Games are no longer a pastime of the young or socially awkward. Gone are the days of gaming being an activity that led you nowhere.
Competitive gaming, otherwise known as eSports, is the largest sporting world that you’re not taking seriously.
For a long time, gaming was perceived as a waste of time, an activity that countless children sunk hours into at the cost of their future and their potential. It was a hobby reserved for the socially awkward, the kids that weren’t going anywhere in life.
To the older gamers, parents would lament that playing games won’t pay the bills nor will it get them into college. If any of the aforementioned seems like an accurate description of gaming today, you’re in for a rude awakening.
eSports began as a niche group of gamers wanting to take their favourite game to the extreme. It was about bragging rights; it was about seeing who was the best. The prize pools were small and the competition largely insignificant. You weren’t competing to be the best in the world, you were competing to see who was the best in your group of friends, or your neighbourhood.
Fast forward to today, and you have a variety of eSports gaming titles with enormous milestones under their competitive belt. From veteran titles such as Starcraft, Dota, Call of Duty and Counter Strike, to the more recent but well established titles like League of Legends and Hearthstone, to up and comers seeking to challenge the throne, such as Rocket League and Overwatch, the sources of entertainment are endless.
The numbers that accompany some of these titles are as impressive as the visuals of the games themselves. Dota 2 lays claim to the largest eSports prize pool with their largest tournament, The International 2016, boasting $20,770,640 up forgrabs. The winning team of that tournament, Wings Gaming, pocketed an astounding $9,139,002.
League of Legends, a giant in the gaming world, has shared spaces with some of the biggest sporting franchises in the world. They sold out the home of the LA Lakers when they hosted their finals in the Staples Center. They raised the bar when Riot Games, the creators of League of Legends, sold out Madison Square Garden on consecutive nights. This year’s finals, they’ll be aiming to sell out Beijing National Stadium in China, which seats well over 90,000.
With numbers such as those, it’s no surprise that brands globally are scrambling to get in on the digital action. Korea is no stranger to eSports and has been a powerhouse across multiple titles for some time. Thus it’s no surprise to see company giants such as South Korea’s largest wireless carrier, SK Telecom, sponsoring arguably the most dominant team in League of Legends history. Other notable brands investing in eSports include Samsung, KT Corporation and CJ Corporation, to name just a few.
Looking to the West, there has been an influx of big money from sporting franchises and names. Sporting giants such as Paris Saint-Germain, Schalke 04 and Philadelphia 76ers have all invested in their own eSports teams. Basketball legends Rick Fox and Shaquille O’Neal have also thrown their wallets at the eSports scene, in the shape of gaming organisations Echo Fox and NRG respectively. With rumours that Brazilian superstar Neymar is also looking to get involved, there seems to be no shortage of big names wanting in.
Then of course you have to look at the original gaming organisations that were there early on and rose to prominence on the wave that eSports has become. You look at the likes of Team Solomid, Counter Logic Gaming, Evil Geniuses, G2 etc, and you see a string of organisations that have turned into powerful, highly coveted brands. Their lists of sponsors are innumerable as more and more companies begin to understand the power of brand appeal in a highly engaged and passionate community.
For some time, there were many calling on eSports to start a push for mainstream acceptance by imitating traditional sports. Thankfully, that call went unheeded and instead of a cookie cutter approach, gaming titles and the forces behind them opted to combine the best of both worlds. What you’re left with is an incredibly entertaining and enthralling spectator experience, for both the novice and the experienced.
High quality productions during events that would put most newsrooms to shame. Storylines that tug at the heart and create a compelling reason for even a casual viewer to watch the game. From intense rivalries to stories of redemption to the villain everyone wants to see lose, eSports has it all.
Whilst South Africa’s eSports scene still has a long way to go to rival those overseas, a lot of hard work and passion resides here and incredible strides are being taken to keep raising the bar.
Various games have adopted the domestic league format, along with playoff series that allow the top teams to compete on a global stage. Shoutcasters, the gaming equivalent of commentators, accompany many matches and provide insightful commentary as well as high paced play by play casting to keep even the most casual viewer up to date as the game unfolds.
The local competitive scene has been growing as well. Whilst South Africa’s eSports scene still has a long way to go to rival those overseas, a lot of hard work and passion resides here and incredible strides are being taken to keep raising the bar. With local brands getting involved, along with passionate local organisations and individuals, the future is bright for South African eSports.
The next time you see someone staring at a computer or TV screen intently, you may be looking at the next world champion, with an audience of millions cheering their name. Gone are the days when games were simply a fun way to waste time. Nowadays, games are the platform upon which many can build an untraditional sporting legacy.