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The Rise of eSports – The Evolution of Professional Gaming

The world itself is evolving in almost every aspect, from the obvious advancements in tech, to the hot topics, of the once ‘taboo’ movements, of feminism and equality. There’s been a significant shift, and ‘change’ is a reality, in the 21st Century.

It’s no wonder that change has come about, in the sporting world, too, and it’s once again, thanks to technology. While traditional sports have evolved from the popular games such as football and tennis, to other branches of physical activity, such as paintball and stand-up paddling, there’s a ‘new kid on the block’, which trumps all physical activity, replacing it with skill of mind and strategic smarts. It’s the rise, of eSports.

Gaining a following almost overnight, with prize pools that leave one speechless, the rise of multi-player video games has become a movement, a worldwide youth culture phenomenon. It’s a sport so different from conventional sporting games, and demands a whole new set of talent and tactics, which people are finding intriguing. It’s a new form of entertainment, which allows people to witness talent, in the form of strategy and skillful game play, propelled by the mind. The eSports phenomenon is still in it’s infancy, although you wouldn’t believe it, when you’re belted with the facts. The ‘League of Legends’ final raked in 27 million viewers, in 2014, more than that of the NBA Super Bowl, which brought in 15.5 million viewers. Revenue growth has seen an immense increase, between 2015 and 2017, and the forecasts for the coming years are exponential. To further emphasize the rise of the modern sport; there’s been a petition to include Professional gaming tournaments in the Olympic Games! Never before, in the history of sports, has the world seen such a ground-breaking rise in popularity and cash flow, directed at one type of sport. The battle between two brain-boxes, who use precise timing and ingenious moves, to advance in virtual, online battles, attracts thousands of spectators, and powerful, world-renown sponsors; such as Samsung and Microsoft, to name a few. It’s safe to say; the rise has only just begun.

League of Legends - eSports

eSports have been around since the early 1970’s, but are classified into two different era’s; the arcade era and the internet era. The internet era, dating from the year 2000, onward, is the era causing a stir; as the possibilities of the game have expanded, with the limitations being completely eliminated. The internet era has allowed the mode of play to shift from human vs machine, to human vs human, through the use of Local Area Networks (LAN), and increased internet accessibility; allowing gamers to go head to head, from different parts of the world. The arcade era, which lacked these elements, forced gamers to play games of little authenticity; through the absence of organic skill; of human vs human. Fighting games, such as CS:GO, which are now the most popular of the eSports games, and creates the most hysteria, were non-existent, while arcade games such as NBA Jam and Virtua Racing, were the most popular games at the time.

It’s believed that the rise of eSports, from a spectator’s standpoint, is attributed to the authentic battle of two real-life gamers, that use their mind-mastery to progress in the game, and call victory over their opponent. According to Jonathan Beales, an eSports organizer and commentator; people want to see genuine battles being played out between two professionals, he says “they want to get behind their teams, in the same way people do at football games”.

That’s why E-sports betting, has become an industry of its own. People are eager to get fully involved in the outcomes of the games, because it’s real, human interaction and competition. Without the advancements in technology, this would not have been possible, and saying that E-sports would not have gained traction if it weren’t for technological progressions, is not a far stretch. People wouldn’t have been able to play against each other, they wouldn’t have been able to challenge themselves and their skill, in the way that they can now. It wouldn’t have been fun, intriguing, genuine.

Since the beginning of the E-sports tournaments, in 2000, the industry has evolved at a rapid rate.In the early years, anyone could play; there was no age restriction, no prejudging and you didn’t have to be a die-hard professional, to battle it out for a prize. Each year, the games slowly started becoming regulated and it became increasingly difficult to be selected as the gamer, or team, to sit on the stage and compete. It became a professional scene; and with this came the hoards of spectators, and the influx of funds and sponsorship’s.

Things changed when powerful corporations realized the marketing benefits, of sponsoring the games. Millions of people were watching, and the ratings were skyrocketing day by day. They realized that they could reach out to their target market, who were either sitting in the audience, or live-streaming from their homes. They realized that advertising, on the live-streaming portals, especially, meant excessive reach at a fraction of the cost, compared to advertising during broadcasts of traditional sporting games, on television channels.
Once the industry became a money-making opportunity for external sources, rules were designed with exposure in mind.

