E-sports: The In Thing At Olympics?
N Sameer Chandra
The Journey: From mere a stress-buster to a sponsored game
Chennai: It was October 19th, 1972 and a few computer geeks had the opportunity to compete in the ‘Intergalactic SpaceWar Olympics’ to win a subscription for Rolling Stone, an American pop magazine. The competition, held at Stanford University was the first of its kind as it awarded the winners with a prize. Thus, e-sports took birth and have evolved into the multi-million dollar industry it is now.
Gaming started off as a stress-buster for employees who worked before a computer for hours together. Cracking a cold beer, they enjoyed Sunday afternoons playing games like Space Invaders. It wasn’t until 1980 that e-sports gained momentum with Atari hosting events like the Space Invaders Championship, attracting over 10,000 participants. During the 70s and 80s, magazines like Life and Time covered these events extensively, garnering the attention of television corporations. A TV show called Starcade in which two players tried to beat each other in an arcade game, aired for two long years.
With the advent of Internet and its gradual proliferation into our daily lives, three Berkeley students modified a game called X-trek into a cross plat former and named it Netrek which allowed 16 players from different parts of the world to connect to a single server. Though not popularised as a competitive game, Netrek proved that games-over- the-Internet is the future.
The late 1990s saw Counter-Strike, Quake and Warcraft’s dominance in the Internet gaming scene with a number of professional gaming tournaments featuring them. The Cyberathlete Professional League was one of the first premier video game tournaments which offered whopping prize money of $250,000. This era also saw the formation of some well-known teams like SK Gaming, Ninjas in Pyjamas, and ‘mousesports’. During this time, the Counter-Strike scene grew so big that various companies started sponsoring these teams. In fact, they started paying these players on a regular basis and set up a youth academy to breed the future generation of players.
DotA, LoL and CS: GO
Counter-Strike’s success story inspired Warcraft’s developer Blizzard to follow a similar approach towards gaming competitions by launching its own Professional World Tournament in 2003. Blizzard encouraged players to make their own mods by using its engine. As a result, a new game called DotA (Defense of the Ancients) was born. Maintained by IceFrog, whose identity we still don’t know today, the game became so popular that it warranted a professional scene of its own. The game was made open source and the developers didn’t make any profit off it.
Just like Counter-Strike, the game lost its appeal due to its glitched interface as well as out-dated graphics. In 2009, Riot Games announced its foray into the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) market with the introduction of its latest game called League of Legends (LoL). LoL offered an upgraded UI in addition to the advanced graphics. Two years later, Valve hired IceFrog to develop a new game called DotA 2 based upon the original game. The game was released to a select few garnering rave reviews from gaming critics. DotA 2 became popular among the original DotA players as Valve organised a million dollar tournament called ‘The International’ in 2011. This was the first time in gaming history that a tournament with a million dollar prize pool was held. The old Counter-Strike game was also remade with new graphics, maps and a captivating UI. The new game was called Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and it started having tournaments of its own.
Twitch: The game changer
By the end of 2011, a streaming site called Twitch.tv was introduced to the world, forever changing the lives of players. The Twitch allowed players to stream their game and accepts subscription donations from viewers. This encouraged many players to make use of the system to sponsor their teams via crowd funding. Twitch even allowed players to make a living from playing games which till then were just a hobby for many. Recognising Twitch’s success, Amazon swooped in and bought it for $970 million.
Twitch even helped many retired players stay with the game they loved and offered them the chance of streaming and making a living out of it. In fact, there are people who stream exclusively on Twitch and make a living.
Ebbs and flows
Like any other sport, e-sports has its own disadvantages. You become either successful and earn enough money to make a living or fall into the abyss and are never recognised. Being adept at does not suffice in the world of e-sports. One must be willing to work with a team to make it big. In addition to this, players are forced to retire once they hit the age of 28 or higher on the grounds of their slower reaction times than their younger counterparts. Like FIFA is for Football and ICC is for Cricket, there is no centralised institution to control global e-sports tournaments. As a result, the power to suspend or accept a player is completely in the hands of the game developer which creates an imbalance in the professional scene.
$1 billion future
Newzoo, a pioneer in e-sports marketing research estimated that 2017 would produce $691 million in revenue. The numbers are even sweeter for 2019 as it is estimated that the e-sports industry would hit $1 billion. With massive numbers such as this, entrepreneurs will surely flock around different teams and sponsor them just like they do for football and cricket teams.
Sports superstars like Shaquille O’Neal and Rick Fox have already taken the first steps with the former investing in CS: GO team NRG while the latter founded a team called Echo Fox. Steve Aoki, Ashton Kutcher and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are just a few names off the top of the list.
Medal Event in Asian Games 2022
In April this year, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) took the boldest decision ever by including e-sports as a medal event in the 2022 Asian Games. Being the second largest multi-sport event in the world, the Asian Games including e-sports as a medal event is a sign that the world considers it a real sporting event. Taking this into consideration, is it not high time that the International Olympics Committee included e-sports as a part of its schedule?