eSports: a future of onscreen stadiums
eSports, in which spectators watch live feeds of face-offs between professional videogame players, have become a mass social and economic phenomenon.
Many people agree that, while television has less and less to offer, internet offers fascinating possibilities. One of these is eSports, a cross between videogames and professional competition which has been fueled by the globalization of internet and access to technology.
Although videogames have always been considered a solitary activity, the reality is that eSports fill stadiums, stir up deep passions and boast their own leagues, teams and television channels. In other words, videogames are no longer just a pastime; they can also represent a professional opportunity, as demonstrated by 191 million enthusiastic fans and a business that will move 696 million dollars in 2017 worldwide, according to a study performed by the specialized consultancy Newzoo.
The origin and keys to eSports´ success
In the 1980s, large scale competitions emerged alongside the first videogames (like the first Space Invaders championship, celebrated in 1980). But six years ago, Riot Games, the company behind League of Legends (LOL), fired the starting shot that would spark the birth of the electronic sports market: for the first time, the company paid top players to play LOL professionally. Other companies followed suit, turning eSports into a mass phenomenon and its top players into superstars.
It might not have taken off, but the experts agree: the other key to the success of eSports has been the generational shift. According to the Movistar eSports journalist, Eduardo ‘Keireth’ Granado, “young people have found excitement and a feeling of belonging to something big and unique in electronic sports.”
Who, what, when, where and how
So, is this a proper sport? "One vital difference with other sports is that electronic sports do have an owner. If a videogames company says that tomorrow there will no longer be any tournaments for their game, it´s game over," says Antonio Yuste, the director on the online channel Twitch Esportmaniacos.
Sport or not, here are the basics that one needs to know about the world of eSports:
- What games are played? League of Legends, the videogame which boasts the largest international following, and Counter-Strike, one of the top, first-person shooter games, lead the charts. Players Unknown’s Battlegrounds, a kind of Hunger Games with 100 players, and Clash Royale, a three-minute mobile card and strategy game, are two of the top up-and-comers. With fewer spectators than these examples are FIFA, a bestselling saga with a smaller following as an eSport, and Data 2, a real-time fantasy and strategy game and predecessor to LOL.
- Who reaches the podium (and who comprises these teams)? “The number one LOL [player] is Faker (who is just 21 years old), followed by other Korean stars like Smeb and Gorilla, and Westerners like Bjergsen, Perkz and Rekkles,” says Keireth. Clash Royale is dominated by Surgical Goblin, a Dutch 17 year old. In Spain, the player of reference is the world champion and author of one of the most famous plays ever made in League of Legends, Enrique ‘xPeke’ Cedeño, from Murcia. Currently, the top ranked Spanish LOL player is Alfonso 'Mithy' Aguirre. Players are organized by teams which include a Shot caller, similar to the figure of captain, who guides the rest of the team during games and defines strategy. Teams also include reserve players who can be tagged in if a player is injured (the usual injuries involve wrists, forearms and elbows), personal coaches and psychologists.
- How are players ranked, and how much do they earn? Each videogame has its own national and international leagues. Riot Games organizes the League of Legends World Championship, which was celebrated this year in China and awarded one million dollars (approximately 844.000 euros) to the winner. There are also several regional leagues, most notably League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK). In Spain, the LOL Superliga Orange runs two, three month seasons. Counter-Strike boasts important monthly tournaments and the leading Data 2 competition is The International, which in 2016 awarded a prize of over 20 million dollars (over 17 million euros).
- Where are eSports watched (and played)? eSports can be followed primarily via Twitch.tv, an online streaming platform purchased by Amazon in 2014 for almost 1 billion dollars (approximately 848 millon euros) and which just last year amassed over 292 billion minutes of viewing time. In Spain, this year Movistar has launched a new channel dedicated exclusively to eSports, and the sports publication Marca has launched a specialized website. If what you want is to play, the leading platform is Steam.
- Why (business model)? “As with football, a player signs with a team, with a monthly salary and negotiates percentages for competitions and advertising", Yuste explains. Internationally, Red Bull has professional players. Although not professional sport in Spain, the basketball club Vitoria Baskonia has been backing eSports for over a year, and its team is the current champion of the Orange Superliga.
Video of the official 2014 LOL World Championship song, Warriors, which boasts over 100 million YouTube views.
The road to the podium
If everything surrounding electronic sports grows as widely, and as quickly, will eSports players eventually become Olympic athletes? The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, says he is not sure and has outlined some rules for eSports to follow to this end – something which, according to the director at Twitch Esportmaniacos. Oblivious to this debate, eSports continue to gain traction. "We will keep filling stadiums [and] observing evermore powerful clubs and star players who mobilize a tremendous amount of people on social media", says Keireth.
For now, everything would seem to signal a greater professionalization of the sector. Coaches, marketing experts, IT specialists and event organizers are some of the profiles forecasted to be in high demand within the sector. And, of course, players. In Valencia (Spain), there is already an onsite academy for aspiring players, and in Madrid (also in Spain), Movistar launched its own eSports complex in May.
But one must not underestimate the difficulty involved in becoming a professional player. "There is a strange misconception that anyone can go pro in eSports, and this is not true. Just like someone who wants to be a football star, in electronic sports you have to be very good and work very hard", Keireth affirms. "Or you have an unprecedented natural talent, or you train harder than anyone else in order to be the best", Yuste agrees. Who knows? Maybe someday, with many hours of practice and great determination, you could be the next Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo of eSports.
By Patricia Ruiz Guevara