World of Warcraft Tournament

World of Warcraft Event

Previously, players could wear any gear they felt comfortable in, they had control over the amount of practice time they got and they didn’t have to ‘declare’ their skills prior to the battles. But, when sponsorship’s of hefty amounts were introduced, and were increasing year after year, players had to give up their control, and place it in the hands of the sponsors.

Branded gear had to be worn by the players, a certain amount of practice time had to be achieved before taking to the stage, and prejudging was introduced. Sponsors wanted to feel secure in the fact that their ‘representee’, was in a prime position for victory.

With each passing year, the stakes are getting higher, with increased funding, and more and more people becoming interested in the phenomenon, there is no stopping this sport.
Many people have wondered if eSports is a threat to traditional sporting games, and this is possibly due to the immense growth it’s seen; both in viewership and in wealth. Compared to the early years of traditional sports, there wasn’t half as much hysteria, compared to the early years of eSports. The sponsorship’s were measly in comparison, and the viewership was poor, until spectators started forming a connection to their favored teams and players. But, eSports seem to be completely skipping that period; viewers are more interested in talent and skill, no matter where it’s coming from, and they’ll tune in, whether it’s their favored team or not. Even funding hasn’t steadily increased, like it did in the early years of traditional sporting tournaments; its increased with a bang, almost immediately, and especially when powerful companies started investing in the viewing of the games. Amazon, for example, founded Twitch, a live-streaming platform for E-sport games and tournaments, which boasts 55 million users. Companies bought, and are still buying into the idea, without hesitation.

eSports Chart

eSports Revenue Growth

So, does this all mean something? Does it mean that traditional sports are going to have a hard time; will viewers and sponsorship’s jump ship, to this new, advanced form of entertainment?

Surprisingly, many think not, and their reasoning makes sense. Traditional sports can be enjoyed anywhere, and little is needed to play, watch or learn the game. If we think of the less fortunate communities; to participate as a gamer or spectator of eSports, certain environmental privileges, such as internet accessibility, are required, and often this is an issue.

Many believe that it will take many years for eSports to acquire the same prestige, that traditional sports have attained. There still needs to be a shift in broadcasting; moving from streaming to televised games, frequent exposure or ‘fame’ of certain players or teams, and it’s yet to be a household name and concept. E-sports seems to be massive, within the gaming community, but whether outsiders are interested-that’s still undetermined. However, it doesn’t mean it won’t get to that point, quickly. With the track record thus far, it could very well accomplish all of this, in a shorter time span, than traditional sports did, in its early years.

We also mustn’t forget that the internet has turned the world into a global community. People latch onto concepts much quicker than they did in the past, because they are exposed to it, as soon as they enter the web. So, one can’t say that because of the hysteria eSports has caused, it will threaten traditional games.

We should also identify the vast differences between the sports. Yes, they are both categorized as ‘sports’ but they are world’s apart in terms of execution and skill.

Victory in eSports, relies solely on mastery of the mind, and perfected execution, from a logical, strategic position, while the core of traditional sports lays in physical ability and talent. eSports is really just an extended dimension of the sporting category; whether it’s an actual threat is debatable. The sports speak to very different audiences, and one has to admit that they are completely different games; they only share the same category; ‘sport’.

The only real comparison one can make, is that they both aid competition, sponsorship’s, spectators, and betting, but other than that, it’s like comparing Mixed Martial Arts to Football.

By Aron Frost, January 18, 2018 Aron is the editor of The Scout Within Me. At the age of 6 he was enrolled into the boy scouts, where he spent most of his childhood exploring the wilderness of South Africa. He loves fiction, whiskey, camping, James Bond, and the untamed and unknown.

Aron Frost

Aron is the editor of The Scout Within Me. At the age of 6 he was enrolled into the boy scouts, where he spent most of his childhood exploring the wilderness of South Africa. He loves fiction, whiskey, camping, James Bond, and the untamed and unknown.

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