E-Sports - what it is and how did it became so big?

11.5.2020.  

People born halfway into the 1990s and onward have it great. Not only were they spared of the painstakingly slow dial-up internet and its screeching loading but they can actually earn money playing video games. Through E-Sports, meaning electronic sports, which are a form of competition in the diverse worlds of video games. Not only does it allow thousands to provide for themselves by doing something they love, but E-Sports with itself also brings agents, coaches, six-figures earnings, fame, playing in sold-out arenas, and groupies. That is, if you can convince your parents to let you do it.


Obviously, not all pro gamers are underage but unlike traditional athletes, most faced push back when disclosing their career wishes to their families. E-Sports enabled them to prove doubters wrong with the biggest “I told you so”. As it is now an industry worth more than $1 billion.


Once again, what exactly is eSports?


E-Sports (electronic sports) is a collective term for organized competitions in the realm of video games. Like with traditional sports, there are many different disciplines, meaning different game types. While each game within the E-Sports universe has a clear hierarchy in terms of quality of players, their earnings, and popularity.


eSports beginnings


While playing against a brother or a friend on an arcade or old console game with a bet on the line was prevalent since the start of video games, e-sports started to took shape only in the late 1990s.


Leading the e-sports wave was done by video games like Quake, StarCraft, Counter-Strike, and Street Fighter. But at the start, due to technical restrictions, the phenomenon was mostly limited physically with LAN (Local Area Network) capabilities as the competitors had to be in the same room to play. Or be vastly rich to afford expensive high-speed internet.


Yet, not all games are made or are compatible for competitive gaming. The games which succeed in that regard allow the players a deep space for choosing their styles, displaying creativity, and getting better. As simple as they might be at times.


The improvement of the internet infrastructure, meaning connection speed, is what truly made e-sports evolve and grow. And the e-sports fanatics may owe it all to government incentives carried out in South Korea.


Broadband networks flourished early in this country and resulted in the country's obsession with the game StarCraft. It was the first e-sports boom. It was estimated that half of the country's population of 45,000,000 was playing the game. What is known for sure, that four million people watched the first major competitions in StarCraft.


A craze which became so intense, best evidenced by a joke that a young man must first beat her girlfriend's father in StarCraft before asking for her hand in marriage.


Quake and Counter-Strike showed that the considerable fraction of e-sports future will belong to first-person shooter games.


Parallels between sports and eSports


As e-sports developed, the people involved took many lessons from their traditional role models or rivals, depending on how you look at it. Commentators were on hand from the get-go, as in every 3D sport.


Alike a subterranean world, invisible to those oblivious of its complex systems, financial strength, and quickly rising popularity, E-sports developed a vast support structure.


Gamers were joined in teams, teams earned sponsorships, as did the events on which they competed. In order to focus on playing and getting better only, the teams started getting agents to lead them through the business and bureaucratic swamps. Coaches were hired to hone the skills, be it communication, tactics, or reaction time.


If commitment was questioned by the strictly old sports enthusiasts, the grounds for it were squashed with the hiring of physical exercise coaches and having the team all live in the same house. Teams of five players usually.


While it’s still dismissed and ridiculed by some in the traditional sporting communities, other have pounced on the fertile ground. For monetary and popularity reasons. Numerous Bundesliga football clubs now have their own eSports teams to attract new fans. These include VfL Wolfsburg, FC Schalke 04 and VfB Stuttgart.


A winning move which combines the modern appeal of gaming with the emotional punch of loyalty to one’s city or a club. A business strategy which operates on the most basic rules of capitalism - popularity equals the potential for earning.




eSports and live streaming symbiosis 


While it seems like a normal thing nowadays, back in the pioneer time, the lack of easy live-streaming was the anchor holding e-sports back. The live-events were held but their most expensive costs were actually paying for the equipment and channels to broadcast live.


So the arrival of live-streaming on YouTube, back in 2008, signalled the start of a new era in competitive video gaming. It was in 2011, with the release of a live-streaming platform dedicated to gaming called Twitch.tv that propelled e-sports to the edges of the mainstream.


While e-sports and video games have become so powerful that several different TV channels dedicated to them are on the menu of every cable company, the streaming platforms remain the bread and butter of the industry. Be it Twitch or event-specific streaming platforms.


What makes eSports so interesting?


With so many sports available in HD definition, 24h coverage, athlete availability through social media and media obligations, it's safe to say that e-sports did have a strong competitor for view time. As nowadays, there are competitions for traditional sports-related games like Madden or FIFA, it can be safe to say that there is considerable overlap between sports and e-sports fans.


So how come e-sports grew such a massive audience and so quickly? There are several important reasons.


With the rise of entertainment-oriented streaming services like Netflix and AmazonPrime the viewer doesn’t need to adjust its schedule to TV programming. The desired content is at their disposal whenever they choose too. Which left sports and e-sports as one of the few phenomena which draw a live audience. Carrying with it specific excitement of watching things unfold in real-time and banking on it from a marketing standpoint.


Alike for instance UFC, e-sports is quite young and hence unformatted to the extent traditional sports like football, basketball, NFL, and so on. Burdened by the layers of organization, years of tradition, and the need to appeal (or not offend) the broadest of audiences. In most sports, the athletes face public shaming and fines for speaking outside the organizationally-approved rhetoric. Resulting in athletes seeming robotic, generic, and as if they came off a factory line.


In e-sports, the constraint on the players is way looser and allows for the individual personalities of the people in the limelight to come out. Which brings the greater emotional investment by the audience and ensures they stay loyal to supporting their careers.


Additionally, it’s a business in which the younger have more power in the organizational hierarchy compared to traditional sports. Allowing for a quicker implementation of new technology, social media trends, and a better understanding of the general audience as they are not too far apart in terms of age.


Furthermore, unlike after watching basketball or football, e-sports viewers can take their hand at the game themselves easily as soon as the broadcast has finished. We all know how hard it is to find a group of people to play football 5 v 5, let alone something else. With video games, all is digitalized and a pool of potential opponents are waiting online at every moment.


One of the other major reasons of e-sports success, while there are many besides these, is that it opened up another avenue for young men and women to satisfy their competitiveness.




The Future of eSports


The Asian Olympic Committee (OCA) decided in 2017 that eSports will be permitted as an official medal sport at the Asian Games 2022 in China. It’s fully expected to see some games make it to the 2024 Paris summer Olympics, or at least at the 2028 in Los Angeles. Even though karate still isn’t a full-fledged olympic sport, despite having over 100,000,000 practitioners. It only deserved a provisional spot for the 2020 games in Tokyo.


Video games won’t have that problem, their marketability is proven.


E-sports are here to stay, there’s no doubt about it. Even if you don’t like the name that “leans” on traditional sports or never played a video game in life. CEO of Logitech, a company for making mice, keyboards and other computer equipment, Bracken Darrel wants to see his organization become the Adidas of E-sports. He believes that one day, e-sports will surpass even football in terms of popularity. And he’s not wrong.


In 10 years from now, with the improvement of graphics and virtual reality headsets, it’s going to be really hard to imagine people watching players kick a ball around when they can view them decapitate a minotaur-like monster with a grenade launcher. Possibly while also wearing VR and viewing it from the player’s perspective.


One shouldn’t be surprised to see such moves bring Olympic gold medals to their countries, as that is where e-sports are heading without a doubt. 



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