Complete Guide to Everything You Need to Know About eSports in 2015
If you're a gamer on any level—hardcore, casual or somewhere in between—chances are you've caught wind of the ESports phenomenon.
Depending on your level of interest, you may not know everything about competitive gaming, but if you're a gamer, you know ESports is not just a phase. Within the next 10 years, every top-selling multiplayer video game franchise could have an element that lends itself to ESports concepts.
The exposure and money generated from ESports have grown at a rapid pace over the last five years, and there are no signs of the trend falling off. The International 2015—the biggest Defense of the Ancients 2 (Dota2) competition in the world—carried a total prize of $18,429,613, per Dota2 Prize Pool Tracker.
The Grand Champions were Evil Geniuses. The team of five split the winner's share of $6.6 million. The team consisted of the following players: Clinton “Fear” Loomis, Sumail “Suma1l” Hassan Syed, Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora, Kurtis “Aui_2000″ Ling and Peter “ppd” Dager. Their ages range from 16 to 27.
The prize total was the highest in ESports history, and with popularity still on the rise, there's every reason to believe the numbers will continue to climb.
A Brief History
Competitive gaming has existed on some level since at least 1980 when Atari hosted a national Space Invaders tournament. Gaming in itself is very much about competition. In the early days of arcades, gamers were always trying to beat someone's high score, or perform a fatality against a buddy or stranger that dared contest them in Mortal Kombat or other fighting games.
All of that seems so simplistic when you look at the types of games that are played today and the level of organization that goes into putting on a large tournament.
In Team Liquid's thorough breakdown of the history of ESports, a few notable instances of organized competition have sprouted up rather inconsistently over the last 35 years. Only in the last 25 years have we seen competitive gaming consistently grow on a grander scale.
Fighting games like Street Fighter and the aforementioned Mortal Kombat proved to be great for tournament-style play because of their head-to-head, one-on-one formats. It was easy to organize simple tournaments that produced clear winners.
From 1991-94, Tomo Ohira was known as the greatest Street Fighter player in the world, per Team Liquid. He retired from competitive gaming at the age of 17, but the money he received 20-plus years ago is nothing compared to the dollars players are earning now for their talents.
While there was a definite interest in competitive gaming—especially among gamers—the concept was missing an element that could push it to the next level. That boost would come from the distribution and access to the Internet.
You often hear people say that the "internet has shrunk the world." In regards to competitive gaming, that statement couldn't be more true.
Online gaming has allowed players to compete against people from across the globe in their favorite games. This concept has furthered the competition and created a thirst to find the best players all over the world.
During the mid-1990s, several games with online multiplayer components laid the foundation for major competitive gaming tournaments, leagues, etc. As sure as the top competitive gaming genres were formed, so too were the designs of capitalizing on the booming video game industry. The subgenre that would prove to be a major moneymaker for investors and participants was about to blow up.
By the mid-2000s, organizations like Major League Gaming (MLG) were forming, and the industry was on its way toward becoming what it is today—and stands to become in the next few years. Perhaps the biggest impact the Internet has had on competitive gaming is unparalleled access. Twitch, YouTube and other online networks are able to broadcast to millions of viewers who have tuned in just to watch ESports.
What Are They Playing?
The most predominant ESports genres are: real-time Strategy (RTS), first-person shooters (FPS), multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) and fighting games.
Here's a brief description of each and the most popular games from each genre. You'll notice some of the games fall into two categories because there are elements of both genres within.
These titles are traditionally war games. Success is based on properly positioning the different units of your army—all armed with different strengths and weaknesses—across a designated map that presents its own challenges and benefits.
The best players in the RTS genres are able to multitask. Resource gathering, base building, material conservation and map comprehension are the key skills needed to dominate. Sounds like the core competencies for a job, right? It very well could be.
Most Popular Competitive Gaming Titles
- StarCraft series: You may have heard StarCraft players referring to the Zerg, Terrans and Protoss. Confused? Those are the three species that battle in the game. Each has its own pros and cons. This series has spawned several titles and expansion packs. The original StarCraft is widely viewed as the most popular and influential RTS game ever created. In South Korea, StarCraft 2 is so popular it is considered a national sport.
- Company of Heroes: According to Ian Miles Cheong of Gameranx.com, Company of Heroes is the best RTS game of all time. The war game was originally released in 2006 and has been a staple within the RTS community ever since.
- League of Legends (LoL): This free-to-play title was recognized as the most-played PC game in North America and Europe, per John Gaudiosi of Forbes. Gaudiosi cited DFC Intelligence in conjunction with Xfire who reported 1.3 billion hours of collective gameplay for LoL. No, I'm not laughing out loud. That's some serious time and dedication. The game was created because of the popularity of the Defense of the Ancients (Dota) mod.
Most American gamers are familiar with this genre. Series like Halo and Call of Duty rose to prominence in the 2000s and pushed the FPS concept to new heights. Essentially, gamers control a single character and see the game from a first-person point of view. Quick response, positioning, mastering the various weapons and memorizing the maps available are the keys to success.
In the very popular Team Deathmatch modes that are most common in FPS ESports, teamwork is a huge key as teammates take on certain roles that highlight their expertise, such as sniping.
