The 1980 National Space Invaders Championship was the first large-scale competitive gaming competition. Organised and held by Atari, the event drew 10,000 gamers across America from their local arcades and into a hotel lobby lined with TVs and consoles. Spokeswoman Ginny Juhnke described the response to the event as ‘unprecedented’
Fast forward 37 years and the same simple concept is about to become a billion dollar industry, estimated to reach an audience of 385 million people in 2017.
For a hobby born out of basement LAN parties, unprecedented doesn’t begin to describe the inimitable growth of this industry from niche to mainstream.
Just last month 27.8 million hours were spent watching the most popular eSport League of Legends on streaming platform Twitch, with other heavyweights like Counter Strike, DOTA 2, Hearthstone and Starcraft filling in the top 5. This doesn’t even consider the data from other platforms like YouTube Gaming, MLG or Hitbox. Naturally, worldwide total consumption of eSports is expected to reach 6.6 billion hours by 2018.
Regardless of the numbers, 2017 may be the first year most of the public hear about eSports.
Sky Sports and the Daily Mail are also rumoured to be about to go live on major eSports coverage across a range of the most popular competitive titles.
Whilst this medium has been nibbling controversially at the heels of traditional sport for a long time, this is the year that the industry is starting to come into its own and gain global recognition.
Last year you may have been one of the 31 million viewers who tuned in to watch Game 7 of the NBA finals. Would it surprise you to learn that 12 million more watched the finals of the League of Legends World Championships?
The 43 million who sat down to watch SK Telecom T1 defeat Samsung Galaxy 3-2 are evocative of the power of the eSports phenomenon.
The team of 5 took home their share of a 6.7 million dollar prize pool, and with the viewership speeding to terminal velocity, traditional sports executives are understandably picking up the phone.
Just last year investment group aXiomatic purchased Team Liquid, one of the staple names in eSports. The board of executives consists of a number of famous names like representatives from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Magic Johnson.
Famous basketball star Shaquille O’Neal also co-owns NRG, an esports company boasting teams across a wide spectrum of video games. Ashton Kutcher and famed DJ Steve Aoki are another set of names deeply invested in the eSports boom.
It was also announced that competitive gaming will feature as a medal event at the 2022 Asia Games, as the practice starts to break through and become a recognised sport just like Football or Tennis.
There’s not a plateau in sight, either. Blizzard’s brand new ‘Overwatch League’ to support the game of the same name comes out this year, and with a player base of over 25 million, a loyal eSports fan base is to be expected.
Activision also announced that they will be pushing Call of Duty to the eSports forefront with the new ‘boots-on-the-ground’ style of WWII, and inevitably, we’re going to see another record-breaking prize pool at The International 7.
The only way is up, and for the virtual sports sceptics, it looks like its time to get on the bandwagon and put down the handbook.