eSports describes the world of competitive, organized video gaming in which competitors from different leagues and teams face off in games popular with at-home gamers. This includes games such as Fortnite, League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, Overwatch, FIFA, and Madden NFL. How leagues and teams face each other depends on the game being played. For example, in a League of Legends game, five players play against another five players to destroy a base. But first-person shooter games, including Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike, pit players against each other, usually on teams, in order to complete an objective, such as the first team to a specific score, a game of capture the flag, or king of the hill.
The competitions and tournaments are fast growing, with millions of followers—up to 380 million viewers worldwide, mostly from North America, China, and South Korea; billions of dollars have been invested in the growth. These events are offered often through streaming services and live events that have worked to turn casual gamers into serious stars capable of earning seven-figure tournament earnings and massive brand endorsements. For example, in 2017 the League of Legends World Championship drew more than 80 million viewers and made it one of the most popular eSports competitions.
Some of the popularity of eSports, besides the familiarity of the games and the entertainment quality of competitive sports, is the accessibility of eSports. Both as a player, as more people can play video games compared to some sports that have a higher investment threshold for the average person to play, and as a viewer of eSports, as most competitions offer viewers multiple viewing options and are often live-streamed for free. Whereas traditional sports are generally locked into broadcasting deals that limit the viewing capabilities of the sports.
This availability is similar in some ways to soccer, where kids need nothing more than a ball and some space and they can play; most kids at some point play video games, especially with the growth of mobile games and smartphones. This offers a certain allure to the idea of being a professional gamer, especially compared to traditional careers such as accountants, lawyers, or sales associates. As well, the growth of the industry has seen broadcasting partnerships with ESPN, TBS, SyFy, and Telemundo broadcasting eSports events. And traditional sports leagues like NHL, NBA, and the NFL have launched tournaments, leagues, and in some cases ownership stakes in eSports and respective leagues or teams.
The popularity has also seen the growth of eSports in colleges and universities in various countries. For example, in the United States, over 600 institutions have added varsity eSports teams and have begun offering scholarships for eSports. This has had a trickle-down effect to high schools in the country, through a partnership with PlayVS, which works to grow sport in high schools. PlayVS has brought eSports to 19,500 high schools across the country.
Part of the global growth and popularity of eSports came from South Korea during the early 2000s. The country was going through a financial crisis at the time, and the government focused on developing internet and telecommunications infrastructure; this led to a rise in a new kind of social space: PC bangs. These included restaurants, bars, and other spaces that could function as gaming clubs, where participants could gather, show skills to one another, and bond over video games. To market this further, many of the internet cafes began to hold formal competitions. Seeing the growth of these competitions, the South Korean government created the Korean eSports Association (KeSPA), the first governmental body dedicated to video games and eSports regulation.
Two of the games that emerged from this growth in South Korea and are considered to be two of the first real eSports titles are Starcraft (1998)/Starcraft II (2010), developed by Activision Blizzard, and the Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) 2, published by Valve Corporation. DOTA 2 gave rise to a network of small scale tournaments that have evolved into massive organized competitions. However, in South Korea, Starcraft proved a more popular game and spawned the first developer-organized and sponsored gaming leagues, some of which continue today.
DOTA 2 has remained a popular game, and the DOTA 2 international championship boasted the largest prize pool of any eSports event, with the 2019 DOTA 2 International offering a prize pool of USD $13.5 million to the winner, out of a total prize pool of USD $30.8 million, more than traditional sports such as Golf and ultimate fighting. Other popular eSports games, based on prize money, competitors, and viewers, include the following:
- DOTA 2: 15 million peak viewers, 59 active teams, and championship prize money of $35 million and more
- Fortnite: 2 million peak viewers, 40 million competitors, and $30 million prize money
- League of Legends: 44 million peak viewers, 24 teams, and $7 million in prize money
- CS:GO: 1.2 million peak viewers, more than 40 active teams, and $1 million in championship money but with more tournaments than other leagues
- Overwatch: 300,000 peak viewers, 20 active teams, and $5 million in prize money
- PUBG: 800,000 peak viewers, 20 active teams, and $2 million in prize money
Similar to other sports, many professional eSports teams have coaches, analysts, and managers who work to get the most out of the players. Players of these games are (much like athletes), often experts of the game in which they are playing. While other leagues split a league based on gender, eSports has no such separation, offering greater accessibility and viewership. There has been increased concern over the long-term physical toll of competing in eSports, similar to concerns with more physical sports. Some players, such as Faker, an eSports star, are reported to practice twelve to fifteen hours a day, which can come with health and addiction concerns.
eSports players have been found to be more likely to incur musculoskeletal injuries in their necks, backs, and upper extremities. As well, metabolic disturbances have been reported from excessive time spent in front of a computer monitor. Most of these problems come from poor posture and sedentary conditions. There are also concerns over addiction as some have suggested playing video games can be an addictive habit and have concerns over the development of social behavior disorders.
There are two categories of eSports developers. The first are the "hands-off" developers, such as Microsoft or Nintendo, which develop games but do not organize eSports events for titles. Instead, they allow the community to organize competitions and tournaments and seek developer approval. The opposite are the "hands-on" developer, such as Riot Games, Activision Blizzard, and Valve Corporation. These developers actively organize professional tournaments and leagues for their respective games. These latter developers tend to grow faster than the former, as the corporation holds the intellectual property rights to its titles and controls how the game is played throughout leagues.
Another difference between eSports and traditional or physical sports is that the latter are not owned by a single person or organization; they are timeless. Whereas eSports are contingent on the choice of the games developers. If a developer decides to close a game, the game is gone and any eSports based on the game are gone. An example of this is the game Fractured Space, which Edge Case Games decided to stop developing in late 2018 due to a small player base. Many of these decisions are made to prioritize new products or cut monetary losses. This means developers, in many cases, determine who has access to the games and the related leagues and at what quality, making the distribution and access different from traditional sports.
eSports leagues and tournaments
All India Esports League
An Esports league including multiple titles such as Valorant, BGMI, Free Fire, and others
Valorant, BGMI, Free Fire
Amazon University Esports
A European collegiate esports partnership sponsored by Amazon, with main games including League of Legends, Teamfight Tactics, and Clash Royale.
Spain, United Kingdom, Italy
League of Legends, Teamfight Tactics, Clash Royale
Apex Legends Global Series
A competition for the battle royale Apex Legends game.
Arena of Valor International Championship
A competition for Arena of Valor with teams competing for strongest team in Arena of Valor
Arena of Valor
Arena of Valor World Cup
A competition for Arena of Valor with teams based on region competing for the strongest region in Arena of Valor.
Arena of Valor
ESL and its related leagues, such as the ESL Pro League/ESL ESEA Pro League, began as a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) professional sports league. The league is a non-developer league, meaning they license the titles for their competitions. It is considered a premier professional league and is one of the major professional leagues in eSports. The league began as a venture between the Electronic Sports League and E-Sports Entertainment Association League (ESEA) with the inaugural season of the league starting on May 4, 2015. The joint venture brought $1 million in prize money for the first two seasons. These original seasons covered Europe and North America, but have since expanded to include Asia, Oceania, and South America before being contracted into the four regions: Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania.
