No doubt you’ve heard the term “esports” floating around in the air somewhere. Whether you support it or not, esports is on the rise as an industry and appears to be a top-level competitor to some of the world’s most elite leagues. You may be under the impression that esports are simply just people playing and watching videogames, but there is much more to it than that.
What Exactly are Esports?
The term “esport” is derived from the more technical term “electronic sports.” In its most straightforward structure, esports are organized competitions using multiplayer videogames where professional players and their respective teams contend for a prize of some sort. Depending on the esport, the league can be a hypercompetitive atmosphere, spanning from region to region on a global scale, or it can be more grassroots in nature. The industry itself has been blooming since the early 2000s. That said, it wasn’t until the 2010s where esports took off, eventually becoming valued at over $1 billion.
Many of the leagues find some inspiration from traditional sports leagues, mimicking their infrastructure and rulesets, applying them as they see fit for their respective esports titles. Among the titans of esports are League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, Hearthstone and Rocket League just to name a few. Different genres and sub-genres help to categorize different esports. Let's take a look at these now.
Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs)
Arguably the frontrunner across all the esports genres, Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (or MOBAs for short) have some of the largest viewership and player base numbers throughout gaming. The main duo that are trailblazing esports as a mainstream spectacle are League of Legends and Dota 2 as mentioned before. League of Legends is currently the largest title in modern esports history. It has an average player count of around 100-120 million monthly players as of 2018. With a number that high, it's a fantastic feat when the League of Legends Worlds event retained nearly 100 million concurrent viewers during the live broadcasts.
Comparing those numbers to traditional sports. For example, roughly 103 million people watched the Super Bowl last year. Taken a step further, it is also estimated that around 240 million hours were spent watching League of Legends alone throughout the year, spanning through the multiple regional leagues and annual competitions. The gap between League of Legends and Dota 2 is quite immense; Dota 2 had 180 million hours consumed last year in contrast. Where Dota 2 makes up some ground, however, is the extremely high prize pool awarded during their World Championship tournament, known as the “The International.” Last year’s purse boasted a whopping USD 25.53 million being split among the contestants. First place took home $11.2 million. The games feature the same core mechanics; they have two teams of 5 players racing to destroy their opponents’ main base structure.
Moving onto the second-place genre, First-Person Shooters (better known as FPS) are on the rise in terms of global viewership as well as furthering the professionalism in esports as a whole. As far as 2018 is concerned, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was the top dog in viewership last year, having 212 million hours observed. The game itself is the biggest title developed by Valve to date with a fanbase that has spanned across many ages. Counter-Strike has been around since 2000, adding more and more games to the franchise over many years and developing a large fanbase. With multiple generations following the series, the most recent title has been a mainstay since its launch in 2012.
Competing against a giant of an esport is no easy task, but Blizzard looks to take over the show with the rapidly growing Overwatch League. Blizzard decided to follow Riot Games' path for League of Legends, creating a multitude of franchised teams for their league. Here we see something that we've never seen before -- each franchise has a hometown. Although traditional esports organizations operate these teams, are franchised across the world into fan favorites such as the Seoul Dynasty or the New York Excelsior. Creating teams based on location allows spectators to have a personal connection to a team. It also tends to generate a more passionate fanbase for the teams as they compete. Eventually, Blizzard wants to take the Overwatch League to a global scale.
Strategy is a broader term to mix in the two main subgenres – Turn-Based Strategy and Real-Time Strategy. Hearthstone, another Blizzard title currently dominates Turn-Based Strategy (or TBS). The game is a turn-based digital collectible card game in which two players try to vanquish the other by dealing 30 damage points. Hearthstone pulled 43 million hours of viewership last year.
On the flipside, Real-Time Strategy (aka RTS) titles don’t have turns, so players are competing against one another in real time. The most relevant title for RTS is another Blizzard game, StarCraft 2. StarCraft is one of the early pioneers of the esports industry, at one point being the unofficial “sport” of South Korea. Although nowhere near its former glory, Blizzard is looking to revive the esports scene in the coming years.
Sports and Fighting
Sports games are the genre that is the closest to traditional sports, the games themselves mostly being simulations. These games include all major sports such as basketball, football, and soccer. Even fantasy sports exist; Rocket League is soccer with rocket-powered cars instead of players. In terms of the traditional simulations, the leagues themselves are on the rise as they partner with the real-life corporations that their sport is based on, like FIFA for soccer and the NBA for basketball. Simulation titles like Rocket League are starting to make an impact, however. Rocket League had over 13 million hours consumed in 2018. While these numbers are nowhere near as high as fantasy titles, they are gaining steam.
The fighting genre is also lower on the viewership scale due to a lack of established leagues. Fighting games tend to be more grassroots in nature. They often have hundreds of tournaments and events across dozens of titles each year. These events go from small, weekly gatherings largescale world-stage tournaments such as the Evolution event. Since many fighting games have the same core mechanics, many high-level players can be found competing across multiple games. For example, Dominique McLean, better known by his alias SonicFox, was voted to be the “Esports Player of the Year.” He frequently placed within a top ten range in dozens of tournaments last year alone in several different fighting games.
Wildcard: Battle Royales
Finally, we get to the newcomer in esports leagues: battle royales. In this genre, there are the big three: Player Unknown's Battleground, Fortnite, and newcomer Apex Legends. Battle royales are games in which players combat each other to be the last man standing. They are the biggest wildcard in the gaming industry due to the enormous population of players that find themselves drawn into playing the game. Interestingly, only a minuscule fraction spectates professional events. Other established esports leagues dwarf PUBG, which only boasts a meager 14 million hours of esports viewership.
Given how young the genre is, this is still a respectable number, however. For the most part, it is incredibly challenging to broadcast battle royale games. The sheer volume of competitors and the large map area make them difficult to follow.
The bulk of battle royale revenue traditionally comes from in-game microtransactions. Only a single perspective makes the experience more enjoyable to view and more forgiving for new spectators. The recent release of Apex Legends is looking to develop a friendlier spectator experience by only having 60 players in a lobby instead of the traditional 100. This process, however, is still in its infancy. Only time will tell if Apex Legends can successfully provide a proper esports experience in the future.