If you were to tell anyone 15 years ago that playing games could be a full-time job, you’d be politely asked to stop for a minute and think about the life choices that brought you to such unreal ideas. Competitive gaming wasn’t something that a lot of people thought about because the mainstream public tends to view videogames as a pastime and amusement, rather than a full-time job. That changed, however, and we’re approaching a new age of sports: the age of E-Athletes!
In our first series of articles we talked quite a lot about Internetainers, and the ins and outs of the YouTube industry. Now, we’d like to turn towards one of the biggest new business opportunities in the world and see how did competitive gaming become such a worldwide hit, with millions of players and tournaments that are watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers.
Being a professional gamer is a real job now, with sponsors, endorsements and the fans that go along with it, so buckle up and let’s dive into the wonderful world of eSports!
We’ll start our lesson with some good, old-fashioned theory. Electronic sports, or eSports for short, are a type of competition that is facilitated by electronic systems, or simply video games. The competitions are held between players and mediated by computers, with the input devices (keyboard, mouse, controllers) serving as a way to input commands to the videogame’s interface. The goals of the games differ for each title, but they mostly revolve around eliminating the opposition or scoring more points.
Some games (like Street Fighter, for example) are played exclusively one on one, considering that they are fighting games that pit players against each other. Others, like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (shortened to CS: GO), field teams of five people against one another, and encouraging teamwork and communication, as well as individual skill. Every member of the team has a role, such as the AWPer in CS: GO or Jungler in LoL, and it’s as much about individual skill as it is about team cohesion.
There’s a number of different game genres that have their own eSports scenes, but the most popular genres currently are:
Henry Ford once said that the history of auto racing began five minutes after the second car was built. This is one of my favorite quotes, and it simply goes to show that humans love competition more than anything else. So, it’s no surprise that as soon as there were means to compete in videogames, there were people trying to get a better score, or beat their friends in a game. We all did it, nudging our friends to give us the edge while playing against them on the same TV, right?
The first recorded gaming tournament in the way we know it today was held at Stanford university on the 19th of October in 1972. The game that has the honor of being the world’s first eSports title was the ever-so-popular SpaceWar, and the prize was a yearly subscription to the Rolling Stone magazine. A pretty great prize for just playing games, right? Aside from that, there were no financial prizes, but the bragging rights were probably huge.
Oh, and the name of the tournament? The Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics!
Of course, the eSports scene back then wasn’t so much of a “scene” as it was a hobby. The first big tournament was actually a high-score setting challenge in the classic game Space Invaders, back in 1980. There were more than 10,000 contestants, and this tournament did wonders to help establish games as a mainstream hobby and something a little bit more serious than just killing free time.
As the age of the Internet slowly dawned, it brought with it the world’s first online game, Netrek. It was a real-time strategy/shooting game that allowed for up to 16 players simultaneously. It’s best described as a hybrid of sorts, combining the mechanics of the Battleship board game with some other elements. Netrek was first played in 1988 and is actually the oldest game that uses the mechanics we see in modern MOBA games of today. It’s was also the oldest game that is still being played, and was called The greatest Star Trek game you’ve never heard of.
I’m a 90’s kid, and the earliest memories of games that I can remember were Super Famicon games like Excitebike and similar. Still, while I was fiddling around with bikes in single player, a whole new era of eSports was happening, and I had no idea. The nineties were special in a lot of ways, but mostly because they laid out the groundwork for the titles we know and love today.
Dial-up Internet was available widely, and people were slowly getting the hang of it. You could access the Web and browse it in the mid-nineties, and a lot of people did play games over the dial-up connections that they had at the time. It was a renaissance of multiplayer, considering that you could actually duel with people online, and not just compare scores.
The 90’s established some key genres, such as the multiplayer arena FPS (Quake) and the tactical FPS (Counter Strike). These games, as well as the original Warcraft and Starcraft, paved the way for the eSports scene we know now because the most famous games today are actually developed from the ideas of that age.
Quake, Unreal, and Half-Life actually shaped the way we think about first person shooters today, and the game mechanics that Unreal Tournament invented are still widely used today in other shooters, and even other genres of games. Think Domination and Capture the flag, for example.
To talk about the latest and the greatest in the eSports business would be an idea for an entirely new article, as the number of things happening in recent years is steadily eclipsing everything we knew about competitive gaming. There are more tournaments than ever, and the prize pools are immense, revolving around $50 million in 2015. alone. There’s real sponsorships, real transfers to other teams and above all: real money and fans.
Having been in the game business for—I guess I got into it 25 years ago. I watched competitive gaming grow up. I’m sure you remember it well. We started playing FIFA on our couches, two on two, screaming at each other. It mattered who the best was. Every game company I ever worked for, we always had tournaments. But I don’t think any of us understood it could be a stand-alone business in its own right.Greg Richardson, Team Dignitas
A lot of the things set in stone in the nineties and the early days of the new millennia are now the foundations of the games which make millions of dollars worldwide. The most known example of this is the MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. The idea started with the aforementioned Netrek, but has really caught on in the recent years. The premise has actually become so popular that there are entire games and tournaments dedicated to this playstyle, and MOBA’s are probably the most popular eSports titles today.
The Defense of The Ancients mod (DOTA) even started being a stand-alone game after being born as a mod for Warcraft 3, and boasts the biggest prize pool in all of competitive eSports today: the biggest DOTA 2 tournament had more than $20 million in prizes last year. When you think about how the teams that are extremely successful in this game have hundreds of thousands of fans, endorsements from the likes of Intel or Logitech and compete at the highest possible level, it’s not hard to see that competitive gaming isn’t a fad, but a real job that is here to stay.
This only goes to show that competitive gaming is really here to stay. There’s a lot more possibility for anyone interested in gaming to actually watch professional gamers play, with platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming being on the forefront of innovation. A number of big brands have dipped their toes in the eSports pool, with companies like Red Bull, Intel and Nissan already having strong footholds in the industry.
Another interesting trend we’re seeing now is professional sports clubs such as the Bundesliga side Schalke 04 investing and creating their own eSports teams to compete in games under the club name. This could possibly result in real clubs dishing it out on the virtual courts and fields as well as the real ones and could lead a whole lot of innovation and funding to this emerging market. Even Philadephia’s NBA side, the 76ers started to be a force in the eSports world with their acquisition of Team Dignitas last year.
It’s hard for me to talk about eSports and not be optimistic about its future. As a person who grew up watching people play games and playing them myself, I see the eSports scene as a way of actually doing what you like even though others may think it’s just a waste of time. Earnings are going up, and you could really make a living off of this if you are good.
The future has a lot in store for eSports, with new games around the corner, and new tournaments emerging every year. There’s absolutely no doubt that the industry is only going to grow larger in the following years, and there’s really an insanely large market to conquer.
Where does this leave us, the domains? Well, we at .Me think that everyone really needs a personal website, and eSports professionals really do require a place they can call their own that will connect their YouTube, Twitch, Steam and other accounts in one place, which is something we’d like to see more and more.
In the second part of this series, we’ll talk a bit more about the gamers that made the eSports industry into what it is today, and go steady towards building your own personal eSports brand – just the way it needs to be.
So good luck, or should we say: GG?
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