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From The Basement To The Penthouse – How Esports Drew More Viewers Than The SuperBowl

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In November 2021, the final of the League of Legends World Championship, hosted by Riot Games, was watched by an estimated 100 million unique viewers across platforms. Granted, the Super Bowl viewership has been lower recently, but it still says something about the eSports industry when many people tune it for an event held in South Korea. It’s a far cry from the early days of eSports when competitions were held in small, dark rooms with a few dozen spectators. So how did we get here? How did eSports go from the basement to the penthouse?

Defining eSports

Before we can answer those burning questions, we first need to define eSports. What exactly are we talking about? Broadly speaking, eSports refers to any competitive activity or event that involves video games. That could be anything from actual sports like a Madden NFL, or NBA2K tournament, to a more traditional video game competition like the International DOTA 2 Championships. However, for our purposes, we’ll be focusing mainly on organized competitive gaming in front of a live audience. So while you may enjoy playing the recent Psychonauts 2 game, it doesn’t quite count as eSports. For reference, here are some more of the most popular Esports games of the moment:

Battle Royale Games

Call of Duty: Warzone, Fortnite, and PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) are popular Battle Royale games. They’re essentially last-man-standing deathmatches, where players compete to be the last one alive. In recent years, these games have taken the world by storm, with millions of people playing them daily. They’ve also become some of the most popular eSports titles, with Fortnite’s World Cup Finals splitting $3 million among three winners after the finals.

Fighting Games

Fighting games are among the oldest types of video games, with titles like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat being mainstays at many arcades. However, eSports is a relatively new phenomenon in this genre. The first fighting game tournament wasn’t organized until 1994, a full 20 years after the first arcade fighting game was released. Since then, the genre has exploded in popularity, with games like Street Fighter V and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate becoming some of the most-watched eSports titles.

Real-Time Strategy Games

Real-time strategy (RTS) games are a genre of video game where players are tasked with building and managing an army to either destroy their opponent or take over their base. The most popular RTS game of all time is without a doubt StarCraft, which has been around since 1998. The game has spawned a huge worldwide following and is now one of the most popular eSports titles.

Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)

MOBA games such as League of Legends and DOTA 2 are some of the most popular eSports titles in existence, with dozens of professional teams competing worldwide. It features two opposing armies fighting to destroy each other’s base and is often compared to a mix between chess and online warfare. League of Legends (LoL) is the most popular MOBA game by a long shot, with more than 100 million players worldwide. In fact, LoL has so many players that it boasts an average of 27 million active daily users at any given time.

The Growth Of Esports Over The Years

These figures might seem impressive, but multiple factors contributed to the growth of eSports over the years.

The Formative Years (1990-2003)

ESports first began to really take off in the last couple of years of the 20th century, where tournaments for games like Quake III Arena and Starcraft drew in sizable crowds. However, it was only a small number of dedicated fans who followed these events. It wasn’t really until the turn of the millennium that people started taking competitive gaming seriously. This was partly down to companies finally starting to see the potential in eSports because technology had finally advanced enough for everyone to make sense of what they were seeing. For the most part, eSports existed in the shadows, far away from the mainstream eye. There was a lack of organization compared to traditional sports, and it just wasn’t an acceptable career for most people. Yet, back in the early 2000s, eSports was still very much alive and kicking. For example, several large tournaments and leagues across Europe and North America between 2001 and 2004. These included:
  • The Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL), which was founded in 1997 and held several tournaments throughout the early 2000s
  • The World Cyber Games, which started up back in Seattle during 1999
  • Major League Gaming, which ran from 2002 to 2016
Perhaps most importantly of all, though, eSports began to attract a regular viewership. People who simply enjoyed watching others play games competitively, as opposed to playing themselves. This was partly because technology had progressed to a point where people could watch others play from the comfort of their homes.

Esports Development (2003-2012)

Towards the end of the 2000s, eSports was gaining a lot more attention. More and more organizations have started to take professional gaming seriously. Some games were exclusively designed for competitive play (such as Tribes: Ascend and the Team Fortress series). There was also an increasing number of tournaments throughout Europe and North America, with prize pools reaching up to $1 million. The number of viewers also began to grow, with some tournaments attracting millions of people online. In 2012, the biggest event in eSports history was held – the League of Legends World Championship Finals. This tournament featured 12 teams from all around the world and had a total prize pool of $2 million.

The Esports Revolution (2012- 2021)

Next-generation consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 helped to popularize eSports even further. Games like Halo and Call of Duty became staples in professional gaming, with tournaments being held worldwide. E-games also benefited from the growth of social media and video sharing platforms like Youtube and Twitch. This allowed people to watch their favourite players and teams from anywhere in the world without missing a single second of the action. In 2016, eSports finally began to break into the mainstream. The International 6 (an annual Dota 2 tournament) was watched by millions of people online, with the final match having a prize pool of almost $20 million. But more importantly, eSports began to attract investment from some major companies – with several high-profile individuals signing up star players for huge sums of money. Nowadays, eSports is at the peak of its popularity. The industry is worth over a billion dollars, and professional gamers can make a very good living from playing. The most popular eSports games (such as League of Legends and Fortnite) continue to break viewership records, with major tournaments regularly attracting millions of viewers.

