What are esports? An overview for non-fans
News - 6 Dec 2016
A few decades ago, esports didn't technically exist. So what is it and what do you need to know?
Esports (or electronic sports) is a term used to describe competitive video gaming.
While many video games are known to be competitive, esports is the next level if you like. Tournaments usually consist of professional gamers competing against one another for a cash prize.
For example, League of Legends pits five players against another five in a virtual battle arena, while shooters like Call of Duty and Counter-Strike can also be played competitively.
Think of esports as the top level of video gaming in terms of skill and professionalism. The pro gamers who play at this level know the games inside out, much like a professional footballer or athlete would in their respective fields.
Players can either play one-on-one against one another (in games like FIFA and Street Fighter), or in teams. For example, in Halo, two teams of four play off against each other, while in Overwatch, two teams of six compete. Rules and strategies can differ greatly depending on the game in question.
Some of the most popular esports games include League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Dota 2 and Call of Duty, but there are many others.
Professional teams usually have coaches, analysts and managers who help to get the most out of the players and organise strategies etc.
Some games are played on consoles like Xbox One or PS4, while others are played using PCs over a LAN connection. Matches can be viewed by spectators at a live physical event or over the internet via streaming platforms such as Twitch, which broadcast the games in real time online.
To give you an example of the scale of esports, some of the biggest tournaments offer millions of pounds in prizes (the tournament with the biggest prize pool is the Dota 2 International which has some $20m up for grabs), and are watched by millions of fans. The League of Legends World Championship final in 2015 was viewed by a record 36 million people.
While those figures are the exception rather than the norm, they give some indication as to the size of esports right now.
Professional players, too, can expect to make a decent salary. While this can vary greatly depending on the team, the game and the player, the top pros can expect to make thousands of dollars per year. This can come from a standard salary, as well as sponsorship deals and streaming donations.
It can be a very different case for amateur players, however, who may not even have a contract. Instead they will usually aim to make money from winning low-level tournaments and taking a split of the winnings, or to play for fun.
Player representation has been an ongoing topic within esports in recent years, as has regulation. Currently, the publishers and developers of each game set the rules themselves, and are responsible for ensuring integrity and handing out punishments where necessary.
Some organisations have emerged, such as the World Esports Association (WESA), which is backed by tournament provider ESL, but this currently regulates one league - the ESL CSGO Pro League. ESL has also begun drug testing in some of its major tournaments.
Overall, esports has progressed greatly in recent years, with bookmakers, TV broadcasters and big non-endemic brands like Coca Cola getting involved in the space. And the only way from here is up.