The Rise of Esports

Five days, 18 teams and 34 million dollars at stake. Such were the circumstances surrounding The International 2019, a worldwide tournament for the video game Dota 2, one of the most popular present day esports. It became the largest prize pool in esports history, surpassing even the Fortnite World Cup Solos Tournament earlier that year. At a separate event known as the League of Legends World Championships, a record 3.9 million viewers was reached in a semi-final match between the teams SK Telecom and G2 esports. The industry gained a total revenue of 655 million dollars in 2017, and the number only increases with each passing year.

There was once a time when the most advanced video game was two players on opposite sides of a screen trying to hit a flying object past each other. Today, the list of video game genres spans for miles: fighting games, adventure games, indie games, racing games, sports games, strategy games, puzzle games, MMOs and RPGs. You name it, and they got it. Of course, in this article, we are taking a look at a specific branch of the ever expanding library of video games: competitive gaming, better known as esports.

The nations that partake in this genre compete on a global scale yearly, and in a multitude of games. Titles such as League of Legends, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, Overwatch, Rocket League, Hearthstone and Super Smash Bros have paved the way for this relatively new form of live entertainment. A vast majority of the aforementioned games involve two teams either strategically or mechanically battling to win the game, the only difference being the style of gameplay and the goal that must be achieved to win.

Whether or not one chooses to consider esports a genuine sport is up to them. However, the level of skill and depth of knowledge required to compete at high ranks in these games is undeniable. Far too many simply put off the competitive game industry, and the game industry itself for that matter, as a waste of time. It’s as if the general belief is the players are simply staring at blank screens, while this is unequivocally not the case.

In a documentary titled A New Hero: The Rise of College Esports, created by Blizzard Entertainment, Hunter Pence of the San Francisco Giants had this to say: “It is very similar to watching any physical sport that we have watched on ESPN because there’s a story. There’s the moment. There’s the big plays just like in a game of basketball.”

It would not be out of the question to say that much of the criticism against esports as an industry and video games themselves are born out of a complete lack of understanding. Many are simply unaware of the level of dedication it takes to take home the massive rewards offered by large scale tournaments.

The amount of time players dedicate is enormous. Pro League of Legends player Diego Ruiz once said that “to stay competitive with other teams, you can’t stop playing.” Players on Team Liquid, a professional League of Legends team, practice on average eight hours a day. Gaming is a job for this team and many others across every continent save Antarctica. Any esports title requires rigorous mental efforts to excell in tournaments. In the aforementioned documentary, former NBA player Rick Fox stated that participation in esports means “being able to operate physically and stay focused and run algorithms and dissect your opponent and see things within a game that others don’t see”

The time it takes, the skill it requires, the audience it brings in and the money won by the champion. Esports, like it or not, respect it or not, is here to stay. It should be well worth mentioning why esports itself is important. A quote from Anna Prosser Robinson, host for the Heroes of the Dorm 2016 tournament in Seattle, says it well: “For me why esports matters is because I believe in the importance of people finding common ground […] as humans we can connect and understand each other on a level that maybe we couldn’t if we didn’t find that common place.”

While it is true that this could be said of any sport, I believe there lies an even greater meaning beyond this fact when it comes to esports. For a long time, those who played video games did it solely for the purpose of seeking refuge from the realities of life, while those who did not play these games looked at the ones who did as derelicts, as those who had no place in the real world, and compensated by finding a place in a digital one.

Esports has revolutionized an industry once clouded in a stigma of isolation, bringing millions together so that they may share their love of these games as well as the players who put in the practice and perseverance to make it all happen.

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