The untamed roar of the crowd, the tightening of your chest and the rush of adrenaline. It sounds all too familiar. If you haven’t felt it personally, you probably know someone who has, or at the very least watched a sports movie showcasing that intensity of the moment. It’s a feeling that’s been associated with sports since their conception. But anyone who has played a competitive video game can tell you about it too, and those on the professional stage know it all too well.
Since the early 2000s, the competitive video game scene, better known as esports (Electronic Sports), has taken off in a dramatic fashion. From small crowds in convention halls, the esports scene has grown into massive venues packed with spectators around the globe in a little under a decade. With a rapidly growing fan base, the 2017 Intel Extreme Masters World Championship reached an all-time high for the esports community. Featuring the finalists for their “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Dota 2” and “League of Legends” tournaments, it hit 43 million viewers, with 173,000 attending the venue in Katowice, Poland.
Esports tournaments span every video game genre. Massive multiplayer online (MMO) and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) tend to take the spotlight with games like “Counter Strike: Global Offensive,” “Dota 2” and “League of Legends.” But everything from “Mario Party” to “Pac-Man” to “Street Fighter” has a competitive scene driving players into the spotlight and inspiring the next generation of professional gamers. From the massive venues hosting thousands of spectators to independent tournaments organized at conventions and local hobbies stores, esports is earning its place on the map.
Esports isn’t just making a splash in its own circle. With the rise in popularity of professional video games, many big names are starting to take notice, including NBA champion Rick Fox, who bought the “League of Legends” team, Gravity, and renamed it Echo Fox. “Shark Tank” investor Mark Cuban has thrown his support behind the esports community and has been a loud voice in promoting its popularity.
Esports has even caught the attention of several big name ESPN and talk show hosts, who very openly expressed their dislike of the genre. “Here’s what’s going to get me off the air. If I am ever forced to cover guys playing video games, I will retire and move to a rural fishing village and sell bait,” Colin Cowherd (now famously) said. “You want me out? Demand video game tournaments on ESPN, because that’s what appeared on ESPN 2 yesterday.”
While Cowherd and others share a distaste for Esports, the community continues to grow and expand its viewership. While most tournaments continue to broadcast on the popular streaming site Twitch.tv, they have also started to air on popular networks such as ESPN2, ESPN3, TBS and BTN.
With no signs of slowing down, Activision Blizzard has started looking into a station dedicated to esports, similar to ESPN. While the project is still in its early stages, we can expect big things coming in the near future for esports.
Whether it’s pulling in hundreds of thousands of viewers in person or on a streaming website, or if it’s just a small crowd gathered around a small console set-up inside Comic Con, esports has a way of pulling the community together. It’s that feeling of competition, the adrenaline rush of giving it your all and the feeling of community that drive the future of esports forward. For both its spectators and players, it’s an unforgettable experience in the making.