The ESL tournaments were originally formatted around twelve teams from Europe and North America, and in the first three seasons ESL gave the top four teams in each region a ticket to the final tournament. This final tournament was a local, physical offline tournament relying on a local area network (LAN) to ensure fairness and reduce playing latency (lag). By the fourth season, the tournament expanded to twenty-eight teams, with fourteen teams per league, and six teams from each region qualifying for the offline tournaments. The teams played their regional rivals twice, playing twenty-two games for the first three seasons, and twenty-four games from season four to season seven.
By season seven the ESL expanded and the teams went from twenty-four to forty. To reduce some of the league's complexity, by season nine, the South and North America regions were integrated into a single region. Thirteen of the teams in the ESL Pro League automatically qualify through a Permanent Partner Status, a revenue-sharing system ESL operating with the organizations of these thirteen teams. Of the other eleven teams that qualify for the twenty-four team finals, six qualify through the ESL world ranking, which measures team results from all significant tournaments; the remaining five qualify through regional qualifications. These regional qualifications occur through regional ESEA Premier Seasons, with two taking place for every ESL season.
With the success of the ESL League in CS:GO, the league was able to develop pro tours. These pro tours are open ecosystems to connect all ESL and DreamHack tournaments and allow teams to compete in a more open format. This offers teams a chance to be noticed and a chance to compete for the championships. The ESL Pro Tours also developed partnerships with Blizzard and DreamHack in order to expand the tour to other games, including Starcraft II and Warcraft III. These different Pro Tours allowed ESL to expand beyond CS:GO, and reach new regions and player bases.
Part of the growth and development of the ESL Pro League has been due to the teams competing in the league. To continue to grow participation in the league, the ESL Pro League signed an agreement to establish twelve eSports teams as partner organizations and make them stakeholders in the ESL Pro League and offer wider benefits in the wider ESL Pro Tour. The agreement was signed in February 2020 and established partnerships with the eSports teams Astralis, Complexity Gaming, ENCE, Evil Geniuses, FaZe Clan, Fnatic, G2 Esports, mousesports, Natus Vincere, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Team Liquid, and Team Vitality.
As part of the agreement, each stakeholder in the league also takes on a role in strategic decision making for the league. The agreement is also seen as a vote of confidence by the teams considered to be the best in the world, and provides and a chance to create a quality platform and a stable league capable of growth, without sacrificing the ability for new teams and players to grow. As well, both the ESL League and stakeholders work to develop a unified world ranking system that is brand-neutral, and can work with other ranking systems such as the HLTV and CSPAA in order to develop a global ranking system. These ranking systems are used to determine the participation in the ESL Pro League and the ESL Pro Tour for non-partnered teams.
Despite the challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and despite trepidation on part of the leadership of the ESL over whether the organization could make the 2020 minimum revenue guarantees, the league was able to exceed the seven-digit guarantees by nearly 20 percent, and each member of the team was able to walk away with six figure USD of revenue. This came with the strong traction of eSports in 2020, and continued growth is expected to double the minimum guarantees from 2021 to 2023.
Based on the growth of eSports and the success of the ESL Pro Tours, in March 2021, ESL partnered with KRAFTON to launch a series of tournaments for the game PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG). The ESL PUBG Master consists of four tournaments split between the Americas and Europe, with each offering a prize pool of $50,000. Teams that compete in the ESL PUBG Masters have an opportunity to gain PUBG Global Championship Qualification Points.
The first Masters tournament in the Americas took place in April 2021. Titled "Phase 1," the competition consisted of three rounds and a group stage that led to a Grand Finals to be played over two weekends in late April and early May. The teams in the Americas are split between North America and South America until the Grand Finals. The second ESL Masters in the Americas is expected to take place in July or August.
The European Masters tournament began qualifiers for its "Spring" tournament in March 2021. Unlike the Americas format, the European format included two stages and a last chance qualifier before concluding the tournament with its Grand Finals. The European Masters also has an ESL PUBG Open, a series of three tournaments scheduled to take place later the same year, with each competition carrying a $2,000 prize pool.
The League of Legends (LoL) World Championships, abbreviated as Worlds or LoL Worlds, is an annual professional world championship tournament hosted by Riot Games. Through the seasons, teams compete to participate in the World Championships, where invited teams compete for the champion title, the Summoner's Cup, and a multi-million dollar championship prize. The 2018, the LOL World's final's peak viewership was 99.6 million people, breaking a record previously set in 2017 by the same tournament.
Since the Worlds was established in 2011, the tournament has gained a lot of success and popularity, becoming one of the most watched tournaments in eSports. By extension, LoL has become one of the most watched video games in the world. Given the popularity of the game and the competitions around the game, there has been a suggestion that it could be included as an Olympic event. The game has already been included as a medal event in the 2022 Asian Games.
The Worlds tournament is a series of five-on-five competitions in which the players work to protect their base while working to destroy an enemy's base. Some of the top teams from the 2020 tournament included Top Esports, or TES; G2 Esports; MAD Lions; FlyQuest; and Team SoloMid. The first Worlds was staged in 2011 at DreamHack in Sweden, where Team Fnatic was the first champion. Since then, six different teams have won the championship, with SKT T1 as the only team holding a triple crown. In Season 2, the Worlds offered a prize pool exceeding USD $10 million.
In contrast to the first iteration of the Worlds, which had eight teams competing from Europe and North America, the 2020 LoL Worlds included twenty-two teams from around the world. The tournament is composed of three stages. The first two stages are the Play-Ins and the Group Stage. Both feature a round-robin format group with the worst teams being knocked out. The succeeding stage, the Knockout Stage, is played in a playoffs format featuring a best of five elimination series.
The 2021 Worlds announced the five cities that are playing host to the championship across China. These cities include Shanghai, Qingdao, Wuhan, Chengdu, and Shenzhen. The competition culminates in the grand finals on November at the Universiade Sports Centre in Shenzhen, China, capable of seating 60,000 people. This marks the third time the Worlds is held in China, including in 2020 and 2017. The tournament, previous to COVID-19 concerns and restrictions, was expected to head to North America, which has been pushed to 2022 for the resumption of normal fan experience and a reduction of COVID-19 restrictions.
Previous to the release of Fortnite, PUBG was one of, if not the most popular battle royale games in eSports. With the release and the popularity of the game Fortnite, the active player base of PUBG declined and the popularity of tournaments and viewership also declined. In 2018, the PUBG Global Invitational totaled more than 60 million peak viewers; since then it has declined. The largest PUBG tournaments include the PUBG Continental Series, which offers one of the largest prize pools associated with PUBG and focus on region specific play. Otherwise, the next largest leagues include the ESL PUBG Masters and the PUBG Mobile World League.
Organized and licensed by Tencent Games, the developer and publisher of PUBG's mobile version of the game, has been held as a league event for the mobile version of the game. The league features teams from South East Asia, South Asia, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and wildcard teams. The league is new relative to its peers and was hampered in the 2020 championships, which were due to be played at the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai until players tested positive for COVID-19. This led to players competing in the tournament from their hotel rooms, and the tournament had to be postponed to ensure they played on a dedicated network to ensure the competition was as fair as possible.
