What is Esports?

by Fabio

Esports is virtual sport. For many young people, it has entirely replaced the typical football or basketball endeavours and instead they focus on developing a career in playing computer games. At first this might sound crazy, but esports is actually a viable industry with lots of chances to get famous and actually earn a living. So what is esports?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, esports is “the activity of playing computer games against other people on the internet, often for money, and often watched by other people using the internet, sometimes at special organized events”. This of course only scratches the surface of the matter. Esports is a competition that brings people from all over the world and from all walks of life together. Tournaments are (mostly) gender-neutral and offer far more opportunities for people with disabilities to compete alongside able people. 

What is Esports and Why Do People Watch It?

The answer to that is quite simple. More and more young people are flocking to video games. They are captivated by these competitive events in the same way that people watch football matches. The high stakes, the display of skill, all contribute to an atmosphere of suspense that draws people in. The feeling inside an arena when the home team is winning is just the same as in traditional sports.

How Do People Play Esports?

Electronic sports are obviously played on a computer. Many games were never really intended as competitive titles, like Counter-Strike or League of Legends. It just so happened that people loved the games and started battling each other. Nowadays, a lot of games are designed to specifically become esports. Overwatch or Valorant are perfect examples for this, where the developers already lay the groundwork and actively support the creation of a competitive scene even before the official launch date.

As more and more people gained access to the world wide web, and as bandwidth grew large enough to support online multiplayer, people began battling in these games over the internet. In the early days, LAN parties became the standard for dedicated competitive gamers. They would meet up at someone’s house, set up a dozen tables with PCs and just start playing for hours and days on end. 

Copenhagen Games 2010 (via hltv.org)
Copenhagen Games 2010 (via hltv.org)

These LAN parties eventually grew in size and now, organizers like DreamHack host LAN events in trade fair halls. Competitions moved to exhibitions like Gamescom, before growing into standalone stadium events.

How Do People Compete in Esports?

While esports players typically start off by playing the regular game itself, they will soon have to take their competitive endeavors elsewhere. Lots of tournament platforms offer to pair up aspiring pro players with each other, so that they don’t have to compete with all the people that just want to play the game casually.

Players that want to increase their skill level and play games with actual stakes will head to sites like Bitspawn. We offer amateur and semi-professional tournament hosting. Players can easily join competitions on Bitspawn and display their skill to the world. Aspiring esports players can get a headstart and make the first steps towards an actual career in gaming.

On these kind of platforms, players will start to gather in teams. Once a team is formed, they will start to compete in other online tournaments. For instance, ESL (Electronic Sports League) regularly host amateur tournaments with small prize pools. Next in line are open qualifiers to actual esports events. In Germany, for instance, the national competitions “ESL Meisterschaft” and “99Damage League” have open divisions. From those, players will be able to advance into the higher divisions. These leagues are regularly scouted by talent hunters, who will pick out promising players and give them a chance on their first semi-professional team. Once they prove that they can confidently compete on a higher level, premier teams will start to pick them up. These organizations will offer competitive, full-time salaries. 

mantuu at IBC Amsterdam
mantuu at IBC Amsterdam

mantuu: From Amateur to Pro Players

Mateusz “mantuu” Wilczewski is a perfect example for this kind of progression. He started out his Counter Strike career by playing without any organization. His first recognized team was quite literally called “n0_0rg”. With this squad, he competed in various amateur and developmental leagues, before being drafted into his first semi-professional team, Entropy Gaming. In Panthers Gaming, he finally gained more exposure. In 2017, they won the German national championship, which finally put them on the list as a serious contender within the country. 

Throughout 2018, they would still manage to achieve high finishes in domestic tournaments. At the end of the year, he and his long-time colleague Dustin “DuDe” Großmann signed with ALTERNATE aTTaX. This was their first stint with a professional organization. With a full-time salary, the players were finally able to dedicate all their time to esports. The results were great, at least in the national competitions. Lots of German trophies followed and mantuu proved himself against all domestic players. He always held the highest ratings and made the most impactful plays. In 2019, he was signed by the international super-team OG. Put alongside some veteran Counter Strike players and upcoming stars, he still manages to keep a more than positive rating against the world’s best teams.

