What Are eSports

Many people refused to accept computer games as sports, even under the term ‘eSports’. Some still refuse to accept reality, but for most of us, it is clear that certain multiplayer video games deserve to be classified as sports, under the tag ‘eSports’.

To put it simply, eSports are competitively played video games, but that definition only gives the basic concept of eSports. One thing is clear though, the game has to be played on a device, either a computer or a gaming console, that’s what the ‘e’ stands for.

Not all video games can be classified as eSports, some video games lack multiplayer format, whereas the multiplayer format of other games doesn’t allow competitions to be organised and structured as it is the case with recognised eSports. Moreover, a video game has to be quite popular in order to be classified as eSport, and we talk of eSports, we usually talk about competitions between players who compete professionally.

Still, games that qualify as eSports can belong to several video game genres. There are fighting eSports, real-time strategies, FPSs (first-person shooter), as well as online battle arena games played in multiplayer (MOBA). Each eSport has its own feature and characteristics that sets it apart from other games which are also classified as eSports. The match, league and tournament formats of different eSports may vary, depending on the game characteristic, the dynamicity of the gameplay, how a winner can be determined and other factors.

The Beginnings

Historically tournaments and competitive matches have been taking place since the first video games and gaming consoles appeared, although nobody classified them as eSports back then. The first recorded video gaming tournament was held in 1972 at Stanford University. The participants were all students at the university and they competed in the then popular game Spacewar.

Next was the tournament in Space Invaders where the game was played on the famous Atari gaming console in 1980. This tournament attracted more than 10,000 from all over the USA. It is fair to say that competitive gaming is pretty much mainstream from that point onwards.

The first organisations that dealt with competitive video gaming were formed in the 1980s. Twin Galaxies was founded in 1980, it was a record keeping organisation that cooperated with the Guinness Book of Records. The organisations kept the highest scores in multiple popular video games. In the 1980s video gaming competitions were aired on TV, usually as part of popular game shows.

The Rise of Internet Gaming

During the 1990s a lot of people gained access to the internet and the first internet video games appeared. That paved the way for the modern eSports as we know them today. Even as early as 1988 a game that could be played by 16 people over the internet, called Netrek appeared. Wired magazine used the phrase ‘online sports game’ to describe Netrek.

The first Nintendo Championship was held in 1990. During the early stages of the tournament games were held all over the US, whereas the final event was held in California, in Hollywood at Universal Studios. The second Nintendo Championship was held in 1994 and this time the final took place in San Diego. International tournaments were also held during the 1990s the number of high-profile video gaming shows that were aired on television grew.

The Cyberathlete league (CPL) as well as the Professional league of gamers and the QuakeCon all took place for the first time in the late 1990s.

The New Millennium and Modern eSports

Towards the end of the 20th century South Korea entered the world of eSports and now is one of the countries where eSports attain a very high level of popularity. Experts generally agree that the Asian economic crisis of 1997 which led to increased unemployment in the country is one of the key factors that contributed to the popularisation of eGaming in Korea. The eSports association in the country, which is a branch of the ministry that regulates sports, culture and tourism was founded in 2000. That means that Korea recognises eSports as sports ever since 2000.

In the first decade of the new millennium the number of tournaments, the number of participants and the prizes for the winners grew significantly. But the real boom happened after 2010. By comparison, there were only about 10 eSports tournaments in 2000, whereas ten years later the number rose to over 250. The first $1 million tournament was held in 2006. The first professional teams were formed also in the period between 2006 and 2010. Some of those teams are still active today.

Satellite and cable televisions and later internet TVs that broadcast eSports events have been established in the last decade. South Korea was a pioneer in this field and the first 24/7 eSports channels were established in this Asian country. The number of viewers was growing steadily, by 2013 the viewership of the most popular competitive events exceeded 4.5 million unique viewers. There were more than 400,000 tournaments in the Nintendo tournament of 2010.

Prize Pools

The prize pools of the largest eSports tournaments regularly exceed $1 million and many feature prize pools higher than $10 million or even $20 million. For example, the prize pool of the League of Legends World Championship of 2016 was over $5 million. The Dota 2 International tournament prize pools have been even higher. In 2014 the prize pool was almost $11 million, in 2015 it exceeded $18 million, whereas in 2016 it was above $900 million. In the period from 2014 up to the end of 2016 there have been over 30 tournaments with prize pools that exceeded $1 million.

