It may seem hard to believe, but professional gaming is now a multi-million-dollar business, with the world’s best gamers taking home more money than many regular sports stars.
Yep, video games are big business. As of this year, Statistica valued the global video game market at A$160.45 billion. With such rapid evolution, it can be hard to keep up with the industry’s rapid growth.
If your idea of gaming is a game of Candy Crush on the train or a Friday night Mario Party session with your friends, you might not know what someone’s talking about when you hear the terms “esports”.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide that encompasses everything you need to know about competitive gaming.
What are esports?
The term esports is a shortening of electronic sports, and they work similarly to traditional sports. Players face off against each other – solo or in teams, depending on the game – and compete to beat their opponents in an array of digital arenas. Rewards include prize money, trophies and gaming glory.
Now if you think because you have a positive kill/death ratio in Call of Duty that you have what it takes to be a pro, you’d be wrong. Just as you would be wrong if you thought you could play for Manchester City because you kicked a goal during a lunchtime soccer match. Professional gamers are just as talented, dedicated and hard-working as traditional sportsmen and women.
This isn’t a matter of guys playing in their basements. It’s big-time. Matches are played in stadiums around the world and live-streamed to millions of fans on sites like Twitch and YouTube. Massive crowds attend and tune in online to watch their favourite teams, players and gaming franchises.
As recently as this week, thousands of fans filled Munhak Stadium in Incheon, South Korea to watch Invictus Gaming defeat Fnatic in the 2018 League of Legends World Championship.
Where did it start?
While local competitions have been taking place since Space Invaders, and Quake held the first esports tournament, Starcraft is commonly recognised as the game responsible for esports as we know it today. The game’s real-time strategy gameplay combined with the evolution of the internet helped it gain a huge following in South Korea – so much so that by 2000, the country had set up an esports association.
Within a matter of months, South Korea had dedicated 24-hour TV channels showing StarCraft and Warcraft III contests.
What games do they play?
That’s like asking how many sports there are – a lot. But just like traditional sport, some esports are more popular than others. Games used to be adopted into esports by dedicated fan bases, but now developers are actively creating games aimed at becoming esports.
Some of the most popular esports are League of Legends, Dota 2, Rocket League, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Street Fighter V, Fortnite, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Starcraft 2 and FIFA. Popularity changes from country to country; while FIFA is massive in Europe, Hearthstone is the king in China.
It depends on personal preference, too. From first-person shooters to base building to card wielding, the chances are that there’s at least one esport you’ll find of interest. Sure, you’ll run into some foreign jargon and the ‘casters’ (commentators) will sound like aliens for a while, but you’ll get the hang of it.
Street Fighter V, FIFA or Rocket League are great places to start. The rules are easy to grasp and I guarantee you’ll have a blast following the action live.
What are the best teams and competitions?
Teams work a little bit differently in esports. While individual players specialise in specific games, franchises will often have teams that compete across a wide variety of games. This can make it simple for fans to follow a specific team across different esports.
For example, Team Liquid is the most successful esports franchise in history. Across 1422 tournaments, they have taken home over US$24 million in prize money and have teams in 19 games including Dota 2, StarCraft 2, Fortnite and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. They are like the Real Madrid of esports.
As well as normal teams, there are also competitions at the domestic and international level. Blizzard’s Overwatch League is probably the closest to a major sporting association. They have divisions and franchises with jerseys, logos and awesome names like Boston Uprising, London Spitfire and New York Excelsior. The team-based shooter recently held a World Cup featuring over 24 teams from around the world, with matches played in Paris, Bangkok and Los Angeles.
There are even real-world sports franchises beginning to enter the realm of esports. Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, Ajax and FC Schalke have esports teams and the NBA2KL is made up of teams like Knicks Gaming, Warriors Gaming Squad and Celtics Crossover Gaming.
Is there any money in esports?
Oh yes, there is. Lots of it. According to E-Sports Earnings, Valve’s Dota 2 paid out US$38 million in total prize money in 2017. More recently, Epic Games has promised to provide US$100 million in prize money for the 2018-19 Fortnite season. Yikes.
That doesn’t include money earned from team and individual sponsorships, or income from Twitch streaming, which is a popular secondary source of income for many players. Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, a pro gamer and the most popular streamer on Twitch, made headlines earlier in the year when Forbes revealed he earned US$500,000 per month playing Fortnite.
Top esports events often beat the viewership of even the biggest sporting events. The Sydney Morning Herald reported this year’s AFL grand final garnered an average of 3.38 million viewers. Not bad, right?
Well, this year’s League of Legends World Championship drew more than 200 million viewers concurrently. When you consider those numbers, it’s easy to see why there’s so much money in esports.
So where can I start?
The best place to begin is to consider what games you enjoy playing. The chances are that if you enjoy playing a game, you’ll have fun watching the best of the best play it. Not only will you already understand the rules, but you’ll also be able to bring some of the strategies back to your own gameplay.
And there’s nothing to lose. Not only is the production value as good as anything on traditional TV (and often better), the commentators are passionate, the players are great, and there are comebacks, fairytale endings and other individual moments in esports that rival any from traditional sporting history.
So jump on Twitch and check out the competitions that are running. Season Two of the Gfinity Elite Series Australia features Rocket League, Street Fighter V and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. It’s a great place to start, and runs from the start of November to December 17.