The league culminates in a PUBG Mobile Global Championship (PMGC). In 2021, the competition took place from November 2021 to January 2022 to crown a champion. The competition is also split into the league and the final stages. The league takes place in November and December 2021. The finals, on the other hand, will occur in January 2022. Teams with the most points from the league stage and finals of both seasons of the PUBG Mobile Pro League qualify for the PMGC.
The International, often abbreviated as TI, is an annual tournament organized by Valve. In 2015 Valve increased their number of hosted events, founding the Dota Major Championships which incorporates The International into its structure. The International remains the biggest and most prestigious event on the Dota Pro Circuit.
The International 2022 was held in Singapore.
Currently The International has been held in North America, Western Europe and China.
eSports infrastructure developers
Much of the history of eSports and its growth has been based on the availability of the sport, both in the case of the games/technology and the availability for people to play—through affordable technology, community-based technology (PC Bangs), or the lowering cost of computers and mobile devices. Similar to this is the availability for broadcasting. Despite early failed attempts to bring eSports to television in various countries, with the exception of South Korea where eSports was very popular, it was not until Twitch arrived in 2011 that broadcasting and livestreaming eSports grew.
Part of this was Twitch offering free-to-watch eSports entertainment, in the form of tournaments or live events and players livestreaming while playing games they were good at while talking to their community. This created the authentic and direct connection between an eSports star or streamer with the community as a hallmark of eSports. Which means for traditional paywalled broadcasting, eSports may never be as popular as the streaming numbers suggest it should be. However, it has led to other technologies developing to increase the possible revenue for streamers and for tournament holders while offering free-to-watch events.
As previously stated, Twitch has been an important factor in the growth of the popularity of eSports. Around the time of Twitch's launch, the website had 3.2 million unique visitors per month. By 2012, the site grew to 20 million visitors per month, which drew Amazon to acquire Twitch in 2014 for $1 billion after competing with Google over the acquisition. With Twitch's growing popularity and capability in livestreaming competitive gaming saw the company integrated into new game releases by developers such as Blizzard Activision, and in the hardware of popular console platforms Xbox and PlayStation.
Twitch and similar livestream platforms have been capable of making what was an expensive and unreliable scenario, streaming a live game or event, less expensive and more reliable. This has allowed viewers to watch gamers and eSports events. And Twitch is capable of streaming from internet browsers and mobile devices and allows viewers to watch flexibly, unlike traditional sports that are still locked into traditional broadcasting and regional based broadcasting organizations.
The Twitch platform has offered tournament promoters the ability to push livestreams to viewers with minimal lag and without having to negotiate broadcasting deals or market towards potential viewers, as most viewers and Twitch became synonymous with eSports and video game streaming. And for consumers, anyone with a PC became able to broadcast users playing games and develop communities around them playing games, becoming influencers. With Twitch's integration into consoles, players were also able to broadcast themselves playing a game with a push of a button.
Twitch is also a platform designed specifically for viewing games and engaging with a gaming-centric community. This has included the development of a "cheering" method, or an in-site economy, which allows users to purchase Bits and donate them to their favorite streamers. Through the acquisition with Amazon, Amazon released Prime Gaming, which gave Amazon Prime members exclusive Twitch benefits, such as additional emotes and the ability to subscribe to one streamer per month.
It also offers a place for gamers and viewers to interact amongst each other and with professional streamers. By joining a streamer's online community, users can enjoy the same content and game with each other. This includes socializing services such as direct messaging and the ability to chat with other users watching the same channel.
YouTube offers a livestreaming portion of the platform, which started as YouTube Live and developed into YouTube Gaming, and has since been integrated directly into the YouTube platform without any distinguishing name. And though YouTube has been around longer than Twitch, the platform has never garnered the same level of interest and engagement from gamers and eSports. However, with the relative growth of eSports, YouTube has refocused on gaming and developing the features and reliability of a site like Twitch in order to directly to compete with Twitch.
In 2020, this competition between Twitch and YouTube increased as YouTube announced that three different eSports organizations would stream exclusively on the platform. This included the Call of Duty League, the Overwatch League, and competitive Hearthstone. All three leagues, which belong to publisher Activision Blizzard, had previously streamed on Twitch. These leagues present a large growth for YouTube. The Overwatch League had 313,000 global viewers on average per minute in 2019, an 18 percent increase from 2018 and with 55,000 of those viewers coming from the United States. The Call Of Duty League, a new league, had its predecessor (the Call of Duty World League) see 2.7 million total hours watched on Twitch; the world championship of the league averaged 66,000 concurrent viewers.
In another part of the company's strategy to grow into eSports, YouTube signed exclusive deals with popular creators like Jack "CouRage" Dunlop, Rachell "Valkyrae" Hofstetter, Elliott "Muselk" Watkins, and Lannan "LazarBeam" Eacott. Each of these streamers is expected to bring thousands of live viewers to YouTube when they stream. And each streamer could bring millions of views from highlight compilations uploaded as traditional YouTube videos. YouTube's exclusivity strategy is similar to traditional broadcasting strategies for fighting over rights to mainstream sports and other content generation. With an important caveat being that both Twitch and YouTube are free for users to watch content on.
When comparing viewership data of YouTube and Twitch, YouTube has seen each hour of livestreaming receive 132 hours watched. Whereas on Twitch, each hour livestreamed receives 23 hours watched. Although at the time these metrics were generated, YouTube had 12.5 million hours streamed compared to 205.6 million hours streamed on Twitch, meaning that while YouTube streaming saw decreased competition and greater viewing metrics for it, Twitch remained the dominant livestreaming platform.
One way in which Twitch and YouTube compete for attention and viewers, aside from exclusivity deals, is the community elements. Twitch is considered the stronger platform in terms of those community elements, as the platform includes emotes and a chat experience that gives viewers a way to interact with the gamers and receive benefits for viewers to tune in, such as exclusive game skins.
As YouTube has expanded the company's livestreaming and gaming capabilities, they have begun to add more features similar to those found on Twitch to better compete with the platform. This has included polls, clips, and subscriber-only chats. These are features that allow users to clip a favorite part of a stream and share it with a community and interact directly with the streamer or just in private.
For streamers, although Twitch has been a go-to platform, major names have since left Twitch for YouTube—including names such as Dr Disrespect and Lazarbeam—either through exclusivity deals or out of frustration on Twitch. Although for streamers working to build an audience or a community, YouTube can be difficult as the platform has a vast quantity and variety of videos, whereas Twitch has been a platform where users have found it easier to develop those communities.
