Why Is eSports So Popular? (What You Haven’t Considered)

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eSports Popularity Has Exploded While You Were Away

large esports arenas with strobe lighting and massive crowds shows why esports is so popular
If you were wondering why is esports so popular then you have been missing out on what much of the world has already known for years about this global phenomenon.

If you only recently heard of the eSports phenomenon, chances are you are not alone. Despite the extreme popularity and success of video games over the past 30 years, the eSports industry has been taking off recently. Now, your first question might be, why is eSports so popular?

Well, we have a simple answer for you. eSports has become popular due to the following reasons:

  • eSports is just like any other sport
  • Accessibility and inclusiveness of gaming
  • Diversity of games
  • Quality of video games
  • Video games are addicting
  • Gaming is a social activity
  • Legitimate career options

Competitive gaming isn’t new by any means, but it has become much more mainstream just in the past few years. eSports is really starting to gain a lot of momentum and widespread popularity, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down soon. There are huge tournament-style event competitions like the League of Legends World Championship or the FIFA eWorld Cup that attract millions of viewers across the world.

Regardless of attending sellout eSports arenas, or watching online through streaming services such as Twitch and YouTube, spectators are being drawn like moths to a flame for the spectacle of watching their favorite digital athletes compete. ESPN has even recently started to cover eSports stories and competitions. And a professional gaming career is becoming more and more sought after by aspiring gamers worldwide.

So the question remains: why is eSports so popular? What changed over the past few years that made eSports take off and become the hottest topic on the internet. Why is professional gaming just now becoming a legitimate career? Well, to understand why eