On October 19, 1972, five students gathered to play a video game called “Spacewar!” in the computer lab at Stanford. In this tournament, the stakes were low. The contestants were competing for the grand prize of a year-long free subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine and a mention in their article about this up-and-coming thing called “computers.” Little did these students know, they would be the very beginning of the phenomenon now known as esports.
Esports, otherwise known as electronic sports, is the competitive play of video games between professional gamers or teams on electronic devices. While esports only started to be prevalent in early 2010, today it dwarfs huge sporting events in terms of spectators and next year is projected to become a billion-dollar global industry.
For example, a video game, “League of Legends,” pulled in an online viewership of more than 100 million people for a tournament held in 2017, while the 2017 NBA Finals and World Series averaged only 20.4 million and 18.7 million viewers respectively.
Given these numbers, one should ask, why has watching people play video games exploded in the past few years? This rise can mostly be attributed to the internet. From 2009 to 2017, internet accessibility rose about 216 percent globally, to just over 3.8 billion people, making esports visible for an extremely large global audience. This accessibility has transformed into a growing online YouTube and Twitch (an online streaming service) community, which then displays esports games and tournaments for free.
Although it may seem pointless to watch someone else play something you could easily participate in, the comic to the right by Gregor Czaykowski (loadingartist.com) illustrates how it’s not too different from what we’ve already become accustomed to. Esports’ rise to fame has followed the same patterns traditional sports have taken for decades. Viewers are inspired by players and, in turn, follow in their idol’s footsteps to then inspire the next generation of players.
This begs the question: is being a professional gamer a viable career? I asked JP Shub, Senior Esports Broadcast Producer for “League of Legends,” what he thought.
“I think gaming is just as viable a career path these days as traditional sports, especially when it comes to offstage opportunities. There’s a rapidly growing number of jobs around the support and presentation of esports—Shoutcasting (commentating), stats, broadcast production, PR—these are all viable career paths within the esports industry,” he said.
In terms of salaries, it’s a very secretive game. Only one out of forty “League of Legends” teams reports the salaries given to its players, which averages out at $69,500 a year, plus added bonuses from tournament winnings.
To date, $446.25 million in prize pool cash has been handed out but this is not a player’s only source of income. Sponsorships from major companies like Intel and streaming revenue from Twitch can make up a huge portion of a player’s revenue, pushing yearly earnings up to $200,000 or more in some cases. It is speculated that Shroud, one of the most well-known esports players of all time, makes upward of $2.4 million per year in potential total combined income.
So where does esports go next?
“From a broadcaster standpoint, I see the future of esports continuing to grow in both presentation and storytelling,” Shub observes. “We have come a long way in a short amount of time, but I still believe we are just scratching the surface of what we are capable of and are continuing to innovate to find ways to level up the viewing experience, whether that’s new segments at our analyst desks or virtual dragons landing on the stage of our World Finals.”
According to the BBC, it is rumored that the Paris 2024 Olympic organizers are “deep in talks” with the International Esports Federation about including esports as a demonstration sport at the 2024 games. While the International Olympic Committee has already recognized esports as an official sport, this would cement esports as an official contender in the world of sports.
Whichever way the talks go, one thing is for sure: esports is here to stay.
By Zennon Ulyate-Crow