By Sebastian Moronta Blanco, Staff Writer
Over the past three decades, the video game industry has grown exponentially, and beyond the advent of the 21st century, the competitive gaming scene has grown at a commensurate rate.
Video gaming is traditionally seen as a recreational activity, and while organized online and offline competitions have long existed in video game culture, spectatorship and participation at events and competitions have surged in recent years.
The proliferation of video gaming at the competitive level has led to the rapid expansion of the gaming industry to support the increased interest. The global eSports market generated USD $325 million in 2013 and markets totaled at 892.8 million for 2016, according to a report by SuperData Research.
The significant increase in revenue can be attributed to more brands and advertisers entering the market, as well as the rapid growth of competitions yearly, up from just ten in 2000 to 260 in 2010, including the establishment of many successful annual tournaments, including the Intel Extreme Masters.
Tournaments can be for a single game, such as The International, an annual Dota 2 tournament hosted by game developer and distributor Valve Corporation, or for multiple including the aforementioned Intel Extreme Masters hosted by Intel and showcasing events in Starcraft II, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, Overwatch and several more.
Tournaments are often global events as eSports are surging in several regions around the world, most notably in South Korea, where several eSports organizations have licensed professional gamers since 2000. Beyond South Korea, most tournaments take place in Europe, North America, and China.
An estimated 213.8 million people watched competitive gaming in 2016, and that audience is projected to reach 300 million by 2019, although other estimates project even higher numbers.
Most gaming tournaments are not televised, and are instead broadcast over the internet, using dedicated sites as well as popular game streaming sites. The largest of which is Twitch.tv, a game streaming site that in 2014 was acquired by Amazon for $970 million.
The rise of eSports has also generated a significant amount of controversy, including the use of performance-enhancing drugs such as Adderal and Ritalin, and the classification of video games as “sports” has been a controversial point of debate.
Some cite the apparent lack of physical exertion in eSport competitions to disqualify them as sports, as well as its practice indoors. Others justify the classification by citing the growth in popularity, as well as the notion among the eSport community that careful planning, precise timing, and skillful execution ought to be what classifies an activity as a sport, and that extensive physical exertion and outdoor play are not required of all traditional and non-traditional sports, including Billiards. Significant commitment to the activity is also used in its defense, as many professional teams practice between 10-12 hours a day, some sessions drifting past the 16-hour mark.
Government recognition of eSports has also grown. In 2013, the United States first granted a Canadian League of Legends player a P-1A visa, a designation reserved for “Internationally recognized athletes,” and in 2016 the French government began work on a project to recognize and regulate eSports.
Professional gamers are often associated with teams or broader gaming associations, and garner sponsorships, equipment, and funding from related technology companies such as Logitech and Razor.
They are not always but often paid a salary if attached to a professional team, as well as receiving income from online streaming via Twitch.tv and related sites, and tournament prize pools, the largest of which totaled over $20 million at The International tournament this year. It was estimated that there were 23 million players competing in the top 5 eSports games of 2016 in the US alone.
Sam Mathews, founder of pro gaming sports team Fnatic, defines eSports as “competition augmented by technology” and hopes eSports climb to a level of recognition rivaling other sports whose legitimacy were challenged at the advent, including Snowboarding. If the growth in global popularity maintains over the next decade, it is very likely they will.