As of writing this, The International 2017 (a major Dota 2 tournament) has the record for the single largest prize pool of any one tournament: an unbelievable $24,687,919

And out of that, the 1st place finishers Team Liquid got over $10,000,000.

Classification as Sports

One of the most controversial issues concerning eSports, at least in mainstream media was their classification as sports. Many argued that since video games are played in a virtual environment and computers, consoles and other devices serve as media, the games cannot actually be classified as sports, since sports should take place on a physical field, pitch, track, etc. Moreover, it has also been argued that eAthletes are not required to be fit, unlike regular athletes.

However, it can’t be said that dart players, for instance are particularly fit. Moreover, eAthletes need to have pretty strong reflexes and it has been proven that ageing lowers their ability to perform competitively at the highest level, which is also the case with athletes that compete in conventional sports. As you can see, reasons both in favour and against the classification of eSports as sports can be found.

One of the main reasons, one has to admit is the overwhelming attention that the most popular eSports tournaments attract. Watched by millions, with prizes worth millions of dollars, one has to admit that eSports are more popular than a lot of conventional sports. It has been claimed that within a decade or two eSports will be able to compete even with the most popular sports such as football and basketball. We are aware that this may seem overly optimistic right now, but once we throw a look at eSports development and how things started, that claim will no longer seem farfetched.

Western countries followed South Korea and other Asian countries that have regulated eSports and classified them as a type of sports. For example, in 2013 one Canadian eAthlete was awarded a US visa type that is only awarded to recognised international athletes. In 2016, the French Government issued a statement claiming that it will recognise eSports. In the 2022 Asian Games, eSports will be included in the list of medal events, which would clearly classify them as sports.

eSports Games and Events

The list of video games that are considered to be eSports isn’t conclusive, in fact every popular game which can be and is played competitively at a professional level is added to the list. There is no international official body that determines whether a game is an eSports, but there is a general consensus in the community on most titles.

Most Popular eSports

This in not an exhaustive list as we do have other titles like Hearthstone, Street Fighter V, Super Smash Brothers, Warcraft 3, Starcraft: Brood War, Call of Duty, Smite, World of Tanks and many more. Whenever a sequel of a game that is considered to be an eSport is released, the new game is also played on a competitive level. Sometimes the new game simply substitutes the previous one, but in some cases both games can be played simultaneously, as for Starcraft.

There are usually multiple tournaments in each eSport, in some cases even national and regional leagues, but also international competitions. Most events are annual, even though there are biannual events as well as so called ‘one time only’ events.

eSports Teams

Professional eAthletes organise themselves in teams and also in broader associations and organisations. In many cases the same team competes in multiple eSports. For example, one team can also compete in Dota 2, League of Legends and CS:GO tournaments, even though different players compete in different teams.

Teams get funded through tournament participation, i.e. prizes, as well as sponsorship deals. How teams divide their prizes is an internal matter that is decided by team members themselves, even though some countries have legal provision regarding eSports payments. Moreover, certain teams decide to pay their players individual fixed salaries, in addition to the prize money.

The sponsorship deals signed by some of the more popular teams can be pretty hefty. In the past few years, many conventional sports clubs and athletes own or sponsor eSports teams, like Lyon and Fenerbahce.

Alliance, Evil Geniuses, SK Telecom T1, Fnatic, NaVi, and Invictus Gaming are the names of some of the most popular and most successful teams in the history of eSports. Teams are usually registered as representatives of a certain country, even though all players don’t have to come from the country that the team represent, just as in conventional sports.

eSports teams wear shirts and jerseys that feature the logos of their sponsors and partners, much like teams in other sports.

eSports Fans

It is often said that sports games are played for the fans. That also applied to eSports. Some of the older and well-established teams already have cult following and many fans are willing to travel the world just to see their beloved team in action. That is another strong indicator that competitively played video games have every right to be considered sports just like conventional sports.

If you visit an eSports event you will see that the fans are chanting, cheering and clapping their hands. The players are often able to see and hear their fans and many admit that this is a huge boost and additional motivation for them to give their best.