Baseball. Football. Basketball. Starcraft 2.
At first glance, it seems like one of these things is not like the other. However, they are remarkably similar.
To many, names such as EGIdrA, IMMvp and oGsMC are just as famous as Alex Rodriguez, Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant. The former are professional Starcraft 2 players and are the faces of the burgeoning phenomenon called eSports. Once considered to be a niche market, populated solely by basement-dwelling mouth breathers, eSports has increasingly found its way into the mainstream.
The real hurdle for a lot of people is why they should care. Why should I watch somebody play a video game? Because, like any professional event, the professionals are astoundingly good at what they do. Additionally, eSports brings with it its fair share of drama and persistent narrative, just like any sport. There are grudge matches between feuding players and epic comebacks, basically everything that makes mainstream sports so good. A caster (someone similar to a sports announcer) of Starcraft 2, Sean “Day” Plott, when asked about the appeal of Starcraft 2 to a lay audience said, “These games work because even as a non-player you can understand and follow the basic action and you identify with the drama implicit in extraordinary feats of human performance.” We are inexorably drawn to these impressive feats, and eSports offers them in spades.
It is also accessible, something which previous attempts at creating an eSports scene have missed. Blizzard Entertainment has done a phenomenal job providing an interface that is friendly to those “casting” games.
Alongside accessibility comes the ease of consumption. With websites like YouTube, twitch.tv, day9.tv and blip.tv, there is more, higher quality material produced each day. Professional gamers are now able to stream their daily matches and practice sessions to the general populace, something that was previously impossible to do.
Not only can they do this, but it is extremely popular. Twitch.tv estimated that people have consumed over 1 billion hours of video game related material per month in the last six months, the majority of which are these practice sessions and ladder matches (games played using Blizzard’s equivalent of Xbox Live). In pure consumption numbers, that is equivalent to 6.6 million Americans’ TV consumption each month. Granted not every person logging into twitch.tv is an American, but that is a staggering number nonetheless.
And sponsors are beginning to take notice.
People that had grown up with video games are now getting jobs and have a fair amount of disposable income, and they are spending it on video games: buying video games, going to video game conventions and most importantly travelling to video game tournaments. Major League Gaming in the US and the Global Starcraft League in South Korea were ready and eager to accept this new blood into their ranks. As more and more people pour into these events, sponsors begin to take notice. Already, these events are sponsored by Dr. Pepper, Pepsi and Nos energy drinks. These so-called lifestyle sponsors are integral for the success of any large scale event. The influx of lifestyle sponsors represents a growing industry.
We had better be ready to accept eSports into the mainstream. Even NBA players are getting behind the trend. Utah Jazz power forward Gordon Hayward announced that during the NBA lockout he would play professional Starcraft 2 in the IGN Proleague.
It’s not going to stop with Starcraft 2. It’s only the beginning.
Other video game companies have taken notice of the success that Starcraft 2, and by extension Blizzard, has enjoyed. Valve recently ran a tournament to unveil its new game, Dota 2, which featured a prize pool of $1 million. Riot games, the makers of League of Legends, have announced a $5 million prize pool for season two of their online competition.
Colleges now have teams that allow their students to compete against other colleges for money and glory. The Collegiate Star League (CSL) puts on weekly matches pitting colleges across the continent against each other (ok, ok, just US and Canada, but across the continent sounds so much more impressive). Even here at UTD we have our own burgeoning CSL teams for both Starcraft 2 and League of Legends, which meet in FO1.206 from 5:30pm to 8:30pm on Fridays. (You can reach them via email at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.) These guys are always willing to help and looking for new members.
eSports is a growing segment of mainstream culture, so if IMBA, solo mid and 6 pool sound like a foreign language, then you are already behind. Time to stand up and start playing more video games.