In the days before the internet, gamers would crowd around machines in their local arcades to compete for the highest scores. They would do battle for the top score on the leaderboard or duke it out on virtual streets. These moments were the beginnings of competitive gaming, or what is now known as eSports.
Now grander, more spectacular and sophisticated than its humble origins, everything has changed. People are now making their living by being very, very good at games indeed. Gamers can now compete for prize pots of well over $1 million at major world class events. And with the magic of the internet these battles between gamers are seen by millions online or for tens of thousands live in huge arenas.
There are already several big name games which pull in huge crowds - and prizes. Yet oddly, they’re not the virtual versions of popular team sports. Titles such as Street Fighter V and League of Legends to Starcraft II and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have enormous global audiences and show no signs of losing their popularity. These games even have their own ‘rockstars’ with the best Starcraft II players in Korea being treated like gods by their adoring fans and earning enormous sums through sponsorship deals.
eSports is not just about the players. The big tournaments pull in audiences as big as AC/DC or Metallica, selling out the biggest arenas and drawing even an even bigger audience over streaming coverage through services like Twitch, MLG.tv, YouTube Gaming and Steam. The International has even been shown live on ESPN which helped it reach more than 20 million viewers worldwide.
Believe it or not, eSports is still growing. Tune into any of the myriad of streams of pro-gaming on Twitch or check out Blizzcon’s free streams of the Starcraft II, Hearthstone and World of Warcraft world championships in November and you’ll joins millions of viewers watching gamers at the peak of their skills competing live. Many of the stage setups, visual effects and soundtracks rival the world’s biggest bands in terms of cost, production values and spectacle.
Don’t believe us? Check out the Twitch or YouTube channels of these spectacular events. It can’t be long before the music industry wakes up and realises there’s a whole audience - maybe even a whole generation they’re not reaching.
eSports is now so real, it’s even got a seedy and corrupt underbelly, just like real sports. Check our Scandals, Skins and Gambling on Counter-Strike for the low down.