The Intel Extreme Masters taking place in Sydney from May 4-6 will see 16 international teams battle it out over three days at Sydney Olympic Park for A$310,000 in prize money. Instead of competing physically for victory on a field, players will compete virtually in a first-person shooter video game called Counter-Strike: Global Offensive displayed on a giant screen.
Whether or not you’re a gamer, you’ve probably heard about eSports – because these video game battles are attracting the crowds. The Australian eSports fan base has more than doubled in the past two years, and the vast majority (66%) of those fans are between the ages of 18 and 34, and mostly male.
This demographic has always been well represented in traditional physical sports, but has more recently shifted to gaming. It’s one sign of how Australia’s deep passion for sport is changing. And women gamers are also going professional.
With fewer people attending major traditional sporting codes compared to the same time 10 years ago, media and sporting organisations are taking note.
The rise of eSports
The eSport craze began in Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in 1972, when it was known as the Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics.
The field has evolved significantly during the past 46 years. From a small tournament about monochrome spaceships and space mines displayed as simple motion graphics on a screen, eSports has leveled up into a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry.
Year on year the global eSports economy has been growing by more than 38%. And audience growth is not just across hardcore video gaming enthusiasts, occasional viewers are also increasing yearly – especially in the Asia-Pacific region.
The rise of online multiplayer gaming and video streaming services, such as YouTube and Twitch, are rapidly changing the landscape of media consumption. By 2020, the eSports industry is estimated to be worth US$1.4 billion.
Are eSports a legitimate sport?
eSporting tournament viewership has already surpassed that of traditional sports broadcasting. This represents a significant market opportunity for broadcasting companies such as ESPN and Disney and game publishers such as Activision Blizzard.
The legitimacy of eSports has been on a steady increase with groups such as the Australian eSports Association forming in 2013 with the mission of getting eSports formally recognised by the Australian Sports Commission. In December 2017, the Esports Games Association Australia launched to legitimise eSports in Australia and New Zealand.
Worldwide there is a movement made up of 48 nations through the International eSports Federation and others to establish international competitions and rules around eSports, with the eventual goal of seeing eSports become part of the Olympic Games.
In addition to these groups, major leagues have been forming across the world such as ESL Gaming League, which is the world’s largest. Australia has also recently landed its first high performance centre for eSports at the home of one of the country’s most iconic sporting venues: the Sydney Cricket Ground.
How can you get into eSports?
If a spectator or gamer is new to eSports, the easiest first step is to start reading or find a stream and start watching. The Australian Esports League – a provider of eSports competitions in Australia – has its own Twitch channel. For worldwide content check out the ESL Gaming League Twitch channel.
If your children are after professionally run eSports you can check out programs run by the Australian Sports Camps focusing on eSport. You never know, you or your child could be the next Marcus Gomes!
James Birt is an Assistant Professor Interactive Media and Design.
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