YouTube has faced problems developing the platform for livestreaming, as there have been noted problems with YouTube's recommendation engine and with viewers finding a stream they are looking for. YouTube has worked to create an experience for streamers closer to those found on Twitch, but the platform's past as a video-on-demand platform can prove challenging for developing livestreaming or gamer-centric features. And as the failed Mixer platform showed, developing features and options for fans and viewers is important for the game streaming audience.
eSports Broadcasting and Livestreaming companies
With the increase in eSports, the push for advertising in eSports has grown. Most advertising has been digital or in-place, similar to advertising in other sports during live events. However, there has been a development of programmatic in-game advertising to bring online and offline worlds together, that can allow livestreams of online or offline tournaments to stream advertising that is region specific or dependent on subscriber status. As well, through sponsorships, different eSports teams offer a chance for advertisers to create stronger branding mediums through the interactive streaming. This can include traditional sponsorships, such as wearing specific brands or consuming specific brands products while broadcasting. And with the increased engagement between eSports fans and their favorite players or teams, it can offer a chance for brands to reach new levels of intimacy with potential customers.
eSports advertising technology companies
With the increase in popularity of eSports, a new opportunity exists for in-game or in-stream betting. As these sports tend to be livestreamed, in-game betting offers a chance for viewers to engage in viewing in a new way, but also for eSports to generate new interest and opportunities. While most of the gambling is done through third-party websites or mobile applications, an integration into the streaming services would offer a new chance for micro wagering on eSports tournaments. This could also be extended to a streamer and their playthrough of a game, offering a new way for viewers to engage and for streamers to generate revenue.
eSports gambling companies
Because developers hold the sole intellectual property rights to their titles, they are the sole entities that determine who has access to a game and at what quality the game is accessible. This makes the distribution and access of eSports different from traditional sports. Part of this infrastructure can be the development of dedicated regional servers, which are required to make regional play a possibility, and high latency from a distance to a server can render eSports unplayable.
The development of eSports in Africa is an example of the role developers can play in the maturation of eSports. There has been a lack of development in terms of infrastructure for eSports in the continent and developers have not properly penetrated the continent. Riot Games, for example, has decided to not make an African server for many years, often claiming that there is not enough demand to justify the cost of the servers. Theoretically, players in Africa can play through North American or European servers, but the latency would prevent those players from competing effectively.
Activision Blizzard is one of the largest interactive game developing and publishing companies in the world, which was developed as a result of a 2008 merger between Vivendi and Activision, two of the largest video game producers at the time. Activision Blizzard's business is broken into three segments: Activision Publishing, Blizzard Entertainment, and King Digital Entertainment. This includes a portfolio of game franchises, such as Overwatch, Call of Duty, Starcraft, Hearthstone, and World of Warcraft series of games, each of which have eSports leagues developed around them.
The company owns and operates additional studios under an independent studios model, in which a studio owned by a larger studio acts independently of the larger studio. And these tend to operate under Activision Publishing and include studios such as Treyarch, Infinity Ward, High Moon Studios, and Toys for Bob. As part of this, the Activision Publishing segment develops and publishes interactive software products and entertainment content with a focus on the console platform. The Blizzard Entertainment segment acts similar to Activision Publishing, but with a greater focus on the PC platform. While the King Digital Entertainment segment focuses on software and entertainment products for mobile platforms, such as Google's Android OS and Apple's iOS. And Activision and Blizzard largely maintain distinct corporate entities, with independent development and publishing streams.
Activision Blizzard develops revenue from the sale of game titles, on in-game content purchases, and generates revenue through the company's eSports leagues and digital advertising. Besides the merger between Activision and Blizzard, other important acquisitions have included the August 1997 acquisition of Raven Software, the October 2003 acquisition of Call of Duty developer Infinity Ward, the October 2001 acquisition of Tony Hawk and Call of Duty co-developer Treyarch Invention, and the February 2016 acquisition of mobile games publisher King Digital.
The history of Activision goes back to its founding in 1979 by former Atari game designers David Crane and Alan Miller and entertainment executive Jim Levy. The founding ideology of Activision was to put designers first and as a large part of the brand identity, with a lead developer of a title given credit on the game box. Fellow Atari designers Larr Kaplan and Bob Whitehead joined Activision later, and the company became the gaming industry's first third-party software developer.
Activision grew but struggled after an acquisition of Infocom, a publisher of text-based adventure games, during the video game crash of the 1980s. This led to a reorganization of Activision and a renaming to Mediagenic and an attempted rebranding to a multipurpose software developer. In the 1990s, a further change in management after the company stagnated returned to the Activision name and spent a few years rebuilding on the success of the history of the company's game development. This led to Activision posting profits through the late 1990s and early 2000s despite the increasing development cost.
Blizzard Entertainment was founded in 1991 as Silicon & Synapse by Allen Adham, Michael Morhaime, and Frank Pearce. The early projects of the company were conversions of existing titles for home computer systems, until it launched a number of original titles. The company changed its name to Blizzard Entertainment in 1994, shortly before it released Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, a real-time strategy game that became a definitive work in the genre. Blizzard followed with an expansion on the first game and with multiplayer improvements.
The next big game for the company was published in 1996. Diablo, a role-playing action game, launched with the company's new Battle.net, a free service that allowed players to join multiplayer games and chat online. The player base of Battle.net expanded with the 1998 release of Starcraft. Further sequels were published to capitalize on the success of Diablo and Warcraft, and in turn increased the success of the genres until 2004, when Blizzard developed the company's greatest success to date with World of Warcraft. The game built on the success and mythology of earlier Warcraft releases, but the social networking aspects of the game were further increased and became one of the greatest strengths of the game.
With the 2010 release of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, the Battle.net was further upgraded to redesign the platform's matchmaking capabilities and to more closely resemble online content distributors, such as Valve's Steam Client, and offer smoother transitions between multiplayer and single player experiences.
Activision Blizzard includes professional gaming properties Overwatch League, the Call of Duty League, Hearthstone Grandmasters, and the World of Warcraft Arena World Championship, among others. Activision Blizzard also operates Tespa, a collegiate eSports league. Previous to 2020, Activision Blizzard's then CEO Bobby Kotick saw the eSports industry as an opportunity similar to professional football in terms of scale. The eSports industry was expected to grow 15 percent and reach an overall valuation of $1.1 billion in 2020, with the potential to continue to grow into a multibillion dollar industry.
The developer has had bellwether leagues in Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, and Starcraft, which all had a strong eSports following early in the history of eSports. And the company's focus has shifted towards first-person shooters, as it's a widely played gaming genre and has been more marketable to a mass audience. The main sources of revenue for Activision Blizzard in eSports includes advertising, sponsorships, team sales, and sales of media rights, merchandise, and tickets. Of those, the biggest components are advertising and sponsorships, which Activision Blizzard has already managed to attract a group of top consumer brands to sponsor the Overwatch League.
In eSports, Activision Blizzard's two biggest opportunities for growth are in the Overwatch League and the Call of Duty league. The Overwatch League launched in 2018 and was the first city-based eSports league, similar in structure to traditional sports leagues, only broader in scope with teams representing cities around the world. Blizzard has, in turn, sold twenty teams to entrepreneurs, who get to take full ownership of a team and run it like a business. And the league has been organized to allow both the company and participating teams to share profits as the league grows.
Another differentiator of the Overwatch League is that the league is fully owned and operated by Blizzard, whereas other tournaments can be organized by third parties that do not own the intellectual property. By the league being developed and directly associated by the game developer, it gives the league a position to capture value in the growing eSports market, including in profit sharing and other schemes to incentivize players and teams to join the league.
