With the ever-growing popularity of games like League of Legends, Starcraft 2, and Dota 2, eSports are becoming big business. What’s on the horizon for this burgeoning culture and industry?
Serious Fans Paying Serious Attention
A common theme in the world of digital media is the idea of an “attention budget” – that in the brave new world of the Internet, currency is eyeballs as much as dollars. If that’s true, then eSports is big business. The most popular League of Legends and Dota 2 players have more than a million subscribers each, with many more hundreds of thousands subscribed to other top players. In 2013 alone, the League of Legends’ eSports finals were watched by 32 million people – 8.5 million of them watched the broadcast simultaneously. And these numbers get larger every year. A recent report found that more than 70 million people watch eSports around the world.
As it gets more competitive, more popular, and more monetized, something else happens – eSports becomes a viable career. Some schools are even offering scholarships for video gaming; one recently opened a paid position for a League of Legends coach. Riot Games pays its professional coaches about $25,000 a season (excluding prize money) and the prize money is getting big as well. One report stated that a recent Dota 2 tournament hosted by Valve, featured a larger prize pool than the US Open golf tournament. With numbers like this, it starts to add up. When eSports can financially support its players in the way professional sports can, you have the makings of a real, sustainable industry with players who can devote all their time to becoming pro gamers.
New Markets Opening Up
With the growth of League of Legends and Dota 2 as financially viable sports with large amounts of spectators, million-dollar prize packages, and big-time sponsorship deals, interesting new markets begin to open up. For example, in the past few years, the much-maligned phenomenon known as “elo boost” has exploded – this is where a very strong player logs into another player’s account to boost their elo score in exchange for cash. When one’s bracket standing in League of Legends determines your eligibility for a tournament, people go to great lengths to increase their rank We also see the development of other types of markets such as deluxe guides for champions being sold as eBooks and hourly coaching services being offered. These market activities only occur when legitimate money and attention is paid to eSports – no one pays another person to play a video game unless there’s an end goal.
A Truly Global Experience
Right now, I think you could make the argument that soccer is the only truly global sport. Most other sports, at best, divide the globe between countries that play and countries that don’t, e.g. baseball and basketball, or vary so widely from country to country that sports that once were related no longer resemble one another closely. What differs eSports is that the rules are standardized by definition (everyone’s playing with the same game). The impact and popularity of the games is tending to expand rather than compartmentalize (games that once would have only been played in the US and Europe now have players all over the world). And just like with main stream sports, you don’t need to speak the same language to understand good gameplay.
I think that eSports will one day become a macro cultural phenomenon. In fifteen years, when we’re gathered in a booth in a sports pub watching a livestream of a video game tournament, we’ll look back at this time in the history of eSports and say “of course it was inevitable!”
Written by Alex.