Esports 101: What It Is and Why You Should Care
By now you’ve likely heard of esports, a word which sounds very much like sports except with an “e” right up front.
By: Ezra Meyers
By now you’ve likely heard of esports, a word which sounds very much like sports except with an “e” right up front. As with email the “e” stands for “electronic” and in both cases this manages to be a little nonsensical in that the last thing you’d really associate with either of them is the concept of electricity.
For the uninitiated, the notion of esports can often lead to a perfectly reasonable question: why would I watch people play video games or race drone vehicles when I could easily do those things myself?
Which, fair enough, but before writing esports off completely, consider these, other questions:
- Why would I watch people play football when I can play catch in the backyard?
- Why would I watch people play basketball when I have a hoop in my driveway?
- Why would I watch golf when I have my own clubs?
- Why would I read a book when I’m perfectly capable of writing words down on paper all on my own?
Esports competitors have a level of skill in their chosen games that the average person simply cannot match, much as Aaron Rogers has a level of skill in both football and State Farm TV commercials that no amount of touch football or recording yourself saying catchphrases in a mirror can match. It’s fun, of course, to play sports yourself, but it can be even more fun to watch someone who has mastered a sport doing things you could never imagine.
Professionals competing in video games is a natural outgrowth of the role these games have grown to play in our culture. Well before the MLB, amateur baseball was played around the U.S. (and still is). And well before esports, people were playing Ms Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.
These aren’t minor events. Online esports communities are huge and exist for virtually every game. People of all ages watch and discuss esports online via YouTube (like this League of Legends channel with 2.6 million subscribers), Twitch, ESPN and numerous other channels (do a Google search for a game you like + community). And the nature of esports means both players and viewers alike can interact with each other in ways simply not possible in other sports. LeBron James cannot hold a conversation and respond to questions from a stream of fans while he’s throwing a no-look pass to a driving Kevin Love. Esports players will often do just that (except for the part about the no-look pass).
What counts as an Esport?
An esport can be just about any video game (or video game adjacent) competition that allows for at least one person to win and the other to lose. Much like with any other sport.
There are an enormous variety of games and styles to watch. There are leagues devoted to military strategy, boxing and fighting, first person shooters, racing (both within video games and using drone vehicles) and even the digitized versions of real sports like football and hockey.
Wait, why on earth would you watch people playing football when you could just watch the NFL? Well, the NFL isn’t available most of the year. Also, the team you cheer for probably didn’t win the Super Bowl. Plus, in esports, it’s possible to do the impossible with an otherwise normal sport. One of the most popular esports games is Rocket League, which is very similar to soccer, except competitors drive around in flying cars as they try to score goals. Needless to say, this game would not be possible in real life.
What can players win?
Honor. Glory. Bragging rights. Trophies. Money. The usual array of things people compete to win.
There’s a lot of money in esports. The biggest invitational competition last year, the International 7, awarded $25 million dollars in prizes, with the winning team taking home close to $11 million of that. That is just a slice of the $696 million dollars generated by esports in 2017, a number expected to jump to $1.5 billion by 2020.
How can you watch?
Esports are still semi-underground but are increasingly turning up everywhere. ESPN dedicates a lot of coverage to various leagues. Twitch became a billion dollar company simply by making it easy to stream video game feeds.
So it’s on TV and it’s online. Plus it’s also live.
You can find live competitions to attend in most major cities. As with the online communities noted above, these in-person events are not small affairs. You’re not wandering into an arcade to gather around a machine with eight other people while someone plays Donkey Kong. These events are held in large arenas. Last year, the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship in Poland drew 170,000 attendees to the live event (far more people than even the very largest college football stadium can hold) and over 46 million unique online viewers.
Where to start?
That depends. What games do you like to play? If you have a specific genre that you’re a big fan of, say, first person shooters, then watch those since you’ll already understand what’s going on. Branch out from there. If you don’t play that many games, then give racing a try, since it’s easy enough to understand that going faster than other people is the way to win. Check out the Drone Racing League sponsored by Cox to start, you won’t be disappointed.
The variety of playable characters and the infinite possibilities might feel overwhelming at first, but give it a little time and it will become second nature. Watching a wizard freeze a knight in combat or having a front row seat to flying drones zipping around (and barely missing) obstacles will seem just as normal and exhilarating as an athlete hitting a ball with a stick.