Earlier this month I attended my first ever e-sport event – ESL One Frankfurt 2015 – a tournament in which world-class Dota 2 players competed to become champions in front of thousands of dedicated fans.
For all you non-gamers out there: Dota 2 is an online game played by millions of people worldwide, while e-sports is used as a general term to describe the play of video games competitively.
ESL One Frankfurt 2015
This record-breaking 2-day event was held in Frankfurt’s Commerzbank Arena, a football stadium with a capacity of more than 52,000.
The event attracted more than 15,000 fans on each day of the event (with foot traffic hitting over 30,000 across the whole weekend) and became Europe’s most-watched Dota 2 tournament of all time thanks to a peak concurrent viewership of over one million.
Onsite, I was captivated by the atmosphere.
When the players emerged from the tunnel, the crowd roared.
When one of the teams exploded the rival team’s hero on screen, the stadium went wild.
When the winners were presented with their trophy, they raised it with the same passion and reverence that footballing giants lift the World Cup.
I was amazed by just how much it looked and sounded like a regular sports event…..
Should e-sport be recognised as a sport?
Today, e-sports are not considered to be ‘real’ sports due to the limited physical exertion required from players.
However e-sport boasts a number of striking similarities with ‘real’ sport, aside from the onsite atmosphere.
Here are just the most obvious examples:
- E-sport counts both amateur and professional players (individuals and teams).
- There are e-sport coaches in strategy.
- Training centres (or ‘gaming houses’) exist everywhere in the world.
- There’s a huge amount of prize money to be won: 5 to 10 million USD per season.
- International sponsors can’t wait to get on board: from important ICT companies (NVIDIA, ATI, Intel, AMD) to soft drink manufacturers (Coca Zero, Red Bull, Dr Pepper), today’s big brands are using e-sports to reach their targets.
- Merchandising from corporate giants is also popular, with McDonalds creating a collector’s edition series of McNIP Burgers as a tribute to NIP (Ninjas in Pyjamas), a professional e-sport team.
- Popular e-sport commentators relay live tournaments to huge audiences.
- Numerous web TV channels are dedicated to e-sport (webTV VaKarM, NetGaming, OrigineTV, EclypsiaTV, MilleniumTV, O’Gaming TV, eSport Channel) using streaming and VOD plat-forms (Dailymotion, You Tube and Twitch – recently acquired by Amazon for 1 billion USD).
- Top e-sport tournaments gain incredible TV viewing figures: in 2014, ESPN2 broadcast the live final of The International 4 to over 20 million people, while the most-watched event in e-sport history to date is the final of season 3 of the League of Legends which recorded an incredible 32 million viewers worldwide.
- E-sports throw incredible opening ceremonies worthy of the greatest opening ceremonies of international sporting events. Check out this video of the Opening Ceremony of the Season 3 World Championship Final of League of Legends.
E-sport even faces similar challenges to sport, including:
- Doping: with millions of dollars at stake and thousands of fans watching every move, the pressure to perform can be huge, especially with certain games lasting for 12 hours or longer.
- Ethical play: e-sport has to act ethically, its players must follow the rules of the “GG” (Good Game) the equivalent of fair play in high performance sport.
- Sexism: e-sport is deemed sexist, because there is an obvious shortage of high level female players.
Armed with all this information, I’d gone to the event ready to make my mind up about whether e-sport should be classified as a sport.
When I left the stadium, I understood that I’d been thinking about the connection between e-sport and sport in entirely the wrong way.
The future of e-sport is the future of sport
Whether or not e-sport is classified as a sport is clearly no longer the main debate.
What I saw during the ESL One Frankfurt 2015 is that e-sport has millions of passionate viewers.
Huge online communities have sprung up worldwide, which are now being taken offline with a momentum that can no longer be ignored – with small-scale studio events, large festivals and capacity-filling stadium events springing up in every country.
E-sport has completely redefined the way people spectate, communicate, play with one another and engage with content around their chosen ‘discipline’.
E-sport fans create their own communities, their own tournaments, their own events: they have democratized their sport entirely.
The ease of access via streaming has also allowed for an interactive, unregulated and unified audience.
Instead of e-sport fighting to be accepted as a sport, sport should in fact start looking at the best-practices of e-sport – the incredible power of its online communities, the democratic creation of content and events, driven by the fans, for the fans – to evolve to the next level.
Over the next few years, I believe that we’ll see e-sports completely redefining the way that real sports play the game.
I’d better start brushing up on my Dota 2 and League of Legends knowledge!