The Call of Duty League was launched in 2020 and kicked off the inaugural season in January. The league, similar to the Overwatch League, grouped itself around twelve city-based teams. In the same year as the establishment of the Call of Duty League, Activision Blizzard signed a deal worth a reported $160 million with YouTube for exclusive rights to live broadcasts of both the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League.
Electronic Arts (EA) is an American developer and manufacturer of electronic games for PCs and consoles. The company was established in 1982 by William M. Hawkins. The company has developed a product line with various popular franchises, including The Sims, Command & Conquer, Battlefield, Mass Effect, FIFA, and Madden NFL. Hawkins left a job at Apple to found Amazin' Software in 1982, which was later that year renamed to Electronic Arts. EA was another game developer that worked to give game developers and designers a large amount of recognition, often placing their name in large type on game covers, similar to a novel or an album cover.
EA's strongest division of titles, even encompassing a broad range of genres and types, is sports. The sports games include Madden NFL and FIFA franchises. In 1997, EA acquired Maxis Software, developer of SimCity. EA continued the label for a few years before developing The Sims, which in the early 2000s was the best-selling PC game.
The EA Competitive Gaming Division was found in 2015. This division was founded to develop eSports competitions in the company's biggest franchises, including FIFA, Madden NFL, Battlefield, and more. Previous to the founding of the EA Competitive Gaming Division, EA had eSports competitions in place with the FIFA Interactive World Cup and the EA Sports Challenge Series. But the new division was tasked with creating new eSports opportunities, and growing the company's existing eSports offerings. This included the development of a worldwide championship with the game Battlefield 4, which was hosted in partnership with ESL One, and included the return of the Madden NFL Live Challenge. Part of the development of the Competitive Gaming Division was to build a program to centralize EA's eSports efforts and develop events and infrastructure to broadcast EA competitive tournaments and experiences.
EA's Competitive Gaming Division partnered with DreamCatcher Bravo Studio for a live production replay platform. This platform was used with EA Sports FIFA 21 Global Series and with the Apex Legends Global Series in order to provide EA with a live production tool. The tool integrates with EA's broadcasting in order to develop quick and live replays to create a more interactive broadcasting environment closer to traditional sports broadcasts.
This is to continue to grow EA's brand in the world of eSports, even though the company believes competitive gaming is built into all of the company's most popular titles, such as Battlefield, Madden NFL, Apex Legends and FIFA. But despite this inherent competitiveness, the company is considered to be behind other publishers and rivals in the case of its eSports strategy and presence. EA, to continue to grow eSports, developed major tournaments in Barcelona, Manchester, and the EA Champions Spring Cup in Asia, which had more than 20 million competitors engaged in the EA Sports FIFA 18 Global Series. But these competitions are still not as established as rivals, including Riot Games' League of Legends, Valve's Counter-Strike and DOTA 2, and Activision Blizzard's Overwatch League, all of which have formal eSports leagues and cultivate and reward professional players.
EA has also begun to work with other eSports companies, such as tournament and league organizer ESL, to develop eSports leagues around EA titles. This is, in part, to develop streaming technology and interactivity and step up EA's investment in eSports, while deciding on what EA decides is the best structure for tournaments and leagues.
The FIFA eWorld Cup is the official World Cup tournament for the EA Sports FIFA Series and partnered with FIFA. The championship has been held since 2004. But from 2004 to 2017, the title was the FIFA Interactive World Cup, which was an annual tournament, before it was renamed and relaunched in 2017 to the FIFA eWorld Cup. This renaming also saw an increase in the cash prizes for the tournament and added more competitions, such as the Grand Final qualification, to increase the competition and saw twenty-four players from nineteen professional football clubs to compete to play at the final. This tournament and series is hosted on Xbox and PlayStation consoles, which is different from other eSports tournaments that tend to be played on PC, as PC offers higher framerates for competitive play.
The EA Sports FIFA Championship is the largest sports-based eSports competition series, with multiple tournaments and partnerships with FIFA and the Premier League for eSports tournaments to occur in tandem with real-life tournaments of those leagues. EA FIFA, and related eSports title Madden NFL, have received decent viewing numbers, with the less popular Madden NFL experiencing 97,000 peak viewers, while the EA FIFA eWorld Cup had about 244,000 peak viewers. Both of these numbers represent viewership increase, with Madden tripling its previous view count and FIFA doubling its 2018 view count. But this is in contrast to the League of Legends World Championship's near 4 million peak viewers and Fortnite's World Cup Finals 2.3 million peak viewers.
Apex Legends is one of the top battle royale games and was launched with the expectation that the game would be more popular to either of EA's sports franchises and as popular as Fortnite or Overwatch. Initially this goal of competing with Fortnite and Overwatch seemed good, as Apex Legends launched with 10 million players in the first three days, besting Fortnite's launch, until the game reported a 74 to 75 percent decline in players, revenue, and peak viewership a few months after launch. And EA expects the player base and viewer base will increase again with the development of a competitive series around the game.
Part of the lack of development of the viewer base of Apex Legends is, in part, because the game is newer, being released in 2019, and with EA announcing support for a competitive league in 2020. The game did win awards for the best multiplayer title in The Game Awards. The tournament series around the game offered an open format series offering four types of events, from online tournaments to global live events, and with events carrying a total prize pool of $3 million. And with the tournament being open, it means anybody can participate and there are no guaranteed slots for any professional teams or players in order to entice players. This follows a strategy similar to FIFA and Madden NFL and Apex Legends largest competitor Fortnite.
In the Apex Legends league, players will start in online tournaments and live Challenger Events in order to earn a spot in the Premier and Major Events. The live events fall into three tiers, in ascending order of prestige: Challenger Events, Premier Events, and Majors. The Challenger Events have players competing against competitors from their country. Premier Events are set at the regional level, such as Europe or North America. And those players with the highest point totals in online and live events invited to the Majors. There are a total of four Majors, each expected to include 100 squads made up of three players. And the series would end with the Apex Legends Global Series Championship, intended to be the crowning tournament of the series.
From a broadcasting perspective, EA focuses on educating viewers on how to improve in Apex Legends, showcases the personalities of the competitors, and offers viewers some kind of surprise during the broadcast. Another differentiating factor of EA's league is the Match Point format, which requires squads to attain a certain number of points, derived from how well they play and the number of kills in a round as a condition of winning.
EA partnered with Grass Valley in 2021 to develop a distributed, remote production for EA's FIFA 21 and Apex Legends tournaments. The end-to-end cloud workflow offered EA a chance to deliver broadcasting to global viewers with a production team working remotely. EA initially trialed the Grass Valley product at the Apex Legends live tournament which had more than twenty camera feeds and additional live contribution feeds that all streamed to an AWS datacenter before being broadcasted using Grass Valley's services.
EA launched the "Stay Home. Play Together" campaign in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic to draw attention to the company's Apex Legends, FIFA and Madden NFL eSports competitions. Apex Legends was capable of tripling its average minute audience viewership through the program. While the NFL Checkdown x Madden NFL program was developed in participation with the NFL to bring NFL players to go head-to-head over two days, and saw the highest viewership of any Madden NFL Tournaments.