Mateusz is just one of many players that have made their way to the top through this kind of development pipeline. In that sense, esports is very much like regular sports. Only few exceptional talents will be able to skip some of these steps. 

What Is Esports and How Does It Compare to Traditional Sports?

When it comes to basketball, for instance, people will typically either tune in via TV or gather at the place where the match is being held. Esports is no different here, except that most tune in via online broadcasts. Since most TVs and smart devices nowadays feature all the necessary applications, esports can essentially be consumed just like any other sports broadcast. When it comes to stadium events, again, there is no difference. Instead of a playing field, there is usually a stage in the middle or at the front of the arena so fans can see their favorite teams and players perform in real-time. 

Players compete under enormous pressure and have to make split second decisions. Reaction times down to the millisecond are required. Games such as Counter-Strike or League of Legends offer far more tactical depth than most regular sports. 

Esports as National Sports

In some countries, esports are even regarded as somewhat of a national competition. In South Korea, esports players are heralded as superstars, with fans flocking to the tournament venues and airports, whenever the teams leave for events. 

One major benefit of esports is that broadcasters can conduct events entirely online. This gives smaller teams and tournament organizers the chance to create high-quality competitions without having to rent stadiums. The entrance barrier is also considerably lower, as fans won’t have to travel to any venues.

The 2017 League of Legends World Championships
The 2017 League of Legends World Championships (via LoL Esports Flickr)

But of course the greatest tournaments happen in giant stadiums. For instance, the 2017 League of Legends World Championship Grand Finals took place in this enormous arena and over 80 million fans watched the event online. These numbers have only increased in recent years. In Counter Strike Global Offensive, IEM Katowice and ESL One Cologne each attract more than 10.000 viewers to their venues every year. In Dota 2, The International offers record-breaking prize purses with every new iteration. 

What Is the Biggest Game in Esports?

League of Legends is arguably the biggest esports title. It features the highest number of active players and the highest viewership figures for its biggest events. But games such as Counter Strike Global Offensive or Dota 2 are coming ever closer, featuring tens of millions of active players and stadium events with millions of unique viewers as well.

What is Esports and How Do Teams Make Money?

That is actually quite a difficult question. Apart from few select teams, none will be able to finance themselves entirely through prize winnings. Most of them work through sponsorships. Displaying the brands on the players’ jerseys, the teams offer to become advertising space. Many teams will create branded content and advertise their sponsors directly. 

Through merchandise, esports organizations have an additional revenue stream. Jerseys, shirts, jackets and even pants have become the new for almost all professional teams. Some teams take an extra step. Team fnatic, for instance, have created their own line of peripherals, ranging from gaming mice to keyboards. With their profile as a high-level esports organization, they can sell these products with esports performance in mind – and esports fans in their pocket. 

How Do Organizers Generate Revenue?

For organizers, things look a bit different. Tournaments almost entirely finance themselves through sponsorships, which are absolutely vital to the survival of these companies. The monetization of esports events is lagging behind in comparison to regular sports. There, broadcasting rights make up a huge portion of the companies’ budgets. Only recently have esports organizers been able to secure broadcasting deals, which sometimes exclusively bind them to select platforms. 

But these deals are often frowned upon in the esports space. In 2018, ESL signed an exclusivity deal with Facebook for some of their biggest CSGO and Dota 2 events and the viewership took a nosedive. People were not willing to switch platforms, even if it meant missing out on their favorite tournaments. 

Read this: Organizing an Esports Tournament, a Helpful Guide

This makes monetization on the organizers’ end increasingly difficult. Putting the broadcasts behind a paywall would likely result in a similar dip in viewership, so there aren’t many options for the likes of ESL to make a real profit off of online viewers. Fortunately, esports is becoming ever more appealing for non-endemic advertisers. In recent years, companies such as Pringles, Mercedes Benz and DHL have become head sponsors of large esports event. These competitions have become a prime location for targeted advertising towards younger people – the same kind of people that are watching fewer and fewer traditional sports broadcasts.

Where Is Esports Headed?

This industry is expanding every year. Tournaments are becoming bigger and bigger, teams are gaining more and more fans and players are growing into millionaires. Countries are starting to recognize esports, be it by granting P1 visas for competitors or actually accepting esports as real sport.

So what is Esports? Esports is the future!

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