Gaming

Esports Has Gone Mainstream

Nearly 40 years ago, arcade pioneers Atari hosted the 1980 Space Invaders Tournament in the United States. While there had been minor competitions beforehand in the early games industry – such as the 1972 Spacewar tournament held on the grounds of Stanford University – the Space Invaders Tournament marked the true beginning of competitive gaming and, with it, the Esports phenomenon. Of course, the 10,000 players who signed up to compete for a high score in that competition would not have referred to themselves as Esports athletes, rather just enthusiasts of an emergent entertainment sector. In spite of what journalists covering the event may have thought, you can be sure that a few in that crowd recognized the latent potential of what was taking place, and the inevitable future such competitions would head towards in the future.

Development

Fast forward to the millennium, and Esports is firmly established among PC gamers, with a loyal yet small community and following. The idea that someone could quit their job and pursue gaming full time was still, for most, simply a pipe dream, but the basic premise of modern Esports was by this stage firmly established. Things really began to change in the 2010s, as increased media exposure was combined with the birth of game streaming websites, faster internet speeds and cheaper computers. 

Gaming Laptops

Top tier gaming computers had always been prohibitively expensive and, due to the fact many had to be assembled on the consumer end, difficult to access for non-tech savvy gamers. Gaming oriented laptops quickly began to change the landscape, offering competitively specced computers pre-assembled and with increasingly affordable pricing. In fact the market sector in 2013 made up a paltry proportion of overall laptop sales, and was valued globally as little over $1 billion. As of 2020, this valuation had grown 1100% to $12 billion, with gaming-centric brands like Razer becoming now household names.

Twitch

In 2011, the platform that would, more than any other, become synonymous with the world of Esports was founded: Twitch. A game streaming platform-cum-social network that would soon become the global online HQ of the Esports community, all world class Esports players were developing a presence and following there. In a sign of things to come, 2014 saw a flurry of speculation around the growing platform with big-tech brands including Google & Amazon vying with one another to buy-out the expanding site. Ultimately, the deal went the way of Amazon, who purchased Twitch for the unprecedented sum of $970 million. This initial lump sum, in combination with Amazon’s brand power and resources over the past 8 years, has ensured that, as Esports has grown, Twitch has been able to grow with it. The once-small brand has made such an impact on the world of entertainment media that major players in the traditional sporting world have sought to establish a foothold on the site, with everyone from ESPN to Juventus soccer club investing heavily in building up their presence there.

Competitions

Elsewhere, brick-and-mortar Esports competitions have only gone from strength to strength over the past decade. Among these is North America’s biggest Esports event, the League of Legends World Championship. Developer Riot Games, and their yearly rotation of competitions focused on the immensely popular Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) title, has been one of the biggest driving forces attracting outside investment into the world of Esports. During the disruptions of the previous year, the company took the opportunity to completely revamp their events arena to reflect the greater exposure and mass appeal that has grown up around the events series over the past 2 years. Even bookmaking platforms such as OddsChecker are offering promotions, such as free bets, on the outcome of the championship. This is a sure sign that the world of Esports is drawing wider interest and viewership from more traditional sporting sectors.

Prize Money 

Prize pots for Esports competitions have been growing steadily, in line with this increased exposure and investment. 2019’s Fortnite World Cup boasted a $30 million prize pot, and Valve’s 2019 DOTA 2 world championship benefited from a record breaking crowd funded prize pot of $34 million. These numbers are only expected to climb as more money floods into the sport from all directions.

Audience Growth

Audience numbers for live-streamed Esports competitions are on the up, with the events of 2020 causing a spike in viewership as the sector was able to capitalize on the widespread cancellation of traditional sporting events. In 2017, global viewership of Esports competitions and events sat at 335 million. In 2020 this had more than doubled to 662 million. So far in 2021, numbers are up a further 12.7% to 747 million, with analysts forecasting the sector will break the 1 billion viewers mark by 2025.

New Stars

As the sport grows, so do the number of participants. More people than ever are committing themselves to a career in Esports, and with more sponsorship deals available than ever before this is no longer an unrealistic goal for a skilled gamer. In the Far East, where acceptance of gaming and technology is more integrated, special internet cafes exist designed to train would-be athletes in developing the necessary skills for competitive gaming. Often referred to as Esports gyms, such establishments are typically decked out with high quality gaming computers and peripherals, and offer the ability to book a gaming coach to work with players one-on-one in order to hone their gameplay. 

Esports Academies

At the top tiers of the sport this is taken a step further, with large dedicated gaming academies being constructed and managed by some of the biggest teams in the industry, dedicated to training up the next generation of competitive gamers. These facilities cover every aspect of an athlete’s life, from exercise routines to nutrition and skill development. With this kind of focus being placed on the next cohort of Esports pros, we can expect the level of gameplay 10 years from now to be markedly beyond what we see today. This type of generational development is commonplace in more established traditional sports, but is new in the realm of competitive gaming. If anything points to the fact that Esports has gone mainstream, this is it.

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