Sep 10, 2013
Competitive gaming on the eSports scene has developed considerably since it began to surface in the 1990’s. Popular arcade fighters such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Tekken were all prominent to competitive gaming, but when these games were released in the early 1990’s, it was difficult to pull in any real audience, and the idea of playing professionally was to be laughed at. Similarly, when Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness was released, it proved to be a popular competitive RTS, but its multiplayer was limited because it was only possible on a local area network.
When its sequel, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, and StarCraft were released, the introduction of online multiplayer allowed for easier competitive gaming, and began to pull in a wider audience. Online multiplayer matchmaking paired players up with those of equal skill as they fought they way up the competitive ladders. Gamers began to compete and practice for many hours a day to try and reach the peak of the regional leader boards. Those who consistently stayed at the top would eventually see their hobby turn into a potential career.
In South Korea, StarCraft’s multiplayer proved popular enough for players to participate in professional tournaments, earning money and sponsorship to help them play StarCraft for a living. Additionally, StarCraft tournaments were broadcast live on South Korean television, which before the advent of live-streaming online, this helped to build the reputation of eSports and prove its worth as televised entertainment. However, as it couldn’t be broadcast outside of South Korea, it was difficult to distribute and showcase across Europe and America.
However, as internet technology developed, it became much easier to spread the word and develop the audience of eSports. Social media allows for events, and the players themselves to announce and inform their fans of what tournaments are scheduled, and when to tune in online. Twitch has been key in helping showcase and develop the eSports scene by live-streaming events, qualifiers and tournaments for many popular games. League of Legends, DOTA 2, and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (and its expansion Heart of the Swarm) in particular, consistently pull in large viewing figures who often return to view future broadcasts. Furthermore, events and tournaments are more frequently selling-out all the tickets, which should make them consider creating each successive event a larger scale. All of this adds to the overall hype, excitement and atmosphere surrounding these events.
For example, the first batch of the League of Legends: World Championship Finals 2013 tickets sold out within 20 minutes, prompting the announcement of a further batch yet to be released. The event will play host to many professional gamers, fighting it out to reach the final and compete for the $1 million dollar grand prize. Within the StarCraft II scene, players are currently competing for places to reach the top 16 world-wide, which earns them a place at BlizzCon 2013, where they’ll play to a live audience in Anaheim for a considerable sum of money.
Not only is eSports a great way for the players to form a career doing what they love, but it’s also creating other job opportunities that didn’t exist 10-15 years ago. It has allowed for professional casters, observers and analysts to help run the events, maintaining and keeping the audience engaged at all times. In Starcraft II, casters like Apollo and Kaelaris commentate and analyse the games live, in the same way any sports commentator would do for football, tennis etc . In a world where job opportunities feel limited, it’s exciting and healthy for the industry to create these job opportunities for gaming enthusiasts.
Even to some gamers, the concept of eSports and professional gaming sounds peculiar, but is even stranger to those who don’t play video games. ESports still feels as though it’s in its early stages of development, even though it plays host to some large cash-pool tournaments globally. Its coverage took several years to be noticed worldwide, but with Twitch.tv’s live-streaming broadening its audience (which is also being released on next gen consoles, allowing live-stremaing), it should allow for a larger catalogue of games to be broadcast across the web, and hopefully create a more expansive eSports scene.
As eSport’s popularity increases, it feels natural that developers should create multiplayer content with eSports potential in mind. It is important to note, however, that many people who watch eSports, they may not play the game themselves. ESports can function as a means to allow the audience to enjoy the content of the game, but as an engaged audience member rather than a participant.
In 2012, Sweden became the second country to broadcast a professional eSports event live on television. Sweden hosted the DreamHack Summer 2012 Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty tournament, and was simultaneously broadcast on Twitch and Swedish national television. The following year, DreamHack Summer 2013 Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm was also broadcast live on television and Twitch, so it’s great to see that after a ‘trial run’ in 2012, it returned a year later. Another milestone for StarCraft II in the West, was that the finals of the StarCraft II World Championship Series, season two, peaked at over 100,000 viewers online. The tournament consisted of the top five players from America and Korea respectively, and the top six in Europe. They travelled to Cologne, Germany, and competed live during Gamescom, where the winner would go on to win $40,000.
Twitch, unfortunately, is not well known to non-gamers, but a push to broadcast professional eSport tournaments online simultaneous to television may act as a gate-way to non-gamers, and could hopefully form a snowball effect to ramp up viewership. However, this initial heave to get the ball rolling appears to be the biggest hurdle.
It’s exciting to think that eSports could regularly feature as a slot on live television and compete as a means of broadcasting entertainment alongside the standard television line-ups. It’s important that this push to place eSports in the mainstream keeps up its momentum, and is fully supported by developers and event management. Recently, Nintendo went through a back-and-forth decision whether to allow Super Smash Bros. Melee to be broadcast live on Twitch, during the Evo Championship series, but fortunately the decision was revoked, and it pulled in a large online audience. It seems counter-intuitive for companies to not permit their games to be shown online, as its free publicity. Hopefully, there will not be a repeat issue in the future, and developers would push to have their games showcased live to a large audience and play host to professional gaming events, rather than remove them from the broadcast.