Esports are here, and it seems like they won’t be going away anytime soon.
The Esports industry has boomed in the last decade, and its reach has expanded much larger than anyone would have ever pictured or predicted.
Esports (also known as electronic sports, e-sports, or sometimes eSports) is a form of competition using video games. Most commonly, Esports take the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players and teams.
Although organized online and offline competitions have long been a part of video game culture, these were largely between amateurs until the late 2000s, when participation by professional gamers and spectatorship in these events through live streaming saw a large surge in popularity.
By the 2010s, Esports events were a significant factor in the video game industry, with many game developers actively moving towards a professional Esports subculture.
All across North America, Europe, and Asia, the sensation has caught on like wildfire, and it’s incredibly interesting to see how the attitudes around Esports have changed drastically over the past decade or so.
I remember first hearing about Esports and like many others, initially thinking it was incredibly odd. I had a lukewarm reaction to the idea, saying things along the lines of “So people really just watch people play video games?” or “Wow, society has really failed! Sitting at a computer all day watching someone play Call of Duty, why not just play it yourself?”
That attitude still does persist, but how quickly the Esports world is expanding brought the attention of investors who saw great opportunity, and the “stigma” around Esports slowly but surely dissipated.
The history of Esports
Let’s rewind a bit. In August 2015, YouTube launched YouTube gaming. A new part of their website that would better allow users to stream video game based content, as well as giving a homeland to a large and ever-growing community.
To many people, this may have been the first time that had ever considered that people enjoy watching people play video games, had they not already been familiar with Twitch.tv, which today, is the largest streaming site that exists.
Like I previously stated, most people’s knee-jerk reactions is to diss the hobby of Esports, but in reality, it’s no different than any other form of game-based live entertainment. Whether it’s the NFL, all the way to Chess, people have enjoyed watching people play games for hundreds of years, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Though we can’t pin down the exact date that Esports started, it is obviously a recent phenomena (to the West, at least). There’s a type of general consensus among those that say it started some time in the late 90’s during E3 tournament style competitions.
Over the next decade or so, television and Esports would continue to grow with each other, though at this point, it really only caught on in Korea, where there were two popular 24-hour televised esport channels, and gaming content to provide for large Korean markets.
In 2006, MLG (Major League Gaming) made their first attempt at TV, broadcasting their MLG 2006 pro-circuit featuring popular games such as Halo on the USA network. It may have been too ambitious for the time, as it did not catch the public’s attention, and drifted away into the background.
But things happened quickly. In 2011 when Justin.tv launched a new platform specifically for gaming called Twitch, this is where everything changed. Twitch would quickly become the most popular streaming platform on Earth, and Esports viewership numbers would explode.
Large viewership and big money
This growth is astounding and the numbers don’t lie. The World Championship of League of Legends went from 1.7 million viewers in 2011, to 8.2 million in 2012, then 32 million in 2013. In 2018, these numbers reached the heights of nearly 100 million viewers. These stunning numbers are what helped Esports move from a subculture into the mainstream, and helped it be seen for what it really is; A legitimate form of entertainment.
The games were not only viewer friendly, but were multiplayer experiences played online, connecting players like the world has never seen before. Free to play games enticed more and more players to pick up their mouse and keyboards, while the online component offered the thrill of competition.
With the barrier to entry lower than ever before, the popularity of Esports spread like a virus across the globe.
In August of 2013, Riot Games sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles in Under one hour. RIght under all of our noses, esports formed into a multi-million dollar industry that appeared to have a very, very high ceiling.
Selling out the Staples Center is a big deal. Selling it out in under an hour? That is shocking. The story gained international attention, and people were finally starting to realize that the hidden world of Esports was much larger than they could have ever imagined.
Over the coming years, mainstream media and Esports continued to flirt, with the increasing size of Esports events, such as prize pools, attendance and viewership all drawing media attention and confusion.
The genie was out of the bottle, and there was no going back.
It wasn’t just Jimmy Kimmel who had trouble wrapping his mind around the idea of Esports, several media outlets across America mocked Esports for how seemingly “nerdy” it is.
What those people did not understand is that Esports were no longer some docile sub-culture that would roll over and die. The industry had become a massive and legitimate form of entertainment.
In 2015, for example, the League of Legends championships had over 36 million unique viewers around the world.
Those numbers are stunning on their own, but to put it in perspective, that 36 million viewer figure is larger than the viewership of both the 2015 NBA Finals (23 million), the 2015 MLB World Series (17 million,) and the 2015 Stanley Cup finals (8 million).
With the mainstream media’s full attention, and the numbers to back up their success, the media’s perception of Esports and watching video games would rapidly change. So rapidly, that Fortune magazine would write a “need to knows” article about investing in Esports.
Following suit, Forbes magazine came out with an article explaining why Esports are the next big thing.
By the end of 2016, tonnes of notable organizations and sports stars had hopped on board, such as the Philadelphia 76ers, the Sacramento Kings, Alex Rodriguez, Shaq, and Magic Johnson would all have big money invested in the world of gaming.
Esports in Canada
The growth is international, and Canada is no exception. In 2016, an Esports event packed the Air Canada center for 2 days, 15,000 people each time, in the North American finals of League of Legends.
As an outsider looking in, I needed some help to better understand the state of Esports in Canada. With such a large and thriving community in other parts in the world, I was interested to hear the thoughts of competitors in Canada about the state of Esports in Canada.
Fabio Giorno, who goes by @SCARMASTERFLEX on Twitter, is a Twitch Affiliate that says he wants to bring gamers from all walks of life together, and unite them on a commonplace free from isolation and hate. He currently plays for Ontario Esports League (OESL), says that the future of Esports is looking good, and that Canada “still has a tonne of potential.”
He notes that the attitude shift has helped Esports tremendously. “Montreal is starting to get its private high schools on board, giving the opportunity to the Millennials that seek to go pro one day. Vancouver recently hosted the DotA 2 TI*, which I had the pleasure to go witness, and allowed Canada to host a major esport event.”
He’s not wrong. Recently, Montreal opened an Esports academy supported by none other than UFC legend Georges St. Pierre. The Academy says their mission is to develop programs and offer services in order to supervise the practice of Esports while focusing on prevention and healthy lifestyle habits, in order to create the best e-athletes at home from coast to coast.
Alex Kim, a competitive gamer native to Korea that now resides in Ontario who also plays for OESL, says that Canadian Esport communities still have plenty of growing to do, but that there is lots of potential.
“While esports is seen as a new niche [in Canada], it’s something that has already been normalized in countries like South Korea. I would consider Korea a developed gaming market. They’ve been doing it for 20 years and many of the world’s best players and coaches across multiple games originate there. Canadian communities are still growing in comparison. As more infrastructure is being put in place, more people are starting to pursue their passion in competitive gaming. We do have some super solid OG’s that really anchor their communities and push them forward. What I’d love to see is more high level collaboration between the bigger guys to accelerate growth.”
“Canada has the 7th highest tournament winnings in the world by country behind Russia, Denmark, Sweden, South Korea, China, and the United States,” says Kim. “While it’s not a 100% accurate representation of skill as tournament prize pools vary wildly by game, it shows that we’re not noobs either. Canada does produce highly skilled players, however, most players will leave to play for an organization in the US or abroad.”
The ceiling is yet to be found for the Esports industry. At an astronomical pace, Esports have become a sensation across America and Europe, and only time will tell how large the industry grows.
Attitudes are quickly changing, and Esports appear to be a large part of the future of entertainment.
What do you think of the Esports phenomena? Let us know in the comments below.