Most Popular Competitive Gaming Titles
- Call of Duty series: In terms of commercial appeal, no ESports staple is as popular as COD in the United States. It's the one ESports title that even your mom has heard about—she might have even played it.
- Counter-Strike series: While many of the casual FPS fans haven't gone deeper than COD, when it comes to critical acclaim, Counter-Strike is often viewed as the cream of the crop in the genre. As a matter of fact, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has surpassed COD: Advanced Warfare in popularity among Twitch viewers, per Jonathan Leack of Crave Online. CS: GO is a more tactical shooter that generally requires more skill from players, thus it's better suited for competitive gaming.
The stability of online servers has allowed for massive amounts of gamers to meet online to play video games. That innovation has helped to raise the popularity of games like LoL. This genre is a descendant of RTS, but it often has gamers carry out attacks with button presses or keystrokes.
The objective is usually to destroy the main base of the opposing team with the assistance of spawned computer-controlled attack resources. Some more hands-on gamers are attracted to this brand of ESports game because it includes more action than traditional RTS.
Most Popular Competitive Gaming Titles
- Dota2: The largest prize pools in ESports today—such as the one awarded in the International—generally come from Dota2 contests. This speaks to the massive popularity of the game and an ingenious revenue-building component called compendium. Fans and players of Dota2 purchase compendium to level up and gain more abilities and items in the game. These microtransactions increase the prize money earned by the competitors in the International because 25 percent of the funds taken in go into the overall pool.
- LoL: (See above)
- Heroes of the Storm: This title is developed by Blizzard Entertainment, and it features characters from other Blizzard-developed titles like Warcraft and Diablo. It was released in June and features a free-to-play option. Upgrades and advancements can be accelerated with micropayments.
Almost everyone has played a fighting game at one point or another. Series like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Soulcalibur, the Marvel vs. Capcom games and Tekken are all hugely popular among mainstream gamers.
Head-to-head tournament gaming in these games isn't quite as lucrative as some of the other genres, but it does still exist. Typically, gamers control one character in a one-on-one battle against another gamer. Some type of martial art is usually the method of combat. Mastering combos, timing and judging distance are perhaps the most important skills to possess in this genre.
Some games have gamers controlling multiple characters via a tag feature.
The Evo Championship Series is the largest competitive gaming tournament series for fighting games. This year's event featured the following games: Ultra Street Fighter IV, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat X (MKX), Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, Super Smash Bros. Melee and Tekken 7.
Per ESportsEarnings.com, the highest prize awarded at Evo this year was $72,270.00 for the Ultra Street Fighter IV champion Yusuke Momochi, who won the tournament despite a broken joystick in the final round.
Most Popular Competitive Gaming Titles
- Street Fighter series: As competitive fighting games go, the Street Fighter series is widely viewed as the foundation for tournament gaming in the genre. Who doesn't know Ryu, Ken, M.Bison and Chun-Li? This 2-D fighter was one of the first to introduce hand-to-hand combat and projectiles.
- Marvel vs. Capcom series - This Capcom-produced series has had several versions such as Marvel vs. Capcom 1, 2 and 3, as well as Capcom vs. SNK and more. With characters from all of the respective universes at the player's disposal, mastering combos is essential in this largely colorful and chaotic series.
- Super Smash Bros. series - Despite the fact that the original Super Smash Bros. was released 16 years ago for the Nintendo 64, the game's popularity has remained intact. Newer versions have piggybacked off the original's success and are now the theme of high-stakes tournaments. The characters are from Nintendo's iconic series such as Mario Bros. Legend of Zelda and more. It looks like a simple beat-em-up, but there's a ton of strategy involved as it's important to master the abilities of the characters you choose to use.
- Mortal Kombat series - "Get over here. Finish him. Toasty!" If you've played Mortal Kombat over the last 20 years, you undoubtedly get those references. While the series hasn't been at the forefront of gaming much over the past five to seven years, the recent release of the critically acclaimed MKX has come just in time to take advantage of the growth of ESports. The series is known for its 2-D style, responsiveness and extreme violence and gore.
What About Actual Sports Games?
As a big fan of traditional sports, I often wonder why games like Madden, NBA 2K, Fight Night Champion, EA Sports UFC and WWE 2K aren't a big part of the ESports scene. All of those games have been the theme of gaming tournaments all over the United States, but the overall exposure and prize money never reach the level you see with other genres.
While Madden and other sports games are certainly popular enough to support a competitive gaming movement, for whatever reason, no major sports gaming series has taken a huge step toward building a strong ESports presence.
That could be about to change.
The recently released NBA 2K16 has a mode called 2K Pro-Am, and it appears to be tailor made for ESports. In fact, social media manager Ronnie Singh aka "Ronnie 2K" and community manager Chris Manning aka "LD2K" said the new mode will have "ESports elements," but details would be coming at a later date.
The NBA 2K community is perhaps the strongest of any sports video game following. Within that community, there are major YouTube stars such as Chris Smoove, Ipod King Carter, Stax Montana and others. NBA 2K pioneered a revolutionary feature in last year's game that allowed each gamer to scan his or her face to create a photo-realistic character.
