Millions of people around the world now spend large chunks of their leisure time watching leading gamers vie for supremacy at esports tournaments. The competitive gaming sector has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years and that has seen it emerge as a genuine challenger to traditional sports. Why exactly are people choosing to watch esports over football, basketball, tennis and golf?
Everyone is connected
The first esports tournament took place on a bulky PDP-10 computer back in 1972, when the first prize was a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine and a case of beer. Yet competitive gaming remained a niche, underground pursuit until quite recently when the advent of high-speed broadband left everyone connected for the first time, Suddenly gamers from around the world could play against one another and a flourishing competitive scene sprung up.
Technological advances have ensured developers could create games with a high skill ceiling and that has allowed genuine superstars to come to the fore. Tournament organisers recognised the potential of esports and started stumping up increasingly high prize pools for their events, driving greater interest. It has seen major teams created across the world and they are investing in training centres, player associations and more.
Yet none of this would be possible without the viewers. The rise of Twitch and YouTube has allowed tournaments to be beamed across the globe to anyone that cares to stream the action from their bedrooms. Major tournaments now receive tens of millions of viewers, which inspires big companies to sponsor the action, and this cash is ploughed into prize money. The prize money is then funnelled down to the teams and the players, allowing more pros to emerge and perpetuating the growth cycle.
Growing up with technology
The esports scene massively over-indexes among teenagers and young adults. They have grown up with technology and they can appreciate the skill on show at these tournaments. They treat superstar gamers such as Faker, SonixFox and s1mple like celebrities and they may identify more readily with them than they do with the chiselled, hulking athletes that dominate traditional sports.
The emerging generations might find it rather quaint to sit and watch a tennis match or a golf tournament on TV. They are accustomed to having multiple windows open, watching a CS:GO or League of Legends match take place, while live chatting in a forum and posting on social media, perhaps while filming their reactions and streaming them on YouTube.
The average baseball fan is now 57 years old and that number is increasing all the time. The average horse racing and golf fan is even older. These pursuits are dying out and being gradually replaced by a new form of competitive entertainment that takes advantage of the sort of technological advances that have revolutionised virtually every other aspect of life.
A vibrant and dynamic scene
Traditional sports have not changed a great deal since they were invented. You see slight rule changes here and there, like the back pass being outlawed in soccer, tie breaks being permitted in the fifth set at major tennis tournaments and even video assistant refs emerging, but these tweaks are pretty minor. There are also very few sports emerging as serious rivals to the existing heavyweights.
The esports scene is the polar opposite, as new and exciting games are emerging all the time. Existing titles are being constantly refined and updated to enhance the gaming and viewing experience, and the whole scene feels alive, vibrant and dynamic.
We are also just scratching the surface in terms of technology. Right now gamers sit in rows of chairs, armed with keyboards, mice, headsets and CPUs, and do battle. Advances in AR and VR will make the scene more impressive, bring gamers out of their chairs and ensure the visual spectacle is a lot more engaging.
There is also a healthy competition among developers, which ensures that the games hitting the market are strong and exciting. Fortnite surged to the top of the battle royale genre, but then Apex Legends came along and forced Epic Games to work hard in order to retain its crown. League of Legends and Dota 2 constantly scrap for supremacy, which spurs each one onto greater heights. New first-person shooters keep the CS:GO team on its toes. There is no alternative to football or basketball coming along to create competition.
Greater levels of professionalism
Make no mistake: the esports scene still lags behind traditional sports in most metrics. Esports stars have recently become multimillionaires, but the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan are billionaires. The prize money at the Champions League dwarfs anything within gaming. A number of major teams have enormous, dedicated fan bases, the leagues are well established and the sports themselves are steeped in heritage.
Yet esports is constantly catching up. The most significant advances are in the level of professionalism within the competitive gaming sector. Leagues and cups are now organised effectively, with sharp, professional teams of executives working hard to ensure things run as smoothly as possible. If you look at the esports betting odds, you will see a huge range of tournaments that run like clockwork, 24/7. That is another advantage of esports: it is not weather dependent, and it is popular all around the world, so there is always something to watch.
The improvements can largely be attributed to the increased presence of traditional sports franchises within the esports scene. The Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Sacramento Kings have all invested in League of Legends teams. Paris Saint-Germain has invested heavily in Dota 2 and more. FC Copenhagen has made great strides in CS:GO through its joint venture NORTH. There are many more examples of traditional sports teams investing in esports, because if you cannot beat them, why not join them?
The chance to make a fortune
Gamers now know that they can become multimillionaires overnight simply by playing their favourite video game. Bugha, a 16-year-old from Pennsylvania, won $3 million by seizing glory in the solo tournament at the Fortnite World Cup this summer. The following month, the five members of the OG Dota 2 team each won $3.1 million for triumphing at The International.
You might not be tall enough to make it in the NBA, or quick enough to survive in the Premier League, but almost everyone in the world can play games. Esports is extremely accessible, and gamers love to watch the leading lights in action. It helps them improve their own skills, and it is also tremendously entertaining, so it is easy to see why esports is on a massive upward curve.
In the future, the scene is likely to usurp traditional sports in the popularity stakes, which is why major basketball and soccer clubs are investing in it now.