Today online games have become a massive industry that grows like a snowball. Naturally, we are curious about the phenomenon of e-sports and its place in society. What role will it play in the future?
Names like World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Counter-Strike and StarCraft may sound familiar to many. Most people would probably be able to associate them with computer games, but not much more. Actually, these are some of the brands of a fast-growing industry on the intersection of entertainment and e-sports.
So, a bunch of geeks are hiding from reality in an imaginary world. What is all the fuss about? The main point is the size of the industry: Since 2010, the number of gamers and the money prizes for competitions have both grown incredibly, making e-sports impossible to neglect. For instance, the total active player bases of League of Legends and Dota 2 are 64 000 000 and 43 000 000 people per month, respectively.
Now, let´s talk money. The biggest overall prize pool for a tournament belongs to Dota 2 with over $18 430 000 in year 2015, $6 500 000 of which were awarded to the best team of five players. Interestingly, the organizing company only invested $1 600 000. The rest was gathered from people´s donations.
There are three ways to look at online games: An addictive hobby, a growing industry and a social phenomenon. None of these exclude the others.
There is a certain opinion in the society about gaming generously fired up by the media: Many people see it as an addictive hobby. The headlines are regularly bombarding us with statements such as, “Video games made another kid go crazy” or, “A teenager died playing an online game marathon”, which sends the message clearly: Gaming is bad.
Here are some traditional arguments in support of that argument. Primarily, playing video games creates health issues, such as having a negative effect on the eyesight. It may also cause attention problems and distractibility. According to Daphne Bavelier, a professor of neuroscience and psychology from the University of Geneva, both arguments have been proven wrong for action games.
Another thing that bothers society is the addictive component of games. It is argued that an addictive hobby makes people put games first, making them less productive and more socially isolated. Many research studies say the violent component of the games makes children more aggressive.
The arguments would most likely be stronger when applied to school kids than to adults. However playing video games is hardly a hobby that you mention on a job interview or when meeting new people, unless applying for a job in the industry or being in certain surroundings.
The e-sports industry grows with the active participation of game, companies producing peripheral equipment, various professional associations of gamers, as well as players and viewers. It functions in a very traditional way: IT companies create games with their own, usually unique universe and sell the experience of being a part of it, as well as the additional features. Related products, such as keyboards, mice, headphones, powerful graphics cards and – of course – software, are promoted through cooperation with the industry “stars”, the famous professional gamers.
Even if participation in the game is free, there are many other sources of revenue for game-producing companies. For example, Dota 2 offers the players the option to buy exclusive features, such as access to challenges, artifacts and even new looks for the heroes. Since we are talking about e-sports: there is e-sports betting, which is a source of income to bookmakers. With the development of technology the market place for video games naturally moved online, although still not completely.
What makes phenomenal online gaming so phenomenal? First, people spend enormous amounts of time and resources, not to mention emotional and cognitive energy, to play games. These games usually take a lot of time to learn how to play decently. Secondly, it is a dedicated community with its own stars, inside jokes and trends. Gamers gain their fans through streaming channels; memes and jokes are spread through social media and the very games evolve, creating new possibilities.
Third, gaming has grown into professional arena where one can make a living solely by playing. As mentioned before, it takes years of training to become a pro and most of competitions are held in team games. Fourth, live streaming of games has become an important part of gaming. Millions of people watch games on the Twitch platform every day, where they can make donations to the streamers and pay to watch exclusive channels. Strangely enough streamers do not have to be good at games to become popular. Last, but not least, the professional gaming scene is absolutely male dominant, with rare exceptions. This one is probably rooted more in lack of supply than lack of demand.
There is definitely a great gap between how the general public sees gaming and how it is viewed by the members of the gaming community. StarCraft and Dota 2 are compared to chess, which acknowledges the intellectual efforts required to succeed in the game. This gap is largely created by the lack of public knowledge, and this is becoming less of an issue as the e-sports scene gets more exposure and the number of gamers increase.
When a new social phenomenon is at its early stages, no one can tell where it will go. It evolves independently with little chance of control from the outside. The question is: Will e-sports and its virtual reality step further into the spotlight or will it stay a non-mainstream social activity?