EsportsPublished: | Updated:
Esports, short for electronic sports, is a form of competitive online activity using video games. Esports often consists of organized, multiplayer video game competitions. The competitive events are comprised of professional players, either as individuals or team events.
Multiplayer competitions have historically been a part of video game culture, long before the rise of modern-day esports. Those events involved mainly amateurs until the late 2000s when the advent of online streaming platforms like YouTube or Twitch enabled a surge of participation by mainstream professionals. While some may shake their heads at the idea of a “competitive gamer,” make no mistake – there’s a big difference between an amateur and a professional. By the 2010s, esports had evolved into a major part of the video game industry, with game developers like Activision or Epic Games designing for or funding major tournaments and other events.
The growing popularity
The significance of esports is a global, notable trend that has garnered significant attention in the last half-decade. Esports have amassed a massive global audience, spanning different age groups, regions, and cultures. Tournaments and league events are streamed to millions online, attracting tons of viewers. Some events, like the Fortnite World Cup, even rivaled traditional sports in terms of number of viewers. Esports events have also been broadcast on traditional television networks, further expanding their reach.
The prize pool for major esports competitions has grown significantly as well, reflecting the increasing significance of the industry. Prominent tournaments for games like Dota 2 or League of Legends have offered prize pools in the million-dollar range, with top players and teams earning significant amounts of money. Combined with the ability to make money from traditional streaming platforms like Twitch or Kick, top competitive players can make tens of thousands of dollars a month.
The professionalization and infrastructure of esports have also grown considerably in the past decade. Instead of individuals competing, teams were formed with coaches, analysts, and support staff for their players. The rise of organizations like FaZe Clan or 100 Thieves established a trend of training facilities, team houses, and gaming centers – all becoming standard industry options for players looking to perfect their gaming strategies. The infrastructure surrounding esports has grown as well, with arenas being dedicated to esports competitions.
Mainstream recognition from the media
Esports continues to gain mainstream recognition from media, sports organizations, sponsors, and even fellow professional athletes. Major brands and companies have invested heavily in esports, sponsoring teams, events, and individual players. Traditional sports franchises have also entered the esports scene, acquiring or creating their own teams. Bayern Munich and Manchester City, two of the most well-known football clubs in the world, have their own esports clubs for online competition. Even NBA talents like Steph Curry or Kevin Durant have invested in esports companies. This growing interest from a variety of mainstream entities has further legitimized esports as more than just a cultural fad among gamers.
The inclusion of esports in the collegiate experience has produced more awareness of the sport.
Many universities and academic institutions now offer esports programs, even scholarships. For example, the University of California at Irvine (UCI) offers esports scholarships for incoming students who play League of Legends, Overwatch, or Super Smash Bros. Collegiate esports leagues and competitions have emerged, particularly in California, where students have more opportunities to compete.
Those esports-centric students can focus on pursuing passions for gaming, all while getting an elite education. Esports games at the college level include a wide array of options, including Fortnite, Counter-Strike (CS: GO), League of Legends, Overwatch, and more.
Esports in the Olympic Games
As crazy as it might sound to sporting traditionalists, esports may very well be a part of the Olympics in the future. The online sport has started to gain recognition from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The potential inclusion of esports as an official Olympic sport has been a hot topic of discussion. While the global recognition and significance of competitive gaming can’t be overstated, it would still be quite a move for the IOC.
The economic impact of esports has been massive.
Revenue streams from esports come from all over the place. Advertising, sponsorship dollars, media rights, ticket sales, merchandise, even game-related purchases are revenue streams. In that regard, massive esports competitions and teams have begun to rival traditional sports. Esports-related jobs have also emerged. Beyond being a professional player, you could be a coach, a streamer, an organizer for events, or even just a content creator.
Overall, the esports ecosystem extends beyond players and tournaments. Streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming have provided hubs for esports entertainment to everyone. Fans can watch live matches, engage with their favorite streamers, and participate in live chat. Esports betting has even gained traction!
History of Esports
1970-1980: Early Competitions
1972 marked the first known video game competition. The “InterGalactic Spacewar Olympics” took place at Stanford University. Spacewar! set players against each other arena-style. Two dozen players competed in a five-man free-for-all, along with a. team event. The prize? The winner got a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone.
