Esports – a brief introduction

5 September 2020 |

In 2019, global sportswear giant adidas signed an endorsement deal with professional video gamer Ninja. The fact that gamers are now getting the attention of mainstream sports brands is a big deal. This alone shows how far Esports have come, and how they are now disrupting traditional sporting models.

What is Esports?

Simply put, Esports is organized video gaming at a competitive level played by professionals. Events are live and streamed online at the same time. Competitors from different teams or leagues compete in games that are popular among recreational ‘home’ gamers across the globe. These games or tournaments can attract crowds/ viewership that is common with traditional sports.

Esports players are generally contracted to play for various different organisations- similar to a rugby or football player. They practice and compete on their respective game, just as their traditional sports counterparts. Games range from first-person shooter iterations such as Counterstrike, to sports games such as FIFA. A game’s success comes down to the enjoyability and balance of the game. The game needs to be fun to play and watch, and it needs to have balance- meaning an even playing field where player skill is the most important variable.

A billion-dollar industry, esports enjoys a global fan base in the millions.

The history of Esports

With its origins in the 1970’s, esports is not necessarily the new kid on the block as it is commonly perceived.

From the early stages…

Stanford University held the first official video game competition in 1972. Students competed in a game called Spacewar, the winner taking home the lucrative prize of a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.

As technology improved, and the accessibility of the games to the public became easier, the popularity of video gaming grew. With the introduction of first-person shooter games with multiplayer options, the potential of online competitive gaming was realised. In 1997 one of the first true Esports tournaments, Red Annihilation took place. The final 16 participants (out of a field of 2000), were flown to Atlanta to compete at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The event was open to view to spectators both in person and online, and many media channels reported on this. The prize for the winner: a Ferrari 328 GTS.

The 2000’s saw video games and online gaming continue to grow in popularity, especially as home computers became more powerful and less expensive (negating the need to visit internet cafes). In 2006 FUN Technologies held a tournament that had a grand prize of 1 Million dollars! During this period, the number of worldwide tournaments increased exponentially, along with ever increasing prize pools. Televising esports during this time had however not been successful.

… until today

With the introduction of the video game streaming service Twitch in 2011, esports now had a platform that could provide affordable and centralized broadcasting. The accessibility of Twitch has opened the door to new fans and spectators worldwide.

Since then, viewership has increased further, and esports are proving ever more lucrative. In 2017 the League of Legends World Championship attracted more than 80 million viewers, and in 2019 esports revenue was north of the 1-Billion-dollar mark.

What is the current state of Esports?

Nowadays it is not uncommon for tournaments to offer up Millions of dollars in prize money to players on winning teams, and viewership continues to increase. Currently North America, China and South Korea are responsible for the largest number of fans. This is however an ever-changing landscape, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a more balanced fan base on the global scale within the next 10 years.
In North America, certain colleges are offering esports programmes. Some traditional sports leagues, such as the NBA also now have esports categories. Players in these leagues can earn income from sponsorships, endorsements and from league salaries- much like their traditional sports counterparts.

It is evident that the potential for growth is there, and that it is only a matter of time until you see your favourite sports embracing an esports version of itself.

Betting on Esports

Esports betting is a large industry – not dissimilar to traditional sports gambling. The global esports betting market is predicted to reach 17 Billion dollars by the end of 2020.

COVID-19 has specifically resulted in a boom for e sports betting. Where traditional sports have been inactive or halted, their virtual counterparts have enjoyed an increase in interest. FIFA and NBA 2K are examples of games that punters of traditional sports have managed to cross over to, due mainly to the familiarity of the gameplay.

Even after the pandemic is over, one feels that there will be a change in betting activity. The esports betting world will most likely have gained some permanent viewers and punters.

While traditional sports will always dominate, one can no longer ignore the presence of e-sports. In coming seasons, it will therefore be interesting to see how other large sports brands will influence and leverage this relatively untapped scene.

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