IN HIS LATEST DISPATCHES FEATURES WRITER JOE BAKER TURNS HIS EYE TO THE RISE OF THE ESPORTS PROFESIONAL STAR
Mention the word “eSports” to conventional sports fans and you’ll probably be greeted with anything from an exasperated eye-roll to a derisive scoff to a look of indignant bewilderment. For those still in the dark, eSports is the collective term used to describe competitive online multiplayer video gaming, often involving professional gamers. Yep, that’s right... Video games. The traditional domain of vitamin-D deficient teenagers and square-eyed bedroom-dwellers who would rather be seen dead than actually breaking a sweat.
Don’t get me wrong. I take no umbrage with video games as a recreational pursuit and even as a means to connect with other like-minded people (especially during Covid times when opportunities to interact physically are limited). But to try to claim any legitimate overlap between video-gaming and professional sport is surely a step too far? Well, that's what I thought until I took a look at it.
Over the past 15 years, eSports has rapidly ascended to become a truly global industry. Prominent players fly all over the world seeking out the biggest tournaments, taking them everywhere from South Korea, Germany and the US. There’s an ever-growing community of committed, sophisticated, multilingual gamers out there competing in first-person shooter (FPS) games, real-time strategy (RTS) games and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games like League of Legends and Dota 2 (these are strategy games where teams work together against an opposing side to take out their base while defending their own).
Not only are the professional gamers making a living… some of them are making an absolute killing! In 2019, the total prize money for League of Legends tournaments around the world was a mouthwatering $9.15 million. For the Dota 2 2020 world championships, the prize pool was an eye-popping $40 million! Compare that with the total purse for Wimbledon in 2019 ($49.4 million) and the financial clout of competitive video-gaming becomes impossible to deny.
Watching a tournament is not dissimilar to spectating at traditional sports. Commentators wax lyrical on the teams, players, leagues and tournaments, while a live audience enjoys the innate thrills and spills as the games unfold between the world’s elite competitors. The matches and tournaments are broadcast to fans who watch live through streaming platforms like YouTube, Twitch and Facebook.
With worldwide audiences in excess of 500 million and more than half of 14-to-21-year-olds now watching competitive video gaming, it’s safe to say the next generation of legitimate sports superstars is likely to include more than a few eSports super stars.