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Esports: An Unstoppable Force?

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Who would have thought 20 years ago that it would be normal for almost everybody on the planet to have a mobile device? It was recently reported that mobile devices now outnumber the amount of people on Earth, indicating that we truly live in a digital age.

Sports is an industry that has embraced digital advances in recent years, as most sports are now assisted by slow motion reviews. Tennis in particular has a very technologically effective reviewing system. Purists constantly argue the assistance of technology in refereeing decisions, but this is nothing compared to the revolution, and potential threat to physical sports as a whole, that is ESports.

Many people are still unfamiliar with Esports, as it relies on Internet streaming channels to reach its audience, but the general gist requires video game players to play each other in front of an audience. Not dissimilar to traditional sport, just using video games to utilise competition, and one will not believe the noise this ever growing circus is making.

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Photo by Denis Dervisevic, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

We must remember that video game competitions have been in existence for many years now; around the late ’80s, early ’90s. Nintendo were the first to realise that video game tournaments are a great way to promote your band in the gaming industry. However, since internet speeds became as lightning quick as they are, the gaming tournament scene has launched into the stratosphere.

Esports had been crying out for a way to broadcast footage of tournaments to interested fans, and South Korea was the first to spot a gap and service the needs. Several streaming channels were set up to broadcast live feeds of Esports competitions around the world. Other nations have since followed suit and assisted in building audiences numbers to such an extent that tournaments are now held in grand arenas with enough space to house an army of spectators. Large tournaments include World Cyber Games and the Intel Extreme Masters which draw millions out of streaming, ticket sales and especially sponsorship. As alcohol and banks (to name a few) have sponsored physical sports for decades, gaming brands now fight in their numbers to have their logos placed at Esports competitions.

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Photo by Syefri Zulkefli, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Many companies have seen a lucrative gap in the market and are getting involved. Since South Korea proved that streaming is the perfect platform for Esports viewers, many former outsiders have set up their own channels, such as Twich.tv, a company which brought viewers closer to their favourite gamers and made celebrities out of them. Global businesses of all sorts are now also jumping on the sponsorship bandwagon, such as energy drinks and computer hardware.

Perhaps the most remarkable piece of opportunism involves sports betting companies seeing the growth of Esports and offering the ability to bet on tournaments. Betway in particular is anticipating substantial revenue out of Esports as the have dedicated an entire websites specifically to Esports. The video game theme has been around gambling sites for a while however, as MobileSlots.net has been offering games such as Hitman and Tomb Raider for over 10 years.

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Photo by Intel Free Press, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

So all the major players are seeing the light and turning this once very indie scene into an international phenomenon. One might begin to wonder when television broadcasters will seize the opportunity to give viewers a more traditional viewing experience, but if the recent comments by the president of mega sporting network ESPN were anything to go by then don’t expect it too soon. When asked about the possibility of broadcasting Esports he responded by saying that it was more of a ‘competition’ than a sport, suggesting a foray down that avenue won’t be occurring in the near future.

Photo by DarthBotto, licensed under CC SA-3.0
Photo by DarthBotto, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Current viewers will not be too displeased by these comments as the streaming aspect fits into the digital culture of Esports perfectly, which is exactly what the fan base represents. Coupled with the fact that events are easily organised via the Internet and it looks like Esports has found a good home through its streaming channels. These channels also provide gaming advertisers with a highly targeted approach to their market, which the events serving as the perfect platform to market products and events. Fans, like in any sport, want to be more like their heroes, and gaming manufacturers are increasingly using events and successful gamers to heighten the exposure of their products, such as Razer developing a special ‘tournament-grade’ gaming controller.

Traditional sports might still have the full backing of television broadcasters and the traditional world behind it, but with Esports becoming increasingly difficult to ignore just when will the day come when we struggle in telling the difference between Esports and physical sports?

Header photo by Joey, licensed under CC BY 2.0.