When I was five, I was lucky enough to be gifted a PlayStation 2 by my family. This started my love affair with video games that is still as strong today as it was then.
The gaming industry has changed dramatically since then, but in the last two years has found itself catapulted into the mainstream media unlike ever before.
Competitive gaming is still relatively unknown to the masses, despite being tipped to become a billion dollar industry this year. Even the more common reference to competitive gaming, Esports, often garners smirks when I chat to people who can’t help but chuckle about the irony. Gaming, a symbol of the indoors and isolation, and sport being the antithesis.
However, with prize money in the millions and Esports athletes such as Ninja signing brand deals with huge sport brands, people are starting to take Esports seriously. But is there a limit to how much it can grow?
Even though global phenomenon Fortnite, has arguably catapulted competitive gaming into the public eye, it’s not a new concept. The earliest-known video game competition took place on 19th October 1972 at Stanford University for the game Spacewar. And, while it might not be at the forefront of the mainstream media, Esports has been quietly flourishing.
During the 2010s, Esports grew tremendously, incurring a large increase in both viewership and prize money, even garnering investment from traditional sports organisations. Take-Two Interactive partnered with the National Basketball Association (NBA) to create the NBA 2K League, using the NBA 2K game series. It’s the first Esports league to be operated by a professional sports league, and the NBA sought to have a League team partially sponsored by each of the 30 professional NBA teams.
Similarly, EA Sports has followed suit with leagues such as the E-Premier League. For organisations of this magnitude to invest, they must see some serious potential.
While the majority of Esports viewers tune in via streaming sites such as Twitch, it’s the physical viewership of competitions that perhaps provides the biggest indication that the industry could keep thriving.
League of Legends is leading the way in this regard, selling out the Staples Centre in 2013 for the Season 3 League of Legends World Championship. The 2014 League of Legends World Championship in Seoul, South Korea, had over 40,000 fans in attendance. Just to put that number into context, that is the capacity of Chelsea’s stadium in Stamford Bridge.
Esports isn’t without its challenges, and the debate will rage on about its place within sports. In addition, as with other sports, it also comes with people trying to unfairly gain an advantage, whether this is through hacking or even performance enhancing drugs. Furthermore, gambling and betting on Esports matches have generally been illegal in major markets.
These trends have subsequently created a black market and since Esports isn’t regulated, this may encourage match-fixing by players themselves. The lack of regulation has also led to issues with underage gaming due to the demographic that video games attracts.
Despite these issues, one can’t deny that Esports certainly is in the ascendency. The popularity of gaming doesn’t look like it is going to decrease any time soon and through the increasing trend of free-to-play games, such as Fortnite, it also makes it more accessible.
If the investment of major organisations continues, it’s hard to picture Esports not continuing to break into the mainstream media.
Many see the Olympic Games as a potential method to legitimise Esports and, honestly, that is well within the realms of my imagination should it keep growing at its current rate.