1980 saw video game manufacturer Atari organization the Space Invaders Championships, one of the first large-scale video game competitions. Space Invaders is now recognized as one of the most influential video games of all time.
1980-1990: Arcade Era, Golden Age of Esports
The 1980s, in general, saw the rise of popularity in arcades as they became popular meeting places for gamers. Arcades became synonymous with competition as well as socialization.
1981 saw Twin Galaxies, founded by Walter Day, beginning to track high scores and organize competitive events, providing the first known platform for skilled players to showcase their stats on a leaderboard. Day began this process by visiting more than 100 video game arcades over four months, recording the high scores he found on each game.
1983 marked the first televised video game competition. The North American Video Game challenge featured Starcade, and the goal was to record world record high scores for the 1984 U.S. Edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. It was the most prestigious contest of that era. It was also the only one that the Guinness Book looked to for verifiable world records on video games at the time.
By 1990, Nintendo’s World Championships brought together some of the top players from around the United States. They were effectively “hired” to compete in various games in order to boost the popularity of competitive gaming. The finalists won a trophy, $250, and a trip for two to the World Finals at Universal Studios Hollywood. The runners-up won a Power Pad and a Game Boy.
1990-2000: The Rise of LAN Parties and Online Gaming
The late 1990s saw a new form of gaming emerge. LAN (Local Area Network) parties emerged, enabling players to compete against each other in person. LAN parties have a unique culture in esports. True enthusiasts will show off computers designed with extravagant features like cooling systems, LED lighting, and custom casing. Caffeinated beverages and energy drinks became virtually synonymous with LAN party gaming.
Online multiplayer games also emerged in popularity. StarCraft, Counter–Strike, and Quake set the stage for serious online competitive gaming.
1997 saw the Red Annihilation event, a Quake tournament held at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). The winner, Dennis “Thresh” Fong, won John Carmack’s Ferrari 328. Fong, now an American businessman, gained notoriety first as a gamer in Quake and Doom. He co-founded Xfire, an instant messaging platform for gamers, which was acquired by Viacom in 2006 for $102M.
2000-2010: Professionalization of Esports, the Modern Era
The 2000s were a period when esports really started to gain national appeal. In 2000, the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) was established, becoming one of the first major professional esports organizations. It was technically founded in 1997 by Angel Munoz, but it wasn’t until the 2000s that it became a globally recognized organization. 2000 saw the first team competition (in Counter-Strike), and 2001 saw Jonathan Wendel, better known as “Fatal1ty,” rise to fame by winning Alien versus Predator 2.
2002 saw the organization and founding of Major League Gaming (MLG), contributing to the broader competitive gaming scene gaining worldwide recognition. MLG was initially synonymous with their Halo 2 Pro Series broadcast.
2003 saw yet another international esports tournament being launched in the form of The World Cyber Games (WCG). The intent of the WCG was to attract players on a global scale. Basically, the WCG tried to emulate the Olympics – including an opening ceremony and players competing for gold, silver, and bronze medals. By 2020, the WCG competition received over 600 million views worldwide.
2010-Present: Global Expansion
Fast forward to 2011, and Riot Games introduced the League of Legends World Championship. LoL WC has evolved into one of the most prestigious and widely watched esports events each year. The global phenomenon of League of Legends became so broad that Riot was able to produce Arcane, a television series based on the LoL universe.
In 2013, the Valve Corporation introduced The International, an annual esports world championship for the five-on-five video game Dota 2. Initially featuring a crowdfunded prize pool, it now has the largest-single tournament prize pool of any esports event. The largest prize pool reached $40M USD. Only one organization has ever gone back-to-back in championships in The International. OG Esports won in 2018 and 2019. They are sponsored by RedBull and partnered with both BMW and SteelSeries.
2014 marked the landmark acquisition of the streaming platform Twitch by Amazon. This move boosted its overall visibility and accessibility to a mass audience.
By 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge of online esports events and tournaments, as traditional in-person events (sporting or otherwise) were canceled. In many ways, the effect of COVID-19 positively impacted the esports industry. With people unable to tune into sporting events, esports engagement boomed, leading to a rise in the usage of online streaming platforms.