Contributing Factors To The Explosive Growth Of eSports

Many factors have contributed towards this boom in interest seen in recent years.

Better Games

First and foremost is the games themselves. Some of the most popular games in eSports today are games designed from the ground up for competitive play. Games such as Call of Duty, Overwatch and League of Legends all facilitate a competitive atmosphere, with gamers able to compete against each other in a variety of different ways. In comparison, older games like Halo tended to be more team-based, leaving lone players at a disadvantage.

Social Media And Video Platforms

Social media and video-sharing websites have allowed eSports to truly blossom. For example, players can share their adventures with the rest of the world on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Meanwhile, fans can also interact with the players themselves on various forums and discussion boards. This has helped to create a tight-knit community around eSports, with people from all over the world sharing their love for the sport. At the same time, video platforms like Twitch have allowed viewers to watch tournaments and matches live, as they happen. This has created an almost real-time experience for viewers, which has helped to create a sense of community around major tournaments.

Traditional Sports Giants Investing In ESports

Next, the involvement of traditional sports teams and organizations has been a huge part of eSports’ meteoric rise. In 2016, Shaquille O’Neal invested in NRG Esports – becoming one of the first retired sports stars to venture into eSports. A year later, former LA Laker Rick Fox founded his own eSports team (Echo Fox) – and more recently, Magic Johnson (a former NBA star) became a co-owner of an eSports franchise. Despite their popularity, traditional sports leagues have struggled to attract younger viewers in recent years. ESports, on the other hand, has experienced strong growth among people between the ages of 18 and 29. This age group accounts for more than half (54%) of eSports fans in the US – with almost 70% of them being male. There’s no doubt that sports organizations see this as an opportunity to tap into a valuable market – and thus, eSports franchises are becoming more prevalent in the sports world.

The Notable Game Developers

Finally, the developers of competing titles in eSports have played an important role in creating interest in their games. For example, Riot Games (the company behind League of Legends) began investing heavily in eSports back in 2011. The game was featured in major tournaments, with the best players competing for millions of dollars in prize money. This led to a surge in popularity for League of Legends, which continues to be one of the most-watched eSports games today.

Legitimate Economic Ecosystem

Esports has become an actual hub full of career opportunities. It’s not just about being a pro player or coach anymore; there are other jobs out there that elevate the entertainment value of eSports. We now need broadcasters, producers, camera operators, analysts, event managers etc., to keep the whole ecosystem growing. Plus, with merchandise and sponsorships being a common occurrence in eSports, there are a lot of money-changing hands – and people are starting to take notice. New journalists are being born in this industry, and the business side is being taken more seriously. Bigger organizations also require the services of accounts and lawyers. We’ve even seen teams go bankrupt because they couldn’t manage their money correctly. This is a new world full of obstacles, and where there are obstacles, there is opportunity. A lot needs to be learned on the job, but many people are ready to take on the challenge.

The Future Of Esports

One of the most notable developments in eSports over the past few years has been its rise in prominence. It’s not just games like League of Legends and Unreal Tournament that are popular – other titles, such as FIFA 18 and Rocket League, have also started to attract larger audiences. This is in part since developers are starting to take eSports more seriously. In turn, this results in better-quality games that are more suited for competitive play.

Going Mainstream

What’s more, eSports is being taken seriously by mainstream broadcasters. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has even discussed adding eSports as a medal event in the 2024 Olympic Games. While this is still a long way off, it’s clear that eSports is on the rise – and it’s only going to get bigger from here. More and more big-name investors are also likely to get involved in the coming years, which will help to solidify eSports as a mainstream sport. For example, RedBull has started to host its own tournaments, and Coca-Cola has begun to market eSports-themed beverages. As mentioned above, video-sharing sites like YouTube and Twitch have been integral in the growth of eSports, and it will be interesting to see how these platforms evolve in the future.

Tying It All Together

In conclusion, eSports has been on the rise for a few years now. The increasing popularity of video-sharing sites has created an almost real-time experience for viewers – and this has helped create a sense of community around major tournaments. In addition, the involvement of traditional sports teams and organizations has played a considerable role in eSports’ meteoric rise. Finally, the growth of eSports over recent years has been aided by the notability of game developers and their efforts to create appealing games for competitive play. Enthusiast Gaming encapsulates all that is eSports, from competitive gaming to the culture and community that surrounds it. We cover every angle of this unique world with live events, news, editorial content, and video game industry insights. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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