Can eSports and traditional media get along?

eSports have been growing rapidly on the internet for many years. Now it has caught the eye of traditional media giants like ESPN. But are they welcome?

In 2015, the total prize pool for the US Open’s men’s singles (the highest paying grand slam) was a record breaking $16 million. But that figure was easily beaten by another large tournament happening at the same time: In early August, The International, the main tournament of a video game called Dota 2, awarded a total of $18.4 million. This was just one of a number of tournaments that has seen Dota 2 award a total of $56 million dollars since 2011.

With its growing popularity it makes sense to see media giants like the sports channel ESPN make their way into the world of eSports with the launch of their new eSports dedicated page. This, however, is not entirely welcome.

“Do eSports need the support of ESPN to grow even bigger?” asks Tobias Scholz, University of Siegen, Germany. Scholz, author of the eSports yearbook, says “eSports works without traditional media who are only buying in to gain ground on the market and to learn from eSports. The scene thrives on the Internet and that is where it generates money: two aspects at which traditional media (and therefore ESPN) currently fails miserably.”

eSports viewership in 2015 grew to 188 million worldwide and according to SuperData, a games research company, the global eSports market is now worth $748M and will reach $1.9B by 2018. eSports is already outpacing other major US sporting events, as 32 million people watched the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship in 2013 (compared to only 15 million people who watched that year’s Major League Baseball’s World Series in the United States).

Indeed, one of the most incredible things about the massive growth of eSports up till now has been the notable absence of traditional media. eSports has instead made its home on internet streaming services like Twitch, which enables people (amateurs and professionals alike) to stream themselves playing video games to 100+ million unique viewers per month (Twitch was recently purchased by Amazon for $1.1 billion). Google has also launched YouTube Gaming to compete with Twitch.

“In my opinion, any traditional media entity has far more to learn and gain from eSports than eSports could ever gain from them. eSports is the future of sports broadcasting,” says Scholz. This argument is becoming hard to fault particularly after Walt Disney – ESPNs parent company – suffered a $10 billion drop in market value (despite the hugely successful release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens) largely because of a floundering ESPN.

Even the US government recognizes eSports and grants professional athlete visas to people traveling to the US to play video games. Performance-enhancing drugs are even a problem in eSports. Electronic Sports League (ESL), which is one of the world’s largest eSports organizations, will begin testing players and has adopted the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances.

So why are so many people interested in watching other people play video games? In contrast to soccer or basketball most people watching eSports also play the same game competitively against other people. This means the step from simply playing video games to eSports is not that huge. People develop a passion for the game and that passion is what drives eSports, says Scholz.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ldq1afiKQb8[/embed]

During Dota 2’s The International 2012, thousands of people cheer and stand while watching what was called “The Play” at Key Arena, Seattle.


Watching professionals play the game is also a great way to learn. “Seeing a player do an impossible trick can be just as remarkable as seeing Messi do an impossible trick in football,” says Scholz. This learning experience can help explain why multiplayer games, like Dota 2 or League of Legends, which can take years to master, draw so many passionate fans.

This isn’t new. People have been watching other people play video games since the 80’s when the US television program Starcade showed contestants attempting to beat each other’s high scores on arcade games. Today, only the scale, platform and level of dedication has changed: Of the 100+ million unique monthly viewers on the game streaming platform Twitch, each person watched an average of 106 minutes per day. That’s over 16 billion minutes of gaming being watched per month.

Dig deeper:

Vorderer, P, Hartmann, T & Klimmt, C: “Explaining the enjoyment of playing video games: The role of competition

Reich, S & Vorderer, P: “Online Games, Player Experiences in

Seo, Y & Sang-Uk Jung: “Beyond solitary play in computer games: The social practices of eSports

Wagner, M: “On the Scientific Relevance of eSports

 

Image courtesy of Jakob Wells.