Esports Genres and Games
A multiplayer online battle arena, D2 consists of two teams comprised of five players occupying and defending a base on the map. Each of the ten unique players controls a powerful hero that has his or her own unique ability. That ability allows for that character to alter their play style. Matches are comprised of players collecting experience points (XP) and items for their heroes to defeat the opposition in player-versus-player combat. The way to win is by being the first team to destroy the other team’s “ancient,” a large structure located within their base.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
CS: GO is a multiplayer, tactical, first-person shooter pitting two teams (Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists) against each other in objective-based games. The most common game mode involves the Terrorists planting a bomb that the Counter-Terrorists must stop from going off. With nine unique game modes, there are many different ways to enjoy the game. The game has an active esports scene, with teams competing in professional leagues and tournaments. CS: GO is widely regarded as one of the best in esports.
An online game developed by Epic Games, Fortnite was designed initially to be played as a hybrid tower defense-shooter and survival game. But Fortnite’s Battle Royale is what made it one of the most popular games of all time. With its Battle Royale being entirely free-to-play (F2P), the game pits 100 players jumping off a bus and fighting to be the last person standing.
The game forces you to scavenge for both weapons and materials. The unique dynamic separating it from other battle royales is the building dynamic, as players can use builds defensively or offensively. Meanwhile, a moving storm that deals damage means you can’t just try to outlast other players by doing nothing but hiding. The last man standing wins.
Fortnite has become a cultural phenomenon in a way that previously hadn’t existed. In March of 2018, a streaming event occurred with popular Fortnite streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins playing alongside rappers Drake and Travis Scott and then-Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster. That event broke viewership records for Twitch and opened Fortnite up to future collaborations.
League of Legends
Commonly referred to as LoL or League, League of Legends is an online multiplayer battle arena. In the game, two teams of five players battle in player-versus-player combat. Each team occupies and defends its side of the map. Similar to D2, each player controls a character (a champion) with unique abilities and varying play styles. The main mode, Summoner’s Rift, plays out very similarly to Dota – collect XP, get to the enemy’s base, and destroy a large structure inside. Considered one of the greatest video games ever made, League has an international competitive scene rivaling any sport worldwide.
A science fiction real-time strategy video game, StarCraft revolves around three species – Humans, the Zerg, and the Protoss. Widely considered one of the greatest video games ever made, StarCraft has engaging gameplay and is best served in a single-player mode.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)
PUBG: Battlegrounds is a battle Royale game that can be played from either a first-person or third-person mode. Similar to Fortnite’s premise, up to 100 players parachute to an island, where they have to scavenge for weapons and equipment to kill other plays.
The “safe space” decreases over time, directing players into forced close-quarters combat. The last surviving player or team wins.
Overwatch is a multimedia franchise centered on a first-person shooter (FPS) game. Both the first and second iteration of the game features a hero-based combat mode with two teams of players vying over the completion of varying objectives. Developed by Blizzard Entertainment, Blizzard helped launch and promote a unique esports scene surrounding the game, including an annual World Cup dedicated to Overwatch. There’s also an Overwatch League and a developmental minor league, making it wholly unique from other esports.
The first of the big battle Royale-styled games, H1Z1, was originally released on Steam in 2015. It’s a battle royale game in which up to a hundred players compete against each other in a last-man-standing death match. Players can choose to play solo, in a duo, or in groups of five, with the goal of being the final person or final team remaining. Unlike Fortnite or PUBG, this game received only mixed or average reviews, as it experiences a high amount of bugginess. Most prominent H1Z1 players have moved over to one of the other less buggy battle royales.
Call of Duty
Call of Duty is one of the best-selling video game franchises of all time. As an esport, their model follows Overwatch’s League. Stylized as CoD, it’s a first-person shooter that was initially released in 2003. With over 20 iterations of the game, CoD is a global phenomenon with a big esports presence.
Beginning in 2006, CoD has maintained that presence throng a variety of means. For the past 6 seasons of CoD, Florida University Full Sail has hosted a prize giveaway for tournaments.
