What’s the fastest-growing spectator sport in the world? Believe it or not, it doesn’t involve balls, helmets, fields or pitches – it’s eSports.
What is eSports?
eSports is professional video gaming, a category of competition where players test their skills across a variety of games.
Competitive gaming has existed nearly as long as gaming itself has, but it’s in recent years that it has exploded onto the scene as a legitimate sporting venture.
The most prominent games to be played competitively are online combat-based games with the most popular of these being MOBAs (Multiplayer online battle arena) DOTA 2, League of Legends, and first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
At its strongest in South Korea, eSports is quickly becoming more and more popular around the globe.
Why should The Roar cover eSports?
Although many might seem sceptical of the idea at first, eSports is becoming as much a sport as anything else is.
While eSports doesn’t necessarily require the level of physical exertion that most other sports covered by The Roar do, professionals do need many of the traits that athletes in other games do.
Planning and decision-making in the heat of the contest are just as important if not more important to eSports as they are to more traditional sports. Reaction time is crucial, with some of the fastest players registering upwards of 500 ‘actions per minute’ on their keyboard and mouse. Fast twitch muscles are a necessity.
While eSports players might not be asked to put their bodies on the line, they are increasingly being recognised as legitimate sportspeople.
In 2013 the US granted a visa to a Canadian pro-eSports player as an “internationally recognised athlete”, and several US Colleges now offer scholarships based on elite eSports ability.
World wide growth
eSports is rapidly expanding around the world with both viewership and the prize money on offer increasing significantly as time goes on.
In South Korea eSports is regularly broadcast on TV. This has been trialled in some other parts of the world, including Australia, but is yet to take signifcant hold.
That doesn’t matter too much, because as you would expect from a phenomenon like eSports, it is making use of much more modern technology to reach fans.
Twitch.tv has become the most prominent place to watch eSports, an online live-streaming service through which many of the biggest events are broadcast around the globe. Youtube continues to also drive plenty of attention for competitive gaming.
In 2014, the League of Legends championship sold out a 40,000-seat stadium in Seoul, and the event was watched around the world by 27 million fans – numbers that rival virtually any major sport.
Perhaps most importantly the prize money available to competitors has significantly increased in recent years and continues to do so.
The more potential winnings on offer, the more professionalism that will come into the sport – and it will just keep growing, and growing.
eSports in Australia
eSports is yet to take off in Australia in the way it has in the US and South Korea but it does have a small presence here which is slowly growing. There isn’t a whole lot of prize money on offer for Australian eSports players just yet, which makes it hard for Australian players to compete with the best. However, game developers have been on the front foot recently in changing that situation.
In addition to that Australia’s poor internet infrastructure compared with the leading eSporting nations like South Korea and the US just does not lend itself to professional eSports.
However as time goes on one would suspect eSports will naturally gain a larger foothold in Australia, and with a bit of luck, the introduction of the NBN will allow Australian gamers to be more competitive.
Many different games are played professionally as eSports but there are of course some that are more popular than others.
Multiplayer online battle arena games DOTA 2 and League of Legends are among the most popular. DOTA 2 offers an enormous $18 million prize pool at its annual flaship tournament The International, while the League of Legends world championship offers a $1 million grand prize, among their many other regional and international tournaments.
First-person shooters Call of Duty and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are also popular, as are real-time strategy game StarCraft II and collectable card game Hearthstone.