Those created players can now join 2K Pro-Am teams—that allow complete customization of uniforms, arenas, logos, etc. Guys like Smoove are generating hundreds of thousands of views per video posted on YouTube. Carter, Stax and others aren't far behind.
If 2K provides a platform for these YouTube celebrities to compete, their star power and the massive popularity of the game could provide the game what it needs to carve its niche in the ESports arena. The bigger stars and team owners could even generate their own revenue by using the team editor options to generate advertising revenue, not to mention what they earn from YouTube.
If NBA 2K has success in this vein, other sports video games would likely follow suit.
Who’s Playing, and How Much Are They Making?
What's the profile of an ESports competitor? It appears the prime ages are 16 to 24. According to Ben Richmond of Motherboard: "Researchers from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia were able to discover, using Starcraft 2 players, that you're past your cognitive prime by the time you've hit your mid 20s."
If you follow the career path of most competitive ESports gamers, you notice a significant drop off in prize money once they reach their early-to-mid 20s.
That means the average career of a cyber athlete begins a little earlier than most professional athletes but ends sooner. The career span of a cyber athlete is more akin to that of an Olympian. There are rare Olympic-style athletes that compete well into their 30s, but most are done before that.
China's Chen "Zhou" Yao is one ESports example. The 2012 International champion retired from competitive Dota in 2014 at the age of 24. In 2012, he won $218,219.79. The following year, he saw that number decline to $34,143.35 and finally dipped to $12,701.24 the year he retired, per ESportsEarnings.com. His career began at 19 and ended five years later.
During his career, he made an average of $48,457.71 per year. Yet in his prime, he made an average of $89,384.82 from 2011-13. Zhou is not the most decorated or highly compensated ESports athlete, but he did make himself a decent living for three years, not to mention the cool experiences you would expect him to have had while traveling.
At still such a young age, his options are still wide open.
A competitive gaming career can also produce an opportunity to become an announcer or journalist. The same way former athletes from traditional sports parlay their experience and notoriety into post-play careers, retired ESports competitors like Belgium's Eefje "Sjokz" Depoortere have done the same thing.
She turned a successful career as an Unreal Tournament '99 competitor into a job as an announcer for Electronic Sports League. She's still just 28 years old. The same could be said for former professional Warcraft 3 player David "Phreak" Turley who hails from Santa Monica, California. He's now a shoutcaster for Riot Games.
As you can see, ESports athletes can be male, female and originate from just about anywhere in the world. They need to possess the talent for gaming, the vision to take it to the next level, the dedication to hone their craft and most of all the passion for their sport.
Why Should You Be Interested in ESports?
If you're reading this, there's a good chance you admire highly skilled individuals. You may also have a strong interest in video games, technology, booming businesses or all of the above.
ESports is already a major part of the gaming world, and there's every reason to believe its chunk of the pie will grow even more over the next few years. The popularity of ESports will also likely spur new technological advancements in gaming as well as Internet broadcasting.
You may just be someone who is taken by the economic growth of the industry, and you're looking for a way in. A creative approach could generate a unique business that is mutually beneficial for the industry and the visionary.
Lastly, if you're simply a fan of high-intensity competitions, there's nothing quite like watching two elite gamers compete. The intensity and drama that can be created has to be witnessed and comprehended to be fully appreciated. Only those who understand the games can grasp the skill required to play the games at a high level.
We marvel at the things LeBron James does on the basketball court because most of us know that we couldn't dream of possessing the size, athleticism and skill he has. Slowly but surely, that frame of reference is being created in the minds of fans all over the world.
If this article has furthered your interest in ESports on any level, the next step would probably be to pick one of the games mentioned here, read up on it and give it a spin yourself. You may not have what it takes to be an ESports star, but the will give you a respect for what it takes to be a professional competitive gamer.
Who to Follow to Stay Informed
Have you gone from having your interest piqued to being fully engaged? If so and your looking for the right people/organizations to follow on Twitter, YouTube and Twitch. Here's a short list:
- Rod Breslau - @Slasher - Reporter for The Score ESports, co-founder of Gamespot ESports and onGamers and producer/co-host of Live on Three.
- ESL Dota - @ - The world's largest ESports Company with a focus on Dota2.
- Dota2 - @ - The official Twitter account for the game, and prime information source for the International.
- Allistair Pinoff - @ - Game developer and ESports fanatic (DOTA/HS/CS) and writer.
- MLG - @ - Official Twitter account for pioneering organization in ESports movement.
- Lol ESports: Respawnd TV - Awesome highlights and match replays.
- Lol ESports - Much like the one above, but with more focus on player features and match replays.
- Trick2G - As the head of a team of five gamers, he is one of the top LoL streamers with more than 600,000 followers. (Channel contains some profane language.)
- Ms_Vixen - A former elite Call of Duty: World at War player, Ms_Vixen has become a top streamer and fundraiser in the competitive gaming community.
- TotalBiscuit - A professional streamer for StarCraft 2 and PlanetSide. His follower count has surpassed 300,000.
Follow Brian Mazique on Twitter