As part of the program, EA partnered with thirty broadcast stations globally, including ESPN, NBC Sports, Sky Sports, Telemundo, and NFL Network. These partnerships saw Madden NFL competitions appear on Fox Sports and ESPN 2, Apex Legends competitions on Twitch and YouTube, and FIFA in more than 115 territories including ESPN, Telemundo, Sky Sports, and TSN.
Part of this strategy came from EA's use of celebrities in charity events, which saw good fan engagement; the use of celebrities and "personalities" in the strategy continued to see engagement with EA's eSports and gaming tournaments. This brought celebrities to other gaming tournaments, including NBA players brought together to compete in NBA 2K for charity, and brought soccer players to play against each other in FIFA 20 and NHL players to play against each other in NHL 20. The further cemented EA's use of celebrities as a part of the company's growth strategy, including a new format for Madden competitions that brought celebrities in the competition.
This strategy saw Los Angeles Chargers star safety Derwin James taking on any celebrity wishing to challenge him in Madden competitions, and eventually take on the winner of the Madden Club Championship. With this was the expectation that EA and ESPN, which previously had a deal for reality tv show Madden Nation from 2005 to 2008 before being cancelled, would again partner with EA for a celebrity-based broadcast featuring gaming competitions.
EA has also held tournaments since the launch of Live Event Competitions in 2016 to coincide with UFC live events. These EA Sports UFC 2 Live Events offered a game mode in which players could compete in a tournament and the winners could compete at a live finals at the UFC Fan Expo and part of the 5th Annual UFC International Fight Week. Players partaking in the tournament selected one of the four athletes on an upcoming fight card, customized the fighter, and competed online. To ensure fairness in the competition, EA balanced the fighters with the same overall attribute rating and move level. Rankings were then determined by the number of wins a player could accumulate during the qualifying period before taking three losses. At the end of qualifying period, eligible players with top scores were invited to compete in the finals in Las Vegas.
EA has a history of developing unique strategies to push the company's content and generate interest in the content, especially in the eSports arena. This includes developing The Sims Spark'd series which debuted on TBS's Eleague and BuzzFeed's Multiplayer YouTube channel in a four-episode series of a reality television show based on The Sims game. A more eSports-focused strategy was a community-driven game show called FIFA Face-Off, a two-part YouTube show that placed celebrities against each other and against FIFA professionals and influencers. Through each episode, celebrities and FIFA pros would pair up, select a team, and compete to win a share of a $25,000 prize pool.
This mainstream entertainment approach, as called by EA, is an approach to expand the audience and based on a belief EA holds that the company can bridge the gap between gaming and the mainstream culture. Beyond building interest around an eSports league, part of EA's strategy has also expected to develop a league that attracts adjacent subcultures to the gaming community, such as fashion, technology, and music, and integrate those into an overall content strategy.
Tencent was founded in 1998 and headquartered in Shenzhen, China with a focus on developing technology and software, including communication and social services. This includes the development of video games and other interactive entertainment experiences. For video games, Tencent is the largest video game vendor in the world. The division of Tencent for video games, Tencent Games, was founded in 2003 to focus on the development of video games. Since then, the company has developed popular games in the Chinese market, including the 2015 online battle arena game Honor of Kings, which was the highest-grossing game in 2017 and had an international game released named Arena of Valor in the same year.
In 2011, Tencent Games also started hosting online multiplayer games, such as Call of Duty Online, which consisted of previous Call of Duty games with added content, and the game League of Legends and Ring of Elysium, and a part ownership of Fortnite. This is through Tencent's subsidiary developer Riot Games. Tencent also is a developer and marketer of the mobile version of PUBG, licensed by Krafton, the original developer of the PUBG PC game. The company's overall eSports ecosystem in China revolves around League of Legends, Honor of Kings, and Peacekeeper Elite. And each of those titles also has franchise leagues.
Peacekeeper Elite is the only non-MOBA title in Tencent's stable of eSports games, and as such the development of the associated tournaments has been more difficult. The company has worked, regardless, to develop competition with grassroots focus, hosting competitions in multiple Chinese cities and universities for students, hoping to grow the sport more organically. In part of growing the sport, Tencent has hosted the championship of Peacekeeper Elite competitions of the league at the Shanghai Mercedes-Benz Arena, and that each region was able to compete during this tournament competition, with tournament sponsorship including brands such as Oppo, Warhorse, Buick, Snapdragon, JingDong Esports, Suansuanru, and Stride.
The company also leads four of China's top franchised leagues, including League of Legends Pro Leagues, King Pro League, Peace Elite League, and CrossFire Pro League, all of which signed on with the "Tencent Esports Anti-Match-Fixing Conventions" along with another nine of Tencent's eSports competitions, including Call of Duty: Mobile Major, Clash Royale Pro League, and QQ Speed S League.
Part of Tencent's success has been the recognition of the benefit of hosting and encouraging eSports competitions in participating cities. For example, the Shanghai Sports Bureau recognized the League of Legends World Championship 2020 as the city's second most impactful sports event. The impact was calculated by contributions to the city, with the championship contributing an estimated 30 million yuan ($4.6 million) to the Shanghai economy, 3.21 million yuan ($485,000) to taxes, and 364 job opportunities.
Similarly, Tencent and the Hubei Provincial Outreach Department and Wuhan Tourism & Sports Group signed a partnership in 2021 aimed at expanding eSports activities in Wuhan. The partnership is expected to bring the CrossFire Franchise League to Wuhan as a step to establish the city as the Chinese first-person shooter eSports hub. This is to include a development of a larger eSports town sponsored by Tencent and expected to include an eSports theme park, an eSports university, a cultural creative park, a comics and animation industrial park, an entrepreneurship community, and a big data center. It is intended to play host to other new technologies and business, all invested in and developed by Tencent.
Another partnership to help develop the eSports community in China was a 2020 partnership between Tencent and FC Barcelona. This partnership is expected to cover competitive gaming competitions, education, and industry exchange. As part of the collaboration, FC Barcelona is working to improve its eSports, which is active in titles such as Rocket League, and with an aspiration on the part of FC Barcelona to develop an eSports division with competitive gaming in an industry expected to be a multi-billion dollar industry.
Tencent has also partnered with the Premier League and EA Sports to launch new eSports series based on the FIFA titles in China. This is intended to deepen the Premier League's digital offerings in the country. The tournament was expected to be broadcasted on Tencent Sports, Tencent Video, and Tencent News, and available on other streaming platforms such as Huya, DouYu, and Yizhibo.
Tencent has talked about drawing on various corporate partnerships to develop eSports awareness in and out of China. This includes partnerships with companies such as Tim Hortons, IKEA, and hotel group Shangri-La. Tencent developed a deal with Tim Hortons in 2020 to build coffee bars in cities across China, with a flagship Tim Hortons store near the Tencent headquarters in Shenzhen. The expectation is that these Chinese locations will offer a place where customers can enjoy Tim Hortons products and watch eSports competitions hosted or run by Tencent. There are expected to be similar collaborations with IKEA and Shangri-La.
