers. The pros spend up to 16 hours per day gaming, often together with the rest of their team (not only other players but also coaches and analysts).
However, such a lifestyle applies only to the players of the most famous esports with the biggest budgets, like League of Legends or Hearthstone; they have to fully dedicate their time to the game. Meanwhile, casual gamers – in this case, let’s call them “amateurs” – log into the games whenever they want and for as long as they want.
How Real Are Esports?
The time and effort of pro gamers holds a great importance in the “Are esports a real sport?” discussion. There are several controversies arising from the fact that the professional gamers engage in a sports discipline which doesn’t require physical activities.
Then again, since chess is considered a sport, why can’t esports be one? In the community, the pros are called athletes already, even if the word “virtual” is usually added. But in general, the ongoing debate seems to have no end. The easiest way and best chance for esports to join “the real sports” pantheon is to get a medal event at 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
On the other hand, the heated debate may continue despite the International Olympic Committee’s final decision. The truth is, even if esports will never be regarded as a “real sport” outside of the gaming industry and community, the tournaments’ panache, number of fans, and huge prizes distinctly outmatch those of many “real sports.”
Place a Bet
The interesting thing is that, for online betting, esports are no different than the typical ones. Practically every betting site lets their clients place a bet on either team, league, or event. Although not all of them are included, it’s not hard to find a site where you can bet on Counter-Strike Pro League or League of Legends Championships.
Moreover, statistics provided by the bookmakers are a great source of analytics material, so even if you are not interested in placing a bet, consider visiting the online bookmakers just to check on each team’s chances, how they’ve been doing so far, etc.
It only points to esports’ growing popularity and their place outside the game community itself; now esports, along with video games in general, are clearly a part of pop culture and mainstream.