A Case For eSports
Bob Dylan once wrote, ‘The times they are a-changing.’ Ron Burgundy had never heard that song, but luckily, the rest of the world did. People grow, they mature. The same can be said for markets and industries. In order to keep successful and relevant, all industries have to change themselves over the years to adapt to changing markets. The fascinating aspect of the gaming industry, in my opinion, is how quickly its market has expanded and how it, as an industry, has consistently and effectively evolved to match.
You remember LAN parties, right? I sure do. While I was never personally able to fill up a map in Halo: Combat Evolved with the full 16 people, I had my fair share of 8- and 10-player matches. It was a whole new experience of multiplayer gaming for me. Playing with that many people brought a real sense of competition to the room; even the sporty friend who would have probably rather played a game of pickup basketball was totally tuned into the match, making every life matter and every second count as we fought each other tooth and nail for the win. It was exhilarating!
Now fast-forward about 15 years. I just cracked a beer and watched 2 professional eSports teams duke it out in Halo 5: Guardians for a gold medal at this year’s Winter X-Games. And to quote the Chief himself, “I have a feeling we’re just getting started.”
eSports has very quickly become a legitimate competition. The International Dota 2 Championship had a prize pool of $10.2 million, and the League of Legends World Championship sold out the entire Staples Center in under an hour. The Halo World Championship Series isn’t even the first eSports competition featured at the X-Games: Call of Duty: Ghosts was the first, played at the 2015 X Games Austin, with Counter Strike: Global Offensive following at last year’s X Games Aspen. What made the Halo WCS special, however, was the level of support it received. For the first time ever, an eSport was featured on ESPN’s live coverage of the X Games, as well as streamed on WatchESPN, Twitch, and MLG.
It may sound small, but this is a serious step towards identifying eSports as a legitimate avenue of mainstream competition. eSports is already the first option in the dropdown bar on ESPN’s homepage, listed before Golf and Tennis. It’s pretty clear that ESPN recognizes the market us gamers represent. I doubt it’ll be long before ESPN starts running daily coverage on competitive gaming. Hell, a few plays may even make it onto SportsCenter’s Top 10.
Also, having yet another gold medal awarded for gaming at the X Games is equally important. Since its inaugural competition in 1995, the X Games has always been a showcase of extreme action sports that weren’t normally found in the mainstream. Having competitive gaming find a home here is exactly the kind of stable representation eSports needs to achieve a true place in the world of sports. The X Games has the power to take a niche market and thrust it into the mainstream, and I believe that’s exactly what’s going to happen with eSports over the next decade.
And why shouldn’t it? Because there’s barely any physical work being done when playing a videogame? That’s like claiming NASCAR is nothing but driving in circles. At face value it may seem like gaming is just a mindless activity, but non-gamers will never know the amount of mental focus and acuity competitive gaming requires in order to win even one match. Having to constantly strategize and adapt to the battlefield, not to mention having to simultaneously focus on taking down other players, can be exhausting. Sure, gaming may not require one to throw a ball far or run fast, but it does require one to master the virtual laws of physics deliberately designed by a team of software artists, and to use those skills to triumph against others in a teamwork-based environment. If that’s not a skill worthy of recognition, then I don’t know what is.
As a market, eSports has done nothing but grow, and rapidly. Gamers aren’t filling out function halls, we’re selling out stadiums. Professional gaming teams aren’t just competing for a cheap plastic trophy, they’re going after six-figure salaries. It won’t be long before eSports is as recognized a sport as baseball or soccer. Year after year, competitive gaming becomes bigger and more popular. It isn’t going away any time soon. Getting Halo 5: Guardians on ESPN was just one more milestone. eSports isn’t just some fad; it’s the sport of the new millennium.
PS- Congratulations to Evil Geniuses for winning the X Games Gold!