In order to develop the eSports environment for Tencent and in China, Tencent has worked on different investments. This includes investment in the Versus Programming Network (VSPN). The investment came in a Series B round led by Tencent. The VSPN is described as a total solutions provider for eSports and has been an organizer and has been considered an early pioneer in eSports tournament organization. The company has also expanded into offline venue operations, and the investment is expected to help VSPN invest in an eSports research institute, an eSports culture park, and further expansion of VSPN.
Tencent has also invested in talent agencies, streaming sites, and tournament organizers to create the infrastructure to turn pro gaming from a niche into popular eSports. Part of this strategy has also included debuting a drama series around the game CrossFire, which tells the story of a wheelchair-bound teenager trying to make it as a pro gamer in the CrossFire game. Tencent has also invested in foreign companies to grow the company outside of China, including investments in American gaming companies, such as a 100 percent stake in Riot Games, a 40 percent stake in Epic Games, and minor investments in Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft.
Tencent also developed the company's subsidiary TJ Sports. Developed in 2019, TJ Sports works to organize and promote the League of Legends competitive play in China; the company is also expected to create original content, such as reality shows and livestream channels around star players and teams and sell merchandise. The company sees the future of eSports as something similar to the Super Bowl, which is as much a vehicle of culture, art, and entertainment that connects sports with the wider culture.
In 2021, as part of its activities, TJ Sports and Huya signed a $310 million League of Legends broadcasting deals, which sees the latter earn exclusive rights to broadcast, distribute, and offer on-demand league content. TJ Sports previously signed a deal with streaming platform Bilibili for a reported $113 million. All of these deals worked to help Tencent push and monopolize streaming in China through a merger DouYu and Huya.
Part of Tencent's interest is in developing a live-streaming competitor to Twitch. Previously, Twitch had been a popular live-streaming platform in China, until the platform ran afoul of the Great Firewall, and has since been excluded from China. Tencent owns a portion of Huya and DouYu and offered Huya part-owner Joyy to purchase 30 million shares of Huya in order to develop a live-streaming service for the Chinese market that is capable of competing with Twitch and YouTube.
Tencent, in 2021, saw shares fall and possible hurdles to increasing eSports in China as a state-owned Chinese newspaper criticized online gaming as "opium for the mind" and created investor concerns over the possibility that Tencent's popular games could be swept up into a broader crackdown and impact the appeal of these games and the company's ability to generate revenue from the games or the eSports. The shortfall was worth an anticipated $60 billion in market share. Following the shortfall, the company offered to make efforts to curb the access to games for minor's and work to curb addiction to online games that are believed to affect minors.
These statements ignited other fears about state intervention after Beijing already targeted the property, education, and technology sectors to curb cost pressures and reassert the primacy of the state after years of runaway market growth. These concerns saw shares of European and United States game developers with exposure to the Chinese market also dropped in relation to the news comping out of China.
As part of this, Tencent introduced restrictions on the popular game Honor of Kings to keep minors from playing the game for more than an hour a day and two hours on holidays, and blocked children under twelve from spending money in-game. As part of this, Tencent added facial verification to the game in order to stop children from gaming all night. This system has been implemented to combat the concerns of gaming addiction, which has caused serious issues in many families, and led the Chinese government to enact several systems to try and stop gaming addictions. The facial recognition comes after a real-name registration has already been used to stop children from playing video games from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. and cap purchases.
Riot Games is a Los Angeles, California-based video game developer and publisher founded in 2006 by Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill. The company released its debut title League of Legends in 2009, which has gone to be one of the most-played PC games and a key game in growth of eSports. Riot Games was majority-acquired by Tencent in February 2011 and was fully acquired in December 2015. The company also operates the League of Legends World Championship, Championship Series, and Mid-Season Invitational eSports tournaments. Riot Games has also developed the game Valorant, a 5 versus 5 battle royale game in which Riot Games developed the Valorant Champions Tournament, which competes with other battle royale games such as Fortnite, Overwatch, or Apex Legends.
eSports Game Developers
The first competitive event centered around a video game took place at Stanford University on October 19, 1972. During the event, players competed in the game Spacewar, which was first developed in 1962; the first place prize was a one-year subscription to Rolling Stone magazine, given to winner Bruce Baumgart. In 1980, Atari held the Space Invaders Championship, which attracted over 10,000 players and brought eSports and video games to greater public attention. In the same year, Walter Day created Twin Galaxies, an organization that recorded and kept records in video games.
In the decade of the 1980s, the growing world of gaming and eSports was dominated by Nintendo. This was in part because the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) increased the control, graphics, and accessibility of video games. And during the decade, Billy Mitchell became well known for his mastery of various arcade games and held world records in them, including Pac-Man and Donkey Kong arcade cabinet games. These early records led to the inclusion of video games on television shows, such as Starcade in the United States and First Class in the United Kingdom, which pitted players against each other for the highest scores in a given game.
Following this came Nintendo's release of the Super NES in 1991, which brought Super Mario and Street Fighter and increased the popularity of video games. This, along with the arms race between Nintendo and Sega, continued to increase the quality and popularity of video games. Nintendo, in turn, acted on the rising popularity of video games, led to Nintendo launching the Nintendo World Championships in 1990, which allowed players to compete against each other for a prize in one of the earliest eSports tournaments and as a promotional tool. Nintendo held a second world championship in 1994, with the grand finale held in San Diego, California, and drew a massive amount of spectators. These events also offered a way for players to connect with each other before social media or well-established regular gaming tournaments.
Towards the late 1990s, the rise and growth of PC gaming and the internet made it possible for gamers to face off. This sprouted some early eSports leagues, which included the Cyberathlete Professional League, the Professional Gamers League, and Quakecon. These leagues focused on popular games of the time, like Quake, Counter-Strike, and Warcraft.
This led to The Red Annihilation, a Quake event, which took place in May of 1997 and has been considered by some as the first real eSports competition. The internet allowed for over 2000 entrants to face each other in one-on-one competitions in Quake before the field was reduced to sixteen players. These sixteen players were flown to Atlanta, Georgia, to compete at the Electronic Entertainment Expo at the World Congress Center. This event was viewed by spectators in person and online and received news coverage from newspaper and television networks. And the tournament crowned Dennis "Thresh" Fong, who won the tournament and the grand prize of a Ferrari 328 GTS, previously owned by Quake programmer John D. Carmack.
From 1997 to 1999, Asia was hit by a period of financial crisis in which South Korea was an affected country. Money was difficult to come by and families found cheaper and more accessible entertainment options. With this came a rise of internet cafes, often known as PC Bangs, which offered people in the country a chance to play video games at an affordable rate. Around these grew social communities where players could hang out and socialize through playing cooperative and competitive titles. Starcraft, released in 1998, became one of the most popular titles, in part, thanks to the game's appeal to South Korea's national interest in activities that tested their abilities to think and react rapidly. The game went from one of the many games offered on a computer at a PC Bang to a national obsession.
This popularity brought media companies ON-Media and MBC Plus Media to launch TV channels to broadcast Starcraft competitions. The leagues attracted sponsorships from the likes of Samsung and SK Telecom. Other companies and developers followed the example, sponsoring teams and players, and hoping to get their brands in front of younger generations. Thresh, the Quake champion, had been a minor celebrity in North America, but in South Korea, professional Starcraft players were superstars. eSports proved popular and lucrative in South Korea and led to pushing the envelope in terms of bringing eSports to growing audiences.
