Esports in 2021
Picture this: it’s November 3, 2018. A 50,000-seat stadium in Icheon, South Korea, is packed with people cheering and roaring in anticipation. A popular pop group steps onto the stage and starts singing alongside its digital avatars. Yet, that’s not why everyone’s gathered here. The pop group is merely a warmup for the 12 players that are going to compete here today—and it’s only when they clash against each other that the crowd will truly go wild.
Is this some premier athletic event no one’s ever heard about? No, it’s the finals of the 2018 World Championship for the multiplayer online battle arena game League of Legends. And the best-of-five series that was broadcast that day hit a peak of 205 million viewers worldwide. The same year, Dota 2’s The International 2018 featured a record-breaking prize pool of $25 million. Most of it was crowd-funded, as fans were dying to express their passion and invest in the growth of their scene.
If you were to go back in time twenty years and claim that someone could earn millions of United States dollars playing video games, most people would call it a pipedream. Yet, that pipedream has long since become a reality. Esports is already here—and it’s getting bigger and bigger with every passing year.
The rise of esports isn’t limited to 2018. Competitive gaming has been on an upward trajectory since the early 2010s, and German analytical firm Statista estimates that the industry will hit a revenue of $1,79 billion by the end of 2022. At the same time, high-profile investors like Dan Gilbert, Robert Craft, and Mark Cuban are betting on the continued growth of the industry by investing their money into esports teams and competitive leagues.
Of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story.
It’s hard to quantify the passion of hundreds of thousands of fans that are tuning in to daily esports tournaments, following professional players on live streams, and betting their hard-earned money on the outcome of video game matches. Yet, you only need to open Twitch or YouTube during a CSGO or Overwatch tournament to find out that it’s as real as it gets. Combine that with video game giants like Epic Games, Electronic Arts, and Activision Blizzard making a conscious effort to manufacture the next big esport, and it’s clear that there’s a lot of value in competitive gaming.
So, where exactly did this come from? The simple answer is people. Video games are increasingly becoming a part of everyday life, while traditional sports are beginning to fade into the background. And even though there’s still plenty of interest in football or basketball events from the older generations, the Millennials and Generation Z members are starting to lean towards League of Legends and Fortnite.
A Personal Touch
One thing to note about esports is the unique way it connects to its viewers. It wasn’t too long ago that professional video game tournaments took place in small studios and LAN parties, and even though the scene has since moved on to venues like Madison Square Garden and Beijing National Stadium, it still has that grassroots feel to it.
The players are accessible, and pretty much anyone can walk up to the biggest stars in gaming to sing a jersey or tune in to a Twitch stream to watch the best players in the world duke it out on the digital battlefield. Meanwhile, the lax nature of esports broadcasts means that hosts and commentators aren’t afraid to experiment and engage in banter, so there’s a constant back-and-forth between them and their communities.
A lot of this is possible because most fans also double as players. If you’re watching a League of Legends tournament, you’re also playing the game yourself. With that, fans are naturally more invested into following competitive matches, as many of them are looking to emulate the pros in their own matches. And some might even become good enough to become esports competitors down the line.
The Future of Esports
The esports industry is still evolving. There are thousands of games and dozens of genres being released every year, and many of them are trying to make their presence known in competitive gaming. With that, it’s next to impossible to tell which esports are a flash in the pan and which will stay at the top for entire generations. Perhaps that’s not the right question to ask, though. The esports train isn’t going to stop anytime soon, so the best thing to do is to kick back and enjoy the ride.
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