Whether it’s with a knockout finish at an EVO fighting game championship, a crushing play in League of Legends, or a dorm-wide Super Smash Bros. tourney, eSports are taking the world by storm. Playboy’s eSports Highlights articles celebrate and chronicle their rise.
Some people earn a living just by playing video games. That might be news to you, but for eSports players it’s everyday life. They practice, they compete, and they rejoice in victory. It’s actually not all that different from the traditional sports you’re familiar with (sans all that pesky physical activity).
eSports has been growing year-over-year as game publishers and developers, broadcasts and sponsors all join in on the fun. And while you may not be watching now, you should know why eSports are quickly drawing in some of the largest audiences we’ve ever seen.
IT’S A GLOBAL PHENOMENON
ESports used to be limited mainly to Asia, particularly South Korea. But lately it’s been growing exponentially in popularity around the world. For example, Riot Games’ League of Legends 2014 World Championship took place over the span of a month and crossed three different countries.
In attendance were teams from Korea, China, North America, Europe, Taipei, Brazil, and Turkey. Over a total of 15 days of competition, more than 100 hours of coverage was broadcast in 19 languages through 40 different broadcast partners.
A report by Superdata estimates that the eSports market makes around $612 billion a year. More than half of that is in Asia alone, but North America and Europe are experiencing tremendous growth thanks to investments from publishers like Riot Games and Valve.
IT’S NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS
“I don’t really have a life outside of League,” Christian Rivera, who goes by “IWillDominate,” previously told me during an interview available on Leaguepedia. He’s a member of the extraordinarily successful Team Liquid’s League of Legends team, and the game is his entire life. Hey sports fans, does that sound familiar?
ESports players have to train just like traditional athletes, but there’s a key difference that can make the lives of eSports players even more stressful: these pro gamers face fewer limitations when it comes to training, because unlike traditional sports players they don’t need to gather in one place to practice together. As a result they spend a significant amount of their young adult lives improving their skills.
In an interview with GameSpot’s Travis Gafford, Hai “Hai” Du Lam, ex-member of League of Legends team Cloud 9, delves into the challenges of being a pro player.
“Teams are playing a lot more solo queue, like probably five hours a day, on top of eight hour scrim sessions. So they’re thinking about League at least like 13 to 16 hours a day,” Du Lam explains.
“For a lot of people that are young, they miss out on their life,” he continues. It’s a sad reality but with so much on the line, it’s what they have to do to compete. Again, sound familiar?
ESPORTS HAVE A REGULAR SEASON, PLAYOFFS AND WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Some eSports are simply organized tournaments, like Activision Blizzard’s electronic card game Hearthstone. In the form of the usual brackets sports fans are undoubtedly familiar with, the best players rise to the top and are aptly rewarded. But not all games have such a simple approach.
Twice a year, Riot Games hosts its League Championship Series (LCS), where ten teams compete over nine weeks in a regular season of League of Legends. This helps determine playoff seeding and, in time, the champion.
Prior to the last season, Riot implemented a World Championship Points system that rewards those who finish well throughout both splits. This determines which organizations get the ultimate honor of representing their region on the World stage each Fall.
Interregional play is great to develop rivalries and build excitement, but in the end most players will admit all that truly matters is a chance to compete against the best of the best. With the Asian leagues taking home the crown the last three years in a row, those of us in Europe and North America really get to watch our region grow, develop, and become more competitive year in and year out.
THERE ARE STAGGERING SUMS OF MONEY ON THE LINE
Last year, Valve gave its fans a way to support Dota 2’s eSports scene. Players could buy an in-game item called The Compendium, a sort of virtual program, and a portion of those sales went directly to the prize pool of the game’s “The International” world championship.
Valve started things off with $1.6 million, but over the course of the Compendium’s availability, players gave an additional $9.3 million. This year the number is already well over $12.2 million, setting it up to be the largest eSports prize pool ever.
Other notable tournaments include the Smite World Championship 2015, which doled out $2.6 million, and Riot Games’ League of Legends World Championships, which offered around $2 million each of the last three years. Call of Duty competitions have reached the $1 million-in-prizes mark as well.
IT’S BASICALLY ALWAYS ON
Fans of traditional sports are dependent on networks like ESPN to broadcast them. On the other hand, although eSports do have traditional seasons, individual players and teams also spend insane amounts of time simply broadcasting their normal gameplay and practice sessions on the live streaming network Twitch.
Imagine if you could watch your favorite football, basketball or baseball players any time they tossed a ball between them. That’s perhaps the best part of eSports as a whole. At any given moment you can go and join 20,000 others watching one of the best LoL players in the world practicing his play and mechanics. Over time you can pick things up, apply them to your own game, and start improving your own play.
And while I may never (OK, definitely will never) be as good as those I watch, I can always be better. It’s that and many other factors that keep me and millions more returning time and again to eSports.
Dillon Skiffington is an avid League of Legends player, Hearthstone junkie, eSports fan, and caffeine addict. You can find his work all over the LoL community or you could just go bug him on Twitter.