Beginning in 1998, and as a part of the PC Bang culture, Starcraft and games expansion pack Starcraft: Brood War were launched. The games brought real-time strategy gameplay to competition, requiring strategic thinking and execution rather than fast reflexes and muscle memory. The succeeding game, Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty, continued the standard set by the first game while offering new strategic possibilities in the game. The Global StarCraft 2 League (GSL) from South Korea has been considered the most prestigious Starcraft 2 competition and the strongest game title in the real-time strategy game genre, boasting 50 million viewers and 17.5 million views on Twitch alone.
This decade saw eSports take another step as video games and online gaming continue to grow in popularity. Internet cafes grew around the world and gave players the chance to play multiplayer video games on high powered PCs they may have otherwise been unable to afford. Many of these cafes changed as home computers became more powerful and decreased in price.
In 2006, FUN Technologies held a Worldwide Webgames Championship in which seventy-one players competed for a USD $1 million grand prize. This was an example of the growth of the tournaments and prize pools of eSports tournaments. In 2000, there were about a dozen eSports tournaments held worldwide, a number which increased twenty-fold by 2010.
2010, also saw Nintendo return to eSports with the company's Wii Games Summer. This tournament lasted over a month with over 400,000 participants and helped establish Super Smash Brothers for Wii as one of the more popular eSports titles of its time.
With the launch of Twitch in 2011 came affordability and centralization of broadcasting increasing the viability of eSports tournaments. Attempts during the previous decade to televise eSports on dedicated channels in Germany, United Kingdom, France, and the United States had proved unsuccessful. These efforts saw the example of DirecTV developing the Championship Gaming Series in the United States only for it to fail. The CHS attempted to adapt eSports to TV, bringing to the competition a WWE style of production paired with an arguably poor choice of games and bizarre rules that left eSports viewers confused, and scared mainstream viewers away. Twitch, by offering a more straightforward way of presenting the competitions and allowing the competition to be the spectacle, rather than trying to create a spectacle around it, brought greater popularity to eSports.
In 2009, 161 eSports tournaments were held; by 2012, that increased to 696 tournaments, a number which has continued to rise. The prize money grew in a similar manner, as a $2 million prize money in 2009 saw an increase to $10 million in 2012. The real-time strategy era of games such as Starcraft and Warcraft 3 were coming to a kind of close, while games such as Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, and DOTA 2, all games of the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre, were developing unprecedented player bases and drew greater viewership in tournaments.
The events also began to mature, with tournaments ditching multiple titles in favor of hosting a tournament around a single title, and the tournaments phased out Olympic-style formats with a single player from a country, which had been used by the ESWC and WCG to grow and improve the level of competition, in favor of more open competition. Developers also began to invest more heavily and take more interest in the development of the eSports associated with their games, with grand annual events such as Valve's The International, Blizzard's BlizzCon, and Riot Games' Worlds.
Despite eSports making its way onto television in the late 1990s and during the 2000s, the difficulty of televising competitive gaming events came from battles over rights, different viewing mediums across the globe, and a lack of perceived interest. Twitch changed this, as the platform was developed to be a streaming platform for gaming and eSports. The platform helped users watch competitive gaming on a more personal level and increased the popularity of eSports. The broadcasts of CS:GO, League of Legends, and DOTA 2 made it to everyone, and gamers were able to make a living out of playing a game at home instead of drawing on the luck of just a professional career. With the platform's success, competitive gaming became more of a spectator sport, with a larger educated fanbase, and the platform was purchased by Amazon for $1 billion in 2014, after Amazon and Google had battled for acquiring the platform.
With the increased viewership of eSports globally came the rise of League of Legends as one of the largest games in eSports. The first League of Legends World Championship was held in 2011 in Sweden. The event featured a $100,000 prize pool with first place winning team Fnatic winning the top prize of $50,000. In 2012, the second League of Legends World Championships were held at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, California with an attendance of 10,000 fans. A year later, the venue for the championship was the Staples Center with the finals played in front of a sell-out crowd and both years featured a top prize of $1 million.
In 2014, the championship was held in Seoul, South Korea, with the band Imagine Dragons playing at the event which had more than 40,000 fans in attendance. The 2016, League of Legends World Championship brought in 43 million views, with a peak of 14.7 million viewers watching at a single point. These numbers grew again in 2017, which had over 60 million viewers. These numbers outshone viewer totals of the championship events from the two largest sports leagues in the United States, the MLB and NBA.
While the League of Legends World Championships offer an indication of how popular eSports has become from the viewership perspective, the annual DOTA 2 tournament, The International, shows how massive the sport has become on the financial side. The first International was held on August 1, 2011. This event invited the top sixteen teams for the event and to compete for the grand prize of $1 million. This was also the first publicly streamed DOTA event that offered a broadcast in four different commentary languages. The prize money remained $1 million in 2012. But, since that time, The International has broken the record, previously held by the same tournament, for the largest prize pool in all eSports every year since 2014. The first place in 2014 was $5 million, grew to $6 million in 2015, a further $9 million in 2016, and hit $10 million in 2017.
As eSports and the various leagues in the sport grew, it became more mandatory towards the middle of the decade that developers were hands-on with the competitive scene building around its games. The level of developer involvement varies, but ultimately can deliver structure, which eSports needed in order to continue to develop. Third-party tournament organizers, such as ESL, also increased their proficiency, creating premium offline tournament series such as ESL One and the Intel Extreme Masters. Developments in in-game monetization also offered developers and tournament organizers a way to see more returns not previously possible. This led to games having a much longer lifespan and a continuous stream of new content to retain players.
With the development away from the so-called "wild west" of eSports, the future of eSports has begun to look more structured. Titles such as Overwatch, Call of Duty, and League of Legends have adopted franchise league systems, and more developers have done the same, offering greater stability for team owners and sponsors. This allowed for increased revenue sharing between competing teams, increasing the leagues' and teams' attraction to sponsors. The franchised leagues have continued to create more polished presentations and have been considered to be a way for bigger eSports audiences to grow worldwide.
Traditional sports have begun to acknowledge the growth and popularity of eSports and used the fledgling sport to attract new followers and invest in a dual ownership of established eSports organizations. This symbiotic relationship offers new opportunities for league growth. An example could be Team Liquid's ownership group securing a strategic partnership with Marvel Entertainment. And with the overall rise of Twitch and live-streaming of games and tournaments, these players have also begun to be influencers, and offered a new audience for eSports to reach, with the players becoming the faces of consumer brands.
'League of Legends' video game championship is like the World Cup, Super Bowl combined
October 29, 2015
61 Stats for Your Live Streaming Strategy in 2021 - Restream Blog
December 7, 2020
Activision Blizzard Esports' Takes Deep Dive into Overwatch League Remote-Production Workflows
Biggest eSports Live Events in History: Top 5 Largest Tournaments Ever
Tristian de la Navarre
May 22, 2019
Competitive video gaming is going to the 2022 Asian Games, but it's been a medal sport for a decade
Joon Ian Wong
April 19, 2017