International Esports, or competitive computer gaming has become a thing. In fact it’s become so big a thing in such a short space of time that when people are exposed to it for the first time in 2017, they invariably ask how it got so big without them becoming aware of it.
Esports has become a phenomenon for a number of reasons – first off the prize pools have become astronomical, which is in part, due to the size of the large audiences flocking to watch Esports tournaments in stadiums, as well as online. And then there are the rags-to-riches stories, which the Esports industry seems to naturally spawn.
Paint by numbers
To set the scene, there are close on two billion gamers in the world, making it the fourth largest industry. Esports is the competitive gaming part of video games and is reportedly growing at around 36% a year, with predictions pegging it as a billion dollar industry by 2018.
While the first known Esports tournament was held in 1980s, Esports has been fueled by Twitch.tv and other streaming platforms in recent years. Twitch’s value is proven in the fact that in its fourth year it ranked fourth in Internet traffic in the US and was sold to Amazon for around US$1-billion.
The largest Esports tournament in terms of viewership was the League of Legends World Championships. In 2016, a total of 396-million people watched the tournament online with 43-million tuning in to the final. That stream peaked at 14.7-million concurrent users.
The games and the gamers
Games vary in genre, from first person shooters to fantasy games like Dota 2 and League of Legends, otherwise known as MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena). Large audiences have fueled massive prize pools with “The International” Dota 2 tournament awarding a combined, crowd-funded prize pool of just under US$25m, with the winning team taking home around US$11m between five players.
The publisher of Dota 2, Valve, also hosts several million dollar Majors each year for Counter Strike: Global Offensive, a first person shooter game. At these events, the winning team takes US$500 000 home.
The best gamers internationally are earning really competitive salaries and are assigned coaches, fitness consultants, dieticians and sports psychologists. They even live together in full-time gaming houses and travel around the world from tournament to tournament.
And while the best in the world certainly live glamorous lifestyles, many of them did not come from such.
Take one of the gamers from the International 2015 (TI5) winning team, Evil Geniuses (EG). A then 16-year-old from Pakistan who shared an apartment with eight family members and his room with three other people, SumaiL shot to fame when he seemingly came from nowhere to become an instant millionaire as one of the world’s best Dota players at TI5.
Then there’s SK Gaming, currently ranked as the best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team in the world. But, it wasn’t always that way. In fact this Brazilian team could not put three meals on the table at one point.
Turning to crowd funding to reach their first major tournament, they outstripped their competition, taking home the trophy. The team rose to fame and haven’t looked back, winning nine tournaments in the last year alone.
It’s clear that Esports has rapidly become a phenomenon that can’t be ignored. With local and international broadcasters now airing dedicated channels and audience numbers continuing to climb, in many ways this is just the beginning for this fledgling industry.
The best is yet to come.