A first-person shooter, Halo is a global franchise with over $6B in franchise grosses. It’s one of the highest-gross media franchises of all time, with novels, games, films, and other licensed products. Despite having a thriving esports scene, Halo’s popularity is limited (in part) due to its availability being limited to Xbox and Windows platforms mainly. To this day, as a Microsoft product, it remains unavailable to PlayStation users. Despite that, Halo remains one of the best console games ever developed and remains highly played to this day.
Professional Esports Organizations
OpTic Gaming is an American professional esports and entertainment organization based in Texas. The brand with green, black, and white color schemes. The organization is owned by Hector “HECZ” Rodriguez and Hastro. As one of the most successful esports organizations in the US, OpTic has secured partnerships with big-name brands like Razer, Mountain Dew, and Oakley. Best known for their gamers competing in CoD, Halo, Apex Legends, Rocket League, and Overwatch, OpTic has become the King of FPS games in recent years. They won the Halo World Championship in 2o22, along with a CoD League Major and a second-place finish at Valorant’s Champions. They also merged with fellow gaming organization EnVyUs last year, establishing themselves as the world’s preeminent esports organization.
Mostly known as FaZe, they’re an esports and entertainment organization headquartered in Los Angeles, California. Founding in 2010 as a sniping and trick shot clan, FaZe evolved to grow a roster of talented gamers spanning a dozen games. With pro players across CoD, CS: GO, FIFA, Fortnite, Valorant, and more, FaZe has become a global brand. With partnerships including Nike, BAPE, DC Comics, Mcdonald’s, and Nissan, FaZe has mastered the art of growing its public presence. Despite its talented and deep roster of gamers and content creators, FaZe has fallen victim to plenty of controversies over the years.
Members of FaZe were part of a pump-and-dump alt-coin scam in 2021, and FaZe was forced to suspend and remove four members of their team for their actions. This was just the tip of the iceberg, as the group has seemingly always been plagued by controversy. They had a member publicly suspended from Fortnite for live-streaming himself playing with cheats and aimbots (FaZe Jarvis). Then they were sued by former member Turner “Tfue” Tenney, one of Fortnite’s most popular streamers, for exploitation and taking up to 80% of his esports earnings. They had to remove Evan “centered” Baron from their team for his use of racial slurs on a public stream. And perhaps worse, FaZe founder and owner Richard “Banks” Bengston has been accused of assaulting multiple women, promoting illegal gambling on his socials, and willful destruction of property.
Simply known as G2, they’re a European esports organization based in Germany. With players competing and placing highly in LoL, Valorant, CS: GO, Rocket League, Rainbow Six, and more, G2 fields one of the most consistently competitive teams in all of esports. Their Rainbow Six Siege team is widely regarded as one of the best in the entire world. Similar to FaZe, they have fallen under controversy in recent years, when then-CEO Carlos Rodriguez was discovered to have a relationship (friendship? or acquaintanceship) with misogynistic streamer Andrew Tate. Despite that controversy, G2 has maintained several high-profile partners, including Logitech, Red Bull, Pringles, Mastercard, and Lenovo.
A multi-regional professional esports organization based out of the Netherlands, Liquid has been around since 2000. They compete in nearly every major esports competition, fielding competitive teams across Apex, Fortnite, D2, LoL, Rocket League, and others. Controlling interest of the company belongs to aXiomatic Gaming, an investment group including Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber, entrepreneur Ted Leonsis, and NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. With high-profile partners like Honda, Marvel, Monster Energy, and Twitch, Liquid is one of esports major players. One of their best-known players is Jo Yong-in “CoreJJ,” a South Korean LoL player who is a World Champion, 2x LCS champion, and 2x LCS MVP.
Pronounced “fanatic,” they’re a professional esports organization headquartered in London. Its team has a global presence, with players from a variety of countries competing in Apex, CS: GO, D2, FIFA, LoL, and Valorant. Fnatic were the winners of the inaugural LoL World Championship back in 2011 and held the record for the most LoL Championship Series titles until G2 won their eighth split title in 2020. Fnatic’s CS: GO team also won the inaugural CS: GO Major in 2013. The organization is wildly successful, having claimed over 200 victories across more than 30 games since its inception. They’re one of the most valuable esports companies in the world. Some of their partners include ASOS, BMW, and L’Oreal.
