When one thinks of an athlete, the image that comes to mind is usually not a gamer sitting at their PC. However, the face of sports is changing with the rise of eSports. eSports league Major League Gaming (MLG) has signed up to compete at X Games Austin next month, marking the first time eSports will be recognised as a competitive sporting event alongside physical events.
What are eSports, though? eSports, or Electronic Sports, are competitions held by competing in multiplayer video games. The concept has been around for much of gaming history, but only as competition between amateurs and hobbyists. In recent years though, the practice has taken off, spawning many professional gamers and competitions for cash prizes. The beginning of the trend can be seen with the release of Starcraft in 2000. While in the US and Europe eSports were still a hobby, an industry grew around the game in South Korea. Players became media celebrities, earning 6 figure salaries for competing. When Starcraft 2 was released in 2010, the phenomenon became global.
Forbes credits some of the popularity to the fact that ‘nerdy’ children, who may not necessarily have been interested in traditional sports, have grown up. Now that they are adults with disposable income and the freedom to pursue what interests them, the eSports scene was able to come about. Now, fans can follow their favourite athletes and leagues, just as traditional sports fans do.
Streaming websites such as Twitch.tv have also contributed to their popularity. Many players are now supporting themselves through streaming on these websites, or uploading videos on sites such as Youtube. In fact, Twitch.tv hosts so many leagues and tournaments that their unofficial nickname is now ‘the ESPN of eSports’. This was unthinkable even five to ten years ago, when it could days to upload a single video of a tournament online.
Now, games are being constructed with eSports and competitive play in mind. Valve created updates for popular eSports title Dota 2 by allowing teams to have identifying features for their teams, such as logos. This sounds like a very small update at first, but by allowing for teams to show their team colours and logos, they will be able to create more awareness about their team, in a similar manner to traditional sports teams. This means that eSports is making more steps towards becoming a ‘legitimate’ sport in its own right.
The latest news of MLG joining up with X Games Austin is another step towards this legitimacy. MLG, which was established in 2002, has always had the aim to create a viable platform for competitive online gaming. The league is currently the largest in the USA, and has had tournaments broadcast on ESPN.com and mainstream television.
This team up will add another string to the bow of the inaugural X Games event, which already features sports, and a three day music festival. MLG must be hoping that their unique brand of competitive play will reach a new audience in Austin, and with any luck it just might.