Video games have come a long way since their inception in the 1950s. From simple arcade games to complex multiplayer experiences, the gaming industry has evolved into a behemoth that generates billions of dollars every year. But what some people don't realize is the massive shift that has occurred in the world of esports. Competitive video gaming has exploded in popularity, attracting millions of viewers and offering lucrative opportunities for players and sponsors alike. The growth of competitive gaming has been pretty insane considering at one time it was held in such low regard that it was used as a funny plotline in Entourage (shoutout Turtle). In this article, we'll explore the rise of esports, the impact it's having on the gaming industry, and what the future holds for this exciting new world of competition.
Esports, and/or competitive video gaming, has been around for decades, but it wasn't until the early 2000s that it began to gain real traction. As internet speeds increased and online multiplayer games became more prevalent, online tournaments and leagues began to emerge. During the early stages of these tournaments, they had more of a cult following than a true fanbase. As such they were mostly on the smaller side as most people had no idea they were even happening. The ability to stream them took them to another level, as it provided players with the opportunity to compete at the highest level and fans with the chance to watch live events.
There are a variety of different games and tournaments, ranging from small, local events to massive, international competitions. Some of the most popular esports games include League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Fortnite. These games have dedicated fan bases and competitive scenes, with professional players earning millions of dollars in prize money. In fact, the 2019 Fortnite World Cup Finals had a prize pool of $30.4 million and the International, a Dota 2 world tournament, had a prize pool of $40 million.
This growth continued beyond just tournament and competitive play and content creators started to get in on the action. The rise of platforms dedicated to streaming like Twitch and YouTube allowed players to broadcast their gameplay to millions of viewers, creating a new form of entertainment that combines gaming and live events. This ability to broadcast to millions has also turned gamers into celebrities. Gamers like Ninja, TimtheTatman, and NickMercs have made millions of dollars through streaming and competitive gaming.
The streaming of video games as both a form of competition and of general content creation essentially created an entire new industry of entertainment. This industry provided opportunities for players, teams, sponsors, and investors. Professional esports teams like FaZe Clan and Team Liquid have become household names, with dedicated fan bases and lucrative sponsorship deals. The way corporate sponsors have been able to integrate themselves has also been done in a way that was previously unique to soccer/football (not American Football) as sponsors can often be seen on player jerseys, in-game advertising, and even naming rights for tournaments and leagues. Fortnite has gone a step further and actually integrate promotional characters into the games themselves! Beyond just corporate sponsors, professional athletes such as Kevin Durant, Michael Jordan, and Shaquille O'Neal have all invested considerable amounts of money into esports teams. Even traditional professional sports teams such as PSG have dipped their toe into the pool.
Major brands like Coca-Cola, Red Bull (as a sponsor for Ninja), and Intel have also invested heavily in esports, further legitimizing the industry and driving further growth. So, as you can see, esports and competitive gaming has become a lucrative and somewhat sustainable career option for many. While it has become a viable career option for many players, as the best of the best are making bank, choosing a career in esports is still quite risky. Just like with traditional sports, esports can be highly competitive and challenging. There is a massive pool of gamers just praying they can make a career out of it. To be the best, players must dedicate countless hours to practice and training, and the industry is notoriously fickle, with games and trends rising and falling in popularity. So, there's a chance someone could become the absolute GOAT in a game that is only popular for a few months. Usually, some these skills are transferrable across games, but I cannot imagine how frustrating that must be. Beyond just the gamers, this has created opportunities for coaches, analysts, other support staff, as well as content creators and broadcasters.
Aside from the industry itself, esports have created such an interesting opportunity for fans. Much of someone’s sports fandom generally revolves around where they’re from or who their parents liked. However, one of the most interesting aspects of esports is the way it's structured. Unlike traditional sports, where teams are typically owned by wealthy individuals or corporations, esports teams can be owned by anyone anywhere. This has led to a diverse mix of smaller independent teams and larger wealth-backed teams. This diversity promotes investment (emotional and monetary) from people from all walks of life. It also allows fans of esports to root for all types of teams, whether it be their hometown team, the team of their favorite gamer, or a team owned by their favorite athlete.
Today, esports is a global phenomenon, with massive tournaments, professional teams, and dedicated fans around the world. Professional gaming has entered the cultural zeitgeist to such an extent that that even major networks like ESPN have been airing tournaments and events. Quite frankly, the growth of esports has been nothing short of astonishing. In 2020, the global esports market was valued at over $1 billion, with an estimated audience of 495 million people worldwide. This number is expected to grow substantially in the coming years through both increased viewership and a surge in sponsorship opportunities. Clearly, there have been no signs of slowing down, and esports has become a major player in the world of sports and entertainment. As technology continues to improve and the industry becomes more mainstream, the future of esports looks brighter than ever.