Many gamers enjoyed a distorted view of their ability prior to the emergence of online gaming. Skills could only be measured against the same friends who’s relative shortcomings, though a reliable ego boost, struggled to raise the bar. The first real opportunity to face off came with the advent split-screen console multiplayers, which along with sports games like FIFA, founded an arena for people to compete for bragging rights and glory amongst their inner-circle. The private nature of social groups maintained a barrier from exposure to new threats, granting freedom for the reigning champion to gloat without fear of unknown territory. Goldeneye and Halo in particular proved to be milestones in the evolution of competitive console gaming’s most prominent genre; the First-Person Shooter.
Easier accessibility of online gaming has revamped this multiplayer landscape, creating a transparent setting that highlights the jokers and establishes hierarchy of skill within the pack. It has even paved way for proving grounds which allow the most talented to compete for thousands in cash prizes at prestigious venues across the world. Like international sport, competitive gaming, more affectionately known as eSports, is developing into a lifestyle and source of entertainment for millions. Sponsored players provide an engrossing display of skill that, with the help of increasingly tailored video-games, can be appreciated by even the most casual of gamers. Teams are live broadcasted as they play for the sort of money usually reserved for international sports stars, loyal fanbases and the ultimate reputation. Businesses from a range of industries endorse gamers with their products and support in hope that viewers will adopt the same equipment in an effort to emulate the skills of their favourite players. One can draw parallels with everything that has made popular sport so commercially appealing. A lack of physical aspect may stir questions about the absurdity of placing eSports in the same category as the likes of football or tennis, but that is not important; eSports is a modern phenomenon not pursued outdoors but in a different world entirely, and should be defined as such.
Despite marked progress, competitive gaming remains an emerging niche often shy of the radar of mainstream attention. It is typically greeted with the same expression of bewilderment by anyone who stumbles across someone or something related, prompting irrelevant replies regarding either the one time they won an online Call of Duty game, how they used to own some 1980s console or simply a sceptical grin, in expectation that you might suddenly reveal the elaborate joke that masquerades an on-going struggle with life’s priorities and mum’s more than reasonable expectations. Perceptions are beginning to change, though. Gaming, even as a casual hobby, has reached a stage and level of popularity where taste and expectations are inevitably starting to develop. A growing audience, which spends more time thumb-twiddling than they’d like to admit, has incited greater interest in more hardcore elements of the gaming spectrum. Younger generations in particular are savvier than ever with the internet and are more susceptible to sporadic ripples of eSports news that occasionally leak into the press. For anyone curious, there is plenty of information that trails back to several eSports centric sites and community hubs. A hive of news coverage and like-minded people, glued by the common factor of multiplayer gaming, transcends the bedroom environment onto a world-stage of online competition and live tournaments.
Live competitive events, commonly known as LANs (Local Area Network), are the Colosseum equivalent of eSports. They exist because the virtual world, although integral in bringing people across the globe closer than ever before, cannot always fulfil social demands and corporate ambitions that are better achieved through face-to-face interaction. Though the bulk of the audience, in their millions, watch from behind a screen, offline events evoke the ultimate competitive atmosphere which adds a showcase gloss to the fierce battle for tens of thousands, sometimes millions, in cash prizes at stake. They are melting pots of eSports activity, comprised of passionate professional players, aspiring amateurs, charismatic commentators, adoring fans, supportive sponsors and inquisitive media, all of which combine to inspire a unique surrounding that is equally an assemblage of friendship as it is an exhibition of talent and a marketing exercise for organisers. The media’s role is crucial in eradicating stereotypical misconceptions synonymous with gaming. Pros explain a common story of fantasy turned reality, articulated with tangible fervor that depicts a committed individual who dreams of contributing a lasting impression in eSports. The prize money, though important and necessary to attract players and feed an industry still in its infancy, is secondary to the pride of victory against rivals.
The legions of fans that fuel year-on-year expansion of the scene cannot be understated. Twitch TV, YouTube, Dailymotion and now Major League Gaming provide a medium through which tournaments and individuals can live stream gameplay to thousands of spectators. Activision’s $1,000,000 Call of Duty Championship garnered over 100,000 concurrent viewers and prolific eSports celebrities like Call of Duty superstar and Red Bull Athlete, Nadeshot, has live broadcasted from his team’s shared household to as many as 30,000 fans at any one time. He is an example of an increasing number of gamers who’s insight into the latest technology is allowing them to master the art of marketing to an online crowd. That is not to convey their community interaction as a clinical affair; professionals regularly communicate with their followers over social media, online gaming and at events. They fully embrace the responsibility of engaging with the people that ultimately maintain their fairytale career of travelling the world to play video-games.
Esports is progressing in the right direction, bolstered by a maturing community that is aspiring to mirror the professionalism demanded in mainstream sport. Its comparatively brief existence is already ladled with stories comprised of triumphs and rivalries that inspire subsequent generations of gamers. At its core, devoted players are working harder than ever, doing something they love because it brings out the best in them whilst captivating a broad international audience. But even as ambitions surge for financial reward and opportunities arise, it is the ability to boast amongst rival friends, who now stem well beyond the classroom from as far as different continents, that they continue to relish most of all.