If you haven’t been following the development of esports over the last few years, it may seem as though this is a recent phenomenon. In fact, the earliest known competitive video game competition took place in the US as long ago as 1972 and since then competition has long been a part of the appeal of gaming.
Now, thanks to the fast streaming internet technology and the ingenuity of games developers, esports is a huge global business. The biggest tournaments broadcast coverage of their games to an audience of millions, while younger fans are increasingly inspired by esports stars, not traditional sports players. So why is esports so popular? Why is the industry so appealing to video game fans and games all around the globe?
One of the biggest appeals of esports is the fact that fans are likely to be playing exactly the same games as their heroes. All of the popular esports titles are available to everyone and are played by billions of people around the globe, and having played a game yourself gives you a connection to and a deeper understanding of the games that the top esports pros play.
Another reason for esports’ popularity is the sheer variety of games that are used in competition and the ever-changing landscape of esports. Currently, some of the biggest esports games are: League of Legends (LOL), Counter Strike Global Offensive (CS:GO) and Dota 2. They remain the dominant titles in the esports industry right now, but that hierarchy is in flux. New games, such as Fortnite and Valorant, emerge regularly to challenge the big three and there are dozens of other games with thriving fan bases and leagues.
Just like the original arcade-based competitions, the big esports tournaments involve the best players competing in close proximity. The long-established gamers all have their own calendars and schedules, structured around the high profile competitions, and these serve as a focal point for fans, players, teams and sponsors, unifying the esports communities just as tournaments such as the World Cup and the Olympics bring together people from around the globe.
Many of the esports competitions have grown in both stature and prize money over the years, and some of them offer huge rewards for the winners. The biggest esports tournament of them all is The International for Dota 2 teams. First held in 2011, with a prize fund of $1.6 million, there have now been ten editions of the competition and the 2021 tournament, won by Team Spirit, featured a prize pool of a little over $40 million, making it the most valuable esports competition ever. For LOL fans, the big one is the World Championship, known as the Worlds, which concludes the LOL season in style with an auditorium of thousands of fans, giant screens broadcasting the action and a global audience of millions following the action.
Other esports tournaments have their set-piece occasions, and with sponsors and software companies always on the lookout for the next big game, the esports world is as dynamic and exciting as any high profile traditional sport. Over the years the competitive gaming industry has become so popular that many iGaming companies now also provide betting on esports events. Whether it’s a tournament for Dota 2, CS:GO, or Starcraft 2, players can take their pick of tournaments and which esports teams to bet on to win.
The fact that many fans are able to play the same games as the professionals mean that there is a closer link and greater respect between fans and esports athletes than you will find in most other sports. That link is strengthened by the fact that many esports pros stream their gaming outside of tournaments or in their retirement, allowing fans to watch them play their favorite games, so the attachment of esports fans to certain teams and players is a strong one.
The full list of esports teams is extensive and there is a regular process of teams disbanding or combining and also player transfers. Team Liquid could be considered to be one of the most successful esports teams around, with a record of nearly 2,000 tournaments played across 37 sports, though they are best known for their Dota 2 exploits, particularly their consistent performances in the International. The same can be said of OG, a team from Denmark that focuses largely on Dota 2, a competition that they have won twice, in 2018 and again in 2019.
Another team that has risen to the top through sustained success is Astralis. The team made a big splash on the esports scene when it won the 2016 Esports Championship Series and along with a handful of other established teams, such as Fnatic, continues to be a force in CS:GO. And it is possible for teams to enjoy considerable success outside the big titles. In 2020, the two teams with the highest earnings are Dallas Empire, who play Call of Duty and San Francisco Shock who earned $1.56 million for their Overwatch exploits.
The Future of Esports
The short-term future of esports is likely to be one of continued rapid expansion, with esports revenues expected to grow to $1.6 billion by 2023 and $3.5 million by the end of 2025. At the same time, it is likely that mobile gaming will become a bigger factor and the boundary between player and fan will become ever more blurred as gaming becomes both more popular and more accessible.