Whether you’re an avid video gamer or it’s been a while since you picked up a controller, there’s a strong chance you’ll at least have heard the term ‘eSports’.
According to the BBC, eSports is becoming so popular that it’s set to hit total annual revenues of £1 billion by 2020. The aim of this guide is to help you get up to speed and explain what all the fuss is about…
What is eSports?
Simply put, eSports is the phenomenon of competitive video gaming, whether individually or team-based. The more players and the greater support an eSport has, the better the competition and the bigger the prize money.
Most eSports are played in tournaments or leagues and, much like traditional sports, these events are often confined to certain geographical regions. This means that for most of the year, European teams or players only compete against others in their own continent.
Competitive video gaming is hardly new. It’s been around since video games first appeared in the late 1970s, when crowds would form around an arcade machine and place bets on the winner or outcome. Although competitive leagues did spring up over the years, most eventually folded – predominantly thanks to them being fairly local tournaments.
But 40 years later – thanks to the power of modern technology and global communication, eSports attracts hundreds of professional players, worldwide companies and big prize money. For example, The International 2017 – an enormous Dota 2 tournament which took place in Seattle, had a total prize pool of $24,687,919 (£18,494,209), as well as more than five million fan viewers. Across 2017, eSports revenue is expected to rise to £395m (up from £100m in 2012).
Popular eSports games
The two most popular types of eSports games are First-Person Shooters (FPS) and Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBA). MOBAs are real-time fantasy strategy games which involve two teams of players vying to destroy each other’s home base. Players pick from characters of various strengths and abilities which develop over the course of the game. By far, the most popular MOBAs for eSports competition are Dota 2 and League of Legends.
FPS games, meanwhile, are primarily military-based shooting games viewed from a first-person (or point-of-view) perspective. The most popular example of an eSports FPS is Counter Strike: Global Offensive (often shortened to CS:GO), which enjoys a massive following around the world. The aim is to use a mix of sophisticated weapons, brute force and strategy to battle your way through each level, scoring points for defeating players of the opposite team.
Outside of MOBAs and FPS games, sports games are rapidly growing in popularity. As you might expect, the biggest eSports sports game is the FIFA football series – which has replicated its vast global success in an eSports setting. In fact, real-life football teams like Manchester City, West Ham United and VFL Wolfsburg are even getting in on the act, sponsoring FIFA players to officially represent them in eSports tournaments.
Although there is plenty of competition in the eSports world, the best players and teams in Counter Strike, Dota 2 and League of Legends tournaments earn an extremely good living as full-time players. The biggest names in eSports include:
US-based team Evil Geniuses were formed back in 1999 and have since won $27,315,498 (£20,423,798) in prize money. Most famous for playing Dota 2, Evil Geniuses won The International 2015 and took home over $6 million (£4.5 million) in prize money. The team also boasts professional Halo experts, as well as Street Fighter V and StarCraft II players.
The Cloud9 team competes at the very highest level in League of Legends, CS:GO, Overwatch, Call of Duty and many others. The team is now worth over $30 million (£22.4 million) in total.
Victor “Punk” Woodley
At just 18-years-old, “Punk” is a relative newcomer, but is widely hailed as the best Street Fighter V player in eSports right now. Punk burst on the scene following the release of the game back in 2016, and yet barely a year later, many now see him as the man to beat.
With earnings of $181,320 (£135,537) from just eight tournaments, Punk is still a long way off from earning the kind of money that some more experienced players do on bigger teams, but he’s earning fast, with plenty of time to catch up.
Where to watch eSports
If you want to watch eSports tournaments in person, you’ll have to buy a ticket for events at large venues like the Gfinity Arena in London, or the Beijing National Stadium. The ESPN eSports Calendar is a great place to find out which tournaments are happening around the world.
Most fans, however, choose to watch eSports online – as it’s free and simple to do! There are many platforms, but YouTube and Twitch are the viewing channels of choice for most fans and big tournaments alike. Twitch is an online streaming platform that allows anyone to broadcast their gaming – whether an amateur gamer or eSports professional. Whatever eSport you fancy watching, just go to twitch.tv and click on the relevant icon!
Getting to grips with games
Trying to follow a league, tournament, player, or even a single game can be confusing if don’t know how they work. Despite our beginners guide, FPS games are quite hard to get to grips with, and MOBAs are even trickier.
If you like the sound of an eSports, just head to Twitch and watch some in action – it’s the best way to learn! There’s also quite a bit of eSports jargon to get your head around, although there are some decent online tutorials to help get you started. But to help you ease into it, we recommend Street Fighter V or Rocket League are great places to start.