Among die-hard gamers, esports has always been a part of the lifestyle and community. From its humble origins in small competitions, the nascent sport has grown to receive large-scale exposure and investment.
This process was well underway before 2020, but circumstances last year led to esports being able to capture market share and viewership from more traditional sports, cementing its place on the world stage. In 2015 there were 130 million esports viewers, and this has risen to nearly half a billion in 2020. Analysts predict a further 25 million viewers will cotton on to the growing phenomenon each year, on into 2023.
Increasingly, the traditional sports industry is exploring ways in which they can better integrate their platforms with the growing esports sector. One sport that has adapted to the collaborative media format epitomized by Twitch is online poker. In March 2021, online poker viewership exceeded 7 million hours on the Amazon owned streaming hub.
Gaming organisation PokerStars has been investing heavily in bringing the sport to a wider audience, and to this end they have been organizing tournaments in collaboration with Twitch, such as their Stadium Series.
In 2020, this competition broke records for the largest prize money payout of any tournament yet held on the platform, running to over $50 million dollars. Streaming services are a great fit for poker, as players can share their hands with viewers while maintaining a time-delay to ensure fairness. Viewers also get to listen to ongoing commentary by the player, watching the game unfold in a unique collaborative fashion.
League of Legends Championship Series
Many are curious to see what major esports competitions and organisations are going to do next in response to the sport’s rapid growth in popularity. The League of Legends tournament hosted by Riot Games, known as the LCS (League of Legends Championship Series) is the largest esports tournament in the United States and has come to exert a large influence on the global community since it’s inaugural 2013 season.
It has attracted large-scale investment from traditional sporting media and has been at the forefront of a push in the 2010s to ‘repackage’ esports for audiences accustomed to watching ESPN-style coverage of the sort typically seen with Basketball and American Football.
New Riot Games Studio
Riot Games recently unveiled their redesigned studio for the spring series of the LCS. In a sign that esports now feels it’s come of age on the global stage, the redesign was focused on giving back to, and celebrating, the core esports community.
To this end, the redesign has eschewed some of the more blatant attempts to re-cast esports in the mold of the NBA or MLB over recent years, instead preferring to lean into the unique elements of esports. No other major sport is mediated by technology in the same way as competitive gaming, and in celebration of this the new LCS studio now features a stunning 4100 square feet of LCD screens, as well as multiple sub-studios designed to cater to both in-person and streamed tournaments.
Gyms and Academies
Specialised facilities are now popping up in esports hotspots in order to facilitate the development of rising esports athletes. This trend is particularly pronounced in both Japan and South Korea. New esports gyms are specialised gaming internet cafes, with high-specification computers and peripherals.
Users can pay for one-to-one coaching, or take part in classes geared towards improving various aspects of their gameplay. At the professional end of the scale, big-name esports teams like T1 have built their own training facility.
Located in the South Korean capital, Seoul, this building is home to over 70 professional and up-and-coming esports athletes who rigorously drill all aspects of their game-play.
Life at the facility also comes with a strict regime of exercise, and focused nutrition. Such centers are already commonplace at the elite level of most sports, but it has only been recently that esports have been able to attract the investment necessary to bring about their development.