eSports – Ready To Play

I have confession to make. I’m not really a gamer. Or at least not a serious gamer or die-hard fan of any particular online or electronic game. Yes, I did play some video games when I was a teenager in high school, especially Street Fighter II and Wolfenstein 3D, but it costs quite a money for me back then and therefore playing a console or PC games is the kind of activity reserved on weekly or even monthly basis. And no, I didn’t own any gaming console back then. In order to play, I had to head to the nearest shopping mall. Life was not as easy like nowadays during 90s.

(Street Fighter II. One of the most popular games during early 90s. Image from Google)

It was safe to say that playing games wasn’t something considered as a good after-school activity by my parent. Au contraire, my parent would go berserk if I play it  because for them it was a waste of precious time and money. For them (as well as most of other parents), playing a video games won’t help me in my exam and definitely won’t help me getting a good career and bright future.

(Wolfenstein 3D. Image from Google)

Even when I was in university, I was not really a gamer although I occasionally played games like Command & Conquer, Grand Theft Auto and Medal of Honor. Unfortunately, those titles were mostly available on Windows machine while I was using Macintosh & (Red Hat) Linux. So in order to play, I have to use my roommate’s PC. And since he was quite a gamer himself, it was obvious my time to play was limited. I can only play it when he went to class or occasionally went back to his hometown on weekend.

But back in my few final semesters in university, me and few of our hostel-mates played some games quite extensively as all of us knew that after our final exams and graduation, probably it’s going to take a good 10 to 20 years before we’ll meet again.

(Command and Conquer series. Image from Google)

So there we went and laid some good several meters of UTP cable inside a pipe duct and also bought a network switch, therefore created our own LAN just for the sake of playing (mostly) Medal of Honor. Back then Internet was still a limited resources, so that was our only option for online games or eSports. It was all fun and games until someone frequently used a cheat code or the security guards started to scream at us for making so much noise at 2 a.m.!

Of course he should, because half of the population inside the building were either the gamers themselves (who screamed to those who used the cheat code) or their supporters and spectators (don’t expect supporters will just stay quiet during the session). And no, no prize whatsoever for those who won the mission.

With the increasing popularity of gaming console in mid-2000s (fuelled further when Microsoft entered the ring with Xbox) and social video game services like Zynga (Farmville anyone?) gained popularity through mobile devices and social networking site like Facebook, online video gaming is no longer reserved to teenagers, but adults too. Still remember all the request or notifications from your Facebook friends to play Candy Crush?


Current State of eSports


With mobile devices and Internet access getting more accessible and affordable to the mass market, it goes without saying that online gaming is one of the sector that tend to flourish and grow. eSports, especially massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) are no longer played at some cybercafes, but it has become closer to the real, traditional sports where it’s played in an arena with hundreds or thousands of spectators, as well as broadcasted and watched through the likes of Twitch and YouTube.

(TSM plays Cloud9 in the 2016 Finals of the North American League of Legends Championship Series Summer. Image from Sportsnet Canada)

And it doesn’t seem to slow down anytime soon. According to the report from Newzoo “total eSports revenue jumped from $493 million in 2016 to $655 million in 2017, and total revenue could exceed $900 million in 2018.” And the global eSports audience will reach 380 million this year (2018), made up of 165 million dedicated eSports fans and 215 million occasional viewers.

And eSports is no longer a field dominated by large, traditional players like EA Sports and ActivisionBlizzard but large Internet company like Tencent (parent company of Supercell Oy, Riot Games and Epic Games) and Alibaba (parent company of EJoy) as well. It also attracts celebrity investors like Drake (investor in 100 Thieves esports franchise) and Michael Jordan (one of the investor in AXiomatic Gaming, which own sports franchise Team Liquid).

And by 2020, global eSports is estimated to generate around $1.5 billion in annual revenues, mostly from sponsorship and advertising, with global audience of 600 million.

(Cloud9 vs TSM. Image from Riot Games)

Yes, a billion with a big B. And we hardly have to build  (or maintain) a sports facilities or hoping that Mother Nature won’t open a floodgate of torrential rains or heavy snowstorm when Cloud9 and TSM fights each other in League of Legends or DoTA. And no physical injury to the players either (Well, except things like this). And it’s no longer a game being played by just some fanatic gamers. eSports events has attracted millions of viewers, commentators and celebrities, even sporting venues like Barclays Center has started to host an eSports competition. Likewise, a ‘traditional’ video games like FIFA World Cup has its own eSports (called eWorld Cup) and has started its own eSports competition.


Yes, There Are Careers (And Money) To Be Made In eSports


And how much money can we expect if anybody wants to make a career out of eSports?

According to World Economic Forum, the winner for League of Legends stands to win $1 million prize money. As with traditional sports, the prize money usually a chump change compared to other earnings for the team or individual players. Throw in sponsorship and appearance fee on top of the prize money, the number could shoot upwards to a cool $25 million! Kuro Salehi Takhasomi or KuroKy earns more than $4 million to date,  the highest earning e-sports player of all time by prize money.

(Infographics from Newzoo)

Pretty cool for a hobby deemed as waste of time and money 20 years ago huh? And you don’t have to break your ankle or fracture your skull like some other competitive sports to earn it.

And this is just a beginning. Sooner or later, the sponsorship money and merchandising will start to dwarf prize money even further. Just look at sports like F1 and count how many sponsors attached to each drivers’ racing suit. Throw in merchandising revenue like T-shirts selling very much like when Cristiano Ronaldo joined Juventus recently or broadcast rights during training or behind-the-scene events, eSports along with the teams and their players are poised to mint money even further.

(F1 racing suits. Image from The Telegraph)

And I won’t be surprised if one day a traditional sports holding company like Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and Spurs Sports & Entertainment started to buy eSports franchise to further expand their sports empire. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Maybe soon enough Roman Abramovich will open his wallet again and start his shopping spree. He did it once with Chelsea FC so there’s no guarantee he won’t do it again, especially when eSports teams are still relatively affordable compared to another soccer of ice hockey team (the franchise for League of Legends is around $10 million and Overwatch is around $20 million).


Battling With Traditional Sports


Yes, compared to other traditional sports, eSports gamers may exposed to less risky physical injuries, unlike Formula 1, soccer or American football. But it doesn’t mean it is less difficult and less challenging either. The eSports players are known to spend hours honing their gaming skills (and rigging their hardware) to become a better and better player. If definition of sports is one involves a lot of physical movements, then Gary Kasparov shouldn’t be considered as sportsman either.

(Astana Pro Team. Image from Google)

A professional eSports organisation is no longer a small team with handful of players playing just one or two game titles for fun. A team like Cloud9 for example, has a dedicated players for specific game title like Overwatch and Fortnite. And just like any other professional sports team like soccer or competitive cycling, they have a proper management team, marketing, operations and even psychologist. It’s no longer a bunch hobby gamers joined by volunteers but rather a professional personnel that is as good as any other existing sporting organisation.

And eSports has becoming more and more popular that US has recognised those full-timers who plays League-of-Legends as professional athlete. Although it’s still too early to be part of future Olympic events, we shouldn’t dismiss its entry into one of the most prestigious sporting event on this planet one day.

(Cloud9 team. Image from Google)

But even if it takes a long time to be accepted in a major sporting events, eSports definitely can stand on its own. A sport that is poised to make around $1.5 billion by 2020 hardly needs any official approval for it to grow and flourish.

Let’s get ready to rumble.

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