In the past decade, there has been a shift in how the world perceives video games and gamers in general. Before, if you spent your days playing videos games, people would think of you as lazy, antisocial, and not likely to amount to much. Nowadays, however, if you spend all your free time playing games and honing your skills, you could be offered full-ride scholarships to top universities, and end up earning as much as pro athletes.
Professional gamers are now getting the same level of recognition and fame that pro athletes get. There are even purpose-built stadiums to host large-scale gaming events. So, what classifies as an eSport, and why have they become so popular?
What are eSports?
Before you can understand the appeal and impact of eSports, it’s imperative for you first to understand what eSports are. In a nutshell, eSports are competitive video games played in front of an audience. They are most commonly played on computers, but thanks to the proliferation of affordable smartphones there are an increasing number of competitive games available for you to play on your phone.
Like with most new trends, there is a significant portion of the population who take umbrage to people referring to video games as a sport. After all, all you do is sit in front of a screen and click things. Of course, similar arguments could be made about chess, formula one driving, or target shooting. The fact of the matter is that a professional gamer will spend as much time training to perfect their skills as any professional athlete would. John Foley wrote an article detailing why chess is a sport, and many of his arguments can apply to gaming. In the article he points out:
The objective of a game of chess is to win. Chess involves a relentless struggle against one’s opponent. There is probably no sporting activity in which two people are locked in a competitive struggle of such intensity for such a sustained period of time. One lapse of concentration and suddenly a good position is transformed into a losing one. Each game is a drama in which the outcome is uncertain until the very end.
The types games typically played range from first-person shooters to fighting games, racing games, and sporting games like Fifa and Madden. One of the most popular games being played at the moment is League of Legends, which has just shy of 100 million active players.
The appeal of eSports
Many people struggle to understand why anyone would want to watch someone else play a video game instead of playing it themselves, but the same could be said for any professional sport. Why would you watch the football on TV when you could be outside kicking the ball around yourself?
To play eSports at a professional level, gamers need nimble fingers and a fast brain. One of the metrics used to measure a gamer’s ability is their actions per minute (or APM). The APM of a novice gamer is about 50, whereas the average APM of professional gamers is around 200. That means that players at the top of their field are making 200 decisions and finger movements per minute! Even if you’re not a gamer, you have to admit that that is an incredible feat.
What is an eSports event?
Many gamers are competitive by nature, and competitive gaming has existed long before the term eSports made it into the common vernacular. It’s been said that all you need for a competition is two people playing the same game. Even if the game is not designed as a competitive game, people will find a way to compete. Traditionally gamers would compete either online or at LAN parties. While people could watch these games, there was no purpose-built infrastructure for spectators.
As LANs grew in popularity, and games became more visually appealing, people started erecting spectator areas for competitions. At first, these areas mainly appealed to competitors who were knocked out of a tournament, but as time went on the spectators started outnumbering the competitors. It wasn’t long before the number of eSports spectators merited the building of purpose-built stadiums. In 2016 the League of Legends final in China drew a crowd of 35 000 spectators, with a further 60 million people watching the event via various live streaming channels! To put that into perspective the NBA finals that year only drew a crowd if 31 000 people and the Oscars had 65 million viewers.
35 000 people attended the LOL final in 2016. Source: The Conversation
One of the most significant factors that has increased the reach and popularity of eSports is cheap, high-speed internet. People like watching sports in the comfort of their homes and eSports are no different. In the past year Twitch, a website dedicated to streaming people playing video games has had an average daily viewership of over 880 thousand people, with peak viewerships reaching almost 3 million people in a single day.
How will eSports affect the events industry?
eSports events are an entirely new type of event vertical, with a new audience and new revenue streams. The future economic outlook for eSports is astounding; according to NewZoo, eSports “on its current trajectory is estimated to reach US$1.4 billion by 2020.” In other words, eSports will be a billion-dollar industry within the next two years.
As eSports continue to gain traction, there will be a higher demand for events related to eSports, local tournaments, and competitions. According to a recent survey on eSports, “gamers want more events, more often, and in more places”:
While 38% of respondents said they are willing to travel to another country or continent for an eSports tournament, large events and tournaments aren’t the only types of live gaming events in demand by players. Fifty-four percent of respondents said they also attend LAN parties, local gatherings of gamers, and local area meetups. eSports event attendees also attend other types of gaming events: 72% said they attend fandom events, with the most popular besides gaming conventions being comic (65%), anime (38%), sci-fi (27%), and specialty/niche interest (25%) cons.
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