The eSports scene has existed for quite some time, harking back to the older days of Starcraft and Counter-Strike. At the time, these were fairly underground scenes, as least as far as the North American community was concerned (I won’t speak for South Korea’s massive uptake on Starcraft as a professional sport).
These were games in which the skill curve was high, and while accessing the games themselves was easy, the evolution of the internet as a whole had not reached a point where the games were accessible as a spectator sport. Streaming was unheard of, and games had to be recorded and downloaded as files to be watched after the event itself, unless you were lucky enough to see Counter-Strike games played live at a local venue, or competed yourself.
The last two years have seen a massive increase in the widespread popularity of eSports, but what has lead to this vast increase in popularity? There are a number of factors, all of which had to be present before this scene could make its emergence from the background. This is best compared to the evolution of traditional sports, and why Baseball, Basketball, and American Football have had such wide support for decades.
Major League Gaming has been one of the longest standing pro-level gaming communities to date.
The first aspect of the most popular traditional sports is their accessibility for actual play. As far as the most popular North American sports, baseball has probably the most difficult set up, needing both a bat AND a ball. Otherwise, the sports need little more than a ball and some people willing to play to be accessed by anyone, and the rules are widespread and understood enough to make this easy to do.
The second part is accessibility for spectatorship. Modern sports evolved very closely alongside television in the early to mid 1900’s, with the first televised sporting event in history: the Olympic games in Berlin in 1936. As the television became more commercially available, sports became more widely televised. These were games that nearly everyone had played in their youth, and having access to professional level games was considered a great pastime, and exploded in popularity into the mid 1900’s.
The third part of the sports triumvirate is community. In traditional sports this was easy, it was widespread enough that getting together and talking about the game, or watching it together on one television in the first place, was common and relatively simple to do. This meant that not only did you get to watch the games you enjoyed, but it became a basis for social interaction later down the line.
Starting in such small venues, the scope of eSport live events has become incredible.
So how does this apply to eSports? As we see the popularity of these games balloon, it’s actually fairly simple to see how these three foundational elements formed over time. One thing, I think, that was instrumental in widening the scope of eSports was the increase to accessibility. Alongside the increase in the power of computers, the free-to-play business model has become considerably more common.
Starcraft 2 is relatively cheap for the amount of play and enjoyment you get out of it, but consider that the largest eSporting events to date have been held by League of Legends, a game which is entirely free to play for anyone. This means that young children, even in less wealthy households, can access the game fairly easily. While the skill curve is indeed high, succesful eSports have done well in using matchmaking systems to get you to play against people of your skill level, which lets you have fun at any level of proficiency.
The second part, accessibility of spectatorship, is closely tied to the evolution of the internet as a whole. Streaming has become incredibly commonplace, with websites like Twitch.tv allowing easy access to anyone with the desire to show some live gameplay. While eSports in North America have not made a push onto television, streaming sites make accessing the games simple, and let eSports gamers reach a far wider audience.
Another part of this, which is important, as it allows professional gamers to pull in personal revenue on account of allowing advertising on their stream, with a wider viewership helping them pay their own bills, further allowing these gamers to push the eSports community forward.
Twitch has worked wonders for the gaming community, and given pro players a great source of income day to day.
Community has become one of the biggest parts of eSports as we know it. Streaming websites allow constant communication with each and every person watching that stream with you, creating a level of connection between fellow fans which is nonexistent, at least at that level, in traditional sports.
Even if you can’t be in the same room, VoIP programs like Skype let friends all get together and talk while watching the stream, and the explosion in the number and size of live events has hit a point where it’s more common to see large numbers of people travel long distances to see these professional games played live.
The eSports scene as a whole has done wonders to help push what was once just an enjoyable hobby, like with any older traditional sport, into an activity that could be done professionally and taken seriously. The people I’ve met in my own enjoyment of eSports have changed my life for the better, and its a community I love to be a part of. I look forward to watching the community grow with all of you, and hope to see you at the games!
Follow my twitter @AtelusGamer, and check out my YouTube channel, AtelusGamer, as I continue to upload impressions of various games as well as gameplay I just think is fun and interesting.