100 Thieves, LLC is an American lifestyle brand and gaming organization based in Los Angeles. Founded by Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag, the organization competes mainly in Apex, CoD, LoL and Valorant. Founded in 2017, Nadeshot (a former OpTic Gaming CoD captain and the 2014 Esports Athlete of the Year) received a multi-million dollar investment from Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert that allowed 100T to evolve into a full-fledged esports org. With Scooter Braun and Drake counted among team owners, 100 Thieves is one of the most popular brands in all of esports. With a roster of competitive players and talented content creators, there isn’t really another organization like them in the space.
Notable Esports Players
Johan “N0tail” Sundstein
A Danish-Faroese professional D2 player for OG (not to be confused with OpTic Gaming), he’s widely recognized as one of the richest esports players of all time. He’s a 2x The International Champion (2018-2019) and a 4x Dota Major champion.
Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf
Bugha is an American esports professional best known for winning the solos tournament portion of the 2019 Fortnite World Cup. A 3x Fortnite Competitive Series (FNCS) champion, Bugha has nearly 10 million combined subscribers across YouTube and Twitch.
Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen
Dupreeh is a Danish professional CS: GO player for Team Vitality. He’s a 5x CS: GO Major champion, an Intel Extreme Masters Grand Slam champion, and a 7x HLTV Top 20 Player of the Year (2013, 2015, 2017-2020).
Ian “C6” Porter
Better known as Crimsix, Porter is widely regarded as one of the best Call of Duty players of all time. He’s a 3x CWL/CDL champion and the Winningest CoD player ever (39 competitive wins). He’s been part of several large gaming organizations in his career, such as compLexity Gaming (2012-2014), Evil Geniuses (2014), OpTic Gaming (2014-2019), and the New York Subliners (2021-2022).
Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok
Faker is a South Korean LoL player for T1. Commonly referred to as the “Michael Jordan” of esports, he’s widely considered to be the best LoL player of all time. He’s won 10 LoL Champions Korea (LCK) titles and three World Championship titles. One of the most marketed and marketable esports figures, he’s appeared in everything from talk shows to commercials. His annual salary is estimated to be around $5M USD.
Joona “Serral” Sotala
Serral is a Finnish professional StarCraft II player, notable for being the first-ever non-Korean winner of the StarCraft II World Championship series. Nicknamed “The Finisher” because of his background, he’s considered one of the best StarCraft players in the world.
Seth “Scump” Abner
Referred to by some as the “King of COD,” Scump is widely considered to be one of (if not the) greatest Call of Duty players of all time. A 30x CoD tournament champion and the 2016 Esport Console Player of the Year Scump actually have some athletic genes beyond esports. His father, Shawn Abner, played five seasons in the MLB in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Despite being considered a draft bust, Shawn Abner was the first overall draft pick.
The Infrastructure and Technology Behind Esports
The infrastructure behind esports encompasses various components that support organizations and the broadcast of competitive event series. Technology plays a crucial role in shaping the experience, not only for players but for viewers as well. Here are some of the key aspects of esports infrastructure and technology.
Gaming Hardware and Software
In order to be a successful gamer, one of the first things you’ll need is specialized gaming hardware. That includes powerful gaming PCs or consoles, high-quality mouses, controllers and keyboards, and top-of-the-line monitors or display screens. Gaming software, such as the actual games themselves, undergo continuous development and bug fixing to ensure fairness, balance, and competitive integrity.
To succeed in esports, you need high-end and stable internet connectivity to succeed in either online or LAN-based esports competitions. Reliable and low-latency internet connections are necessary to ensure smooth gameplay, low ping, and minimal disruptions during competitive matchplay.
Arenas and Facilities
Esports-specific venues have been constructed to host live events, as well as to accommodate growing esports audiences. These venues feature state-of-the-art equipment, like large screens and sound systems, to provide an immersive experience for attendees.
Platforms like Twitch or YouTube have revolutionized the ways viewers and fans can interact with esports events. With streaming platforms like them, creators and competitors alike can broadcast their matches to a global audience. These platforms allow players, teams, and tournament organizers to live stream matches, engage with fans through chats, and monetize the content.
Esports Production Value
Similar to film production, esports production teams are fully responsible for capturing, producing, and broadcasting live esports events. Broadcast overlays, real-time statistics, and replays all enhance production value and provide more context for fans at the event.
Analytics and Data
Much like box scores for major American sports league games, advanced analytics, and data are employed to track player and team performances, in-game statistics, and other valuable fan-driven metrics.
VR versus AR
Virtual reality and augmented reality are being explored to enhance not only the gamer experience but the spectator experience as well. It won’t be that long until VR/AR gaming competitions begin to pop up in the space.
Betting in Esports
Gambling on – and around – esports is a significantly larger market than a casual fan of viewer might assume. The market is divided by product and then by currency. For esports gamblers, the currency choice comes down to cash versus skins (virtual items from video games). Cash is pretty self-explanatory. Skins require a bit more explanation.
Skins are virtual items that can be used in many different video games. A “skin” is a function of changing the appearance of a player’s in-game character, items, weapons, or equipment. While many games employ some level of skin system, no game does so as much or as well as CS: GO. CS: GO skins account for over 80% of total wagering activity on the esport. Skins are purely cosmetic items – they do not improve the functionality or power of a character or weapon. In CS: GO, skins are easily transferrable from one player to another (enabling an easy currency for gambling). That’s not the same in all esports.
Sports betting represents the most popular product among esports fans. It’s more or less the same as betting no traditional sports, with the obvious caveat being that esports betting markets are far less developed than traditional sports betting products. LoL and CS: GO account for over 60% of Esportsbook betting volume.
Sponsorship and Business of Esports
The role of sponsors and advertisers in esports is essential. In order to foster a community of growth and sustainability, sponsors and advertisers have to provide financial support and resources to teams, organizations, and events. Esports, in return, grants additional exposure and engagement to those paid sponsors.
The esports industry encompasses various revenue models and streams that contribute to its long-term growth and financial sustainability. Those models can be viewed through the lens of the following: Sponsorships and Advertisements; Media Rights and Broadcasting Deals; Merchandising and Apparel Deals; Ticket Sales; Event Revenue; Publisher/Developer Support; Partnerships, Content Creation, and Streaming; Betting / Gambling.
The Culture and Community of Esports
The culture and community of esports are distinct and vibrant, characterized similarly to professional sports leagues like the MLB, NFL, NHL, or NBA. We see passionate fanbases, dedicated players, and an overall sense of camaraderie. Despite having rival organizations, players ultimately realize that the more success they have in totality, the more of an impact esports has on the global stage.
Similar to the four major American sports leagues, esports communities, and fandoms can be described by active fanbases, team/player loyalty, and community events. Online communities help foster that sense of friendship, with platforms like Discord enabling gamers to communicate in real time. Meanwhile, esports pros often engage with fans on social media platforms like Twitter or Reddit, sharing news and driving new conversations. Fortnite streamer Ninja routinely engages with his fans on his social channels.
The culture and community around esports is built on the enthusiasm of its fans. Streaming platforms and social media have helped foster this community, driving away from the early 2000s reputation of toxic fandom surrounding video game culture. Fans can engage, share and participate in the global growth of esports on a broad scale daily.
The Impact of Esports
Esports has absolutely revolutionized the gaming industry and popular culture. It drives game development and helps captivate the attention of a global audience. With its exponential growth rate, esports has become nothing short of a worldwide phenomenon, blurring the lines between traditional sports and gaming. Even professional athletes have become synonymous with esports, such as Arizona Cardinals’ QB Kyler Murray and his public infatuation with Call of Duty.
The industry’s economic impact is significant, generating huge amounts of revenue through sponsorships, media rights, merchandise sales, and event tickets. Esports has created numerous job opportunities and stimulated the development of the gaming industry as a whole.
As esports continues to evolve, it will face new challenges of ensuring the welfare of its players, maintaining competitive integrity (especially as gambling gets integrated with esports), and expanding its reach beyond core competitive games. Nevertheless, esports potential is truly limitless. It will continue to engage a global audience, helping shape the future of entertainment and gaming.