WHOEVER said you’re wasting your life away playing video games obviously had no idea how big e-sports were going to get.
E-sports has become huge business over the past five years, with professional video gaming tournaments offering more prize money than some of sport’s biggest events.
This year’s Defence of the Ancients (DOTA) 2 prize pool is currently sitting at nearly $US10.8 million and is expected to be up to $US15 million by the time the tournament actually starts.
To put that into perspective, the prizemoney for winning the Superbowl is $US8.5 million, while the ICC Cricket World Cup offers $US10 million and UEFA’s Europa League $US9 million.
The popularity of e-sports, in particular the game League of Legends in countries like South Korea, is staggering. Just last year, Chung-Ang University, one of South Korea’s top 10 universities, announced it would allow gamers to apply for athletic scholarships.
The 2014 League of Legends championship was watched by more than 27 million people when broadcast on ESPN. Those numbers eclipsed the audiences for both game seven of last year’s baseball World Series (23.5 million viewers) and the decider of 2014’s NBA Finals (18 million).
With big popularity and big money involved these days, more and more people across the world are considering pro-gaming as a genuine career.
While some gamers have been making a living off their skills since the late 1990s, it wasn’t until 2010’s Starcraft II that things really changed.
One of the first games built with e-sports squarely as its focus, Starcraft II became a true spectator sport. With the launch of video streaming services such as Twitch, e-sports was catapulted into the mainstream.
“With Starcraft II, timing was critical,” the game’s executive producer Chris Sigaty told news.com.au.
“We knew we were building an e-sport and the competitive nature combined with streaming coming into its own really helped catch viewership in Europe and North America.
“The constant back and forth, and the ability for the team that looks down and out to come back again and again creates bigger moments more often than traditional sports.”
Pro-gaming teams have event created their own “frat houses” at which gamers can spend their time honing their skills and training, both digitally and physically. Yes, physically.
Most pro-gamers spend at least an hour or two a day exercising and keeping themselves in shape for big tournaments. If your reflexes and focus slacken during a big tournament, there’s no way you will win, so being fit and eating well is crucial.
Gamers live and work together, devising tactics, working with coaches and preparing as diligently as any other traditional professional sporting team.
“The best of the best dedicate themselves completely, they’re like traditional athletes,” Mr Sigaty said.
While e-sports has been a huge money-spinner and success for his company, Mr Sigatay was the first to admit there was lots of work to be done to ensure the sport continued to grow.
In Australia, the biggest challenge is infrastructure. Countries like South Korea and the USA have high-speed broadband that allows competitors to play and practice without the limitations of Australia’s relatively slow connection speeds. As more money is brought into the sport, it’s hoped traditional media companies and sponsors will invest money to help bring world class facilities to Australia’s shores.
But even if that does happen — will e-sports be able to truly claim it is a “sport”?
Fans argue that e-sports have all the spectacle, skill and competition of a basketball game. On top of that, e-sports has teams, star players, sponsors and millions of dedicated fans across the world. Even the US government grants professional athlete visas to top e-sports players.
But e-sports cannot escape the argument that while it does require a significant amount of physical and mental skill to play, it lacks the athletic aspects of other professional sports.