A massive growth industry, Esports is a global phenomenon that has little to no barriers for dedicated, skilled players and even less for the fans that support them. With thriving communities all over the world gathering for incredible tournaments, accessible live or on streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch, Esports is – in essence – progressive; positively bridging the gaps that exist in society, being completely age, status, gender and race agnostic. We discuss what Esports is, the games that are played, and the people playing them at the highest levels.
What is Esports?
Esports – or electronic sports – is competitive gaming in professionally organised leagues, tournaments and events around the world. These tournaments often involve a prize pool from game developers and sponsorships, which can run into millions of dollars.
The term e-athlete refers to a professional Esports player, recognising the dedication and training as well as the physical and mental agility required to compete at the highest level. Organisations like the British Esports Federation and the Global Esports Federation are some of the most recognised advocates for professional Esports, promoting its credibility and legitimacy, while educating on the positive impact competitive gaming can have as an industry.
Most recently, the inaugural Commonwealth Esports Championships 2022 in Birmingham highlighted the evolution of Esports, with players from around the world competing on the world’s stage alongside Olympians in this pilot event. Most notably, CEC 2022 became a significant event for female gamers, normalising the participation of women in Esports.
Following a gold medal win, Tiffani “Babyoling” Lim, Manager, Malaysian Women Dota 2 Team said – “Most of the team members have been competing for a long time now, some longer than a decade. Often I feel sad at how little attention and opportunities that the female players have gotten, for how much they’ve achieved in terms of rank or gameplay.
“I’m incredibly grateful for this platform to showcase their skills and I hope there will be more tournaments like this. We’re officially the champions of the Commonwealth Esports Championships Dota 2 Women’s event.”
Severely underrepresented in professional Esports, less than 1% of professional players are women according to WomenInGames.org data, yet female fans account for 22% of Esports’ global total viewership.
As Esports continues to command incredible viewership across the world, with 197 million Esports enthusiasts watching events in 2019, growing to 234 million in 2021. Esports teams have now become as popular as some mainstream sports teams, transitioning into brands in the same way Premier League teams have done. Teams like Fnatic, TSM, Cloud9, Team Liquid, FeZe Clan, G2 eSports, and NRG eSports command incredible fanbases.
One of the largest Esports organisations, Fnatic, has over 55 million fans worldwide, with official merchandise ranging from clothing to gaming accessories, and prestige sponsorships and partnerships from household names BMW, ASOS and Chillblast.
There is a huge variety of games available in Esports. From strategic fantasy battles to rocket-powered cars playing football, Esports fans can watch players compete in their favourite games, playing for seven-figure prizes via professionally produced live streams on Twitch and YouTube.
New games are published regularly and make it into the global competitive scene, though the most recognised and most popular games are: –
- League of Legends (LoL) – 5v5 MOBA
- Dota 2 – 5v5 MOBA
- PUBG/PUBG Mobile – battle royale shooter
- Counterstrike: Global Offensive – team-based FPS
- Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (ML:BB) – 5v5 MOBA
- VALORANT – first-person shooter (FPS)
- Rocket League – vehicular soccer video game
- Apex Legends – team-based FPS
- Rainbow Six: Siege – tactical shooter
- StarCraft II – science fiction real-time strategy (RTS)
- Overwatch – team-based FPS
- Fortnite – battle royale shooter
- Age of Empires – historical RTS
- Super Smash Bros. – fighting game
- LoL: Wild Rift – MOBA mobile game
- Warcraft III – fantasy real-time strategy
- StarCraft: Brood War – military science fiction RTS
- Hearthstone – strategy online card game
- Heroes of the Storm – crossover MOBA
- Artifact – strategy online card game
In the Esports industry, there are some games that command a bigger audience than most. Dota 2, a multiplayer 5v5 online battle arena (MOBA) game developed and published by Valve Corporation. Released in 2013, this game is a sequel to Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars, and has awarded over $224.7 million in prize money, being most popular in North America and Europe. With an incredible 2.7 million fans watching the grand final between PSG.LGD and Team Spirit, over $40 million in prize money, and over 107 million hours of video watched, this was still not the most popular tournament in 2021 in terms of audience size.
The League of Legends 2021 World Championship (Worlds 2021) commanded over 4 million viewers in the grand final between EDward Gaming and DAMWON Gaming, received over 174 million watched hours, and had a relatively smaller prize pool of $2.225 million. With a number of tournaments every year, Riot Games’ League of Legends – or LoL – is the most popular Esports game in many ways.
Most popular tournaments of 2021
- LoL Worlds – LoL – Riot Games
- The International 10 – Dota 2 – Valve Corporation
- MPL ID Season 8 – ML:BB – Moonton
- PGL Major Stockholm 2021 – CS:GO – PGL
- LCK (LoL Champions Korea) Spring 2021 – LoL – Riot Games
- PUBG Mobile Global Championship Season 0 – PUBG Mobile – Tencent
- M3 World Championship – ML:BB – Moonton
- Mid-Season Invitational 2021 – LoL – LoL Mid-Season Invitational – Riot Games
- LCK Summer 2021 – LoL – Riot Games
- MPL ID Season 7 – ML:BB – ML:BB Professional League – Moonton
How are competitive Esports players different?
Playing Esports professionally requires dedication and investment to reach the highest level and join an Esports organisation, or become an independent professional player. Whilst the average gamer will spend around 7 hours per week playing video games, a gamer who is training to play at a professional level will often rack up 6-10 hours a day according to various players and teams in a number of interviews over the past few years. This is made up of training individual skills such as aiming, map awareness, and set tactics for example.
Training also requires adequate equipment, much like any sport, so an investment in a reliable gaming PC, a comfortable gaming chair, a pro-grade monitor and peripherals like gaming mice and keyboards are essential to play at the top level.
Mental health, and physical health and fitness play a huge role in professional Esports, with all high level teams adopting a positive attitude to the wellbeing of players and staff. With long hours and both physical and mental pressure, Esports organisations treat players the same as any professional athlete, promoting healthy diets and fitness in their facilities.
“Mental and physical health is something we deem really important at FNATIC and is why we have a dedicated performance coach in Marcus Askildsen. Personally I think that mental health is one of the most underrated aspects of a team’s performance: there’s a lot of pressure and stress for very young people involved in Esports. As for the physical side, often it’s related to the mental — if you’re healthy physically that can help mentally. But specifically I think that looking after your wrists is important for gamers.“ – Jacob “MINI” Harris, VALORANT Head Coach at Fnatic
The objective for aspiring Esports players is to join a well-known team or to start a team that can compete in high level tournaments and events. Opportunities for sponsorship and regular monthly pay are the big attraction for most, though some just want to (or need to) compete and showcase their skills.
With the advent of the Commonwealth Esports Championship, pro players and teams from around the world competed to represent their country, showing the very nature of Esports is to compete – and not just earn an income. That said, with world fame comes opportunity, and though most e-athletes competing in the CEC 2022 had already played for a professional team, there will no doubt be further career developments for the players after the Championships.
What is the future of Esports?
Esports is a relatively young industry, especially when compared with traditional sports. The UK alone possesses around 8% of the global Esports market, which is estimated to be worth $1.6bn by 2023 with a 15% annual growth rate according to forecasts by industry observers Newzoo and Statista. With household global brands like BMW, Levi’s and Marvel Entertainment entering the Esports sponsorship arena in 2020, this has given rise to an exponential opportunity for both sides of the equation.
As audience numbers grow at over 10% annually, this dwarfs some mainstream sports like Formula 1 with a comparative 3% YoY audience growth rate. This can be partially explained by the variety and innovation in the Esports industry, with games like VALORANT exploding onto the scene in 2020, overshadowing CS:GO almost immediately, and bringing with it a new audience and fanbase. With the advent of mobile gaming and its meteoric rise in popularity, this is yet another untapped platform for developers, gamers and sponsors that will no doubt continue to grow globally.
With new platforms, games, crossovers and updates for existing games offering new experiences for both players and fans alike, the changing landscape of Esports is forever fresh and interesting, something traditional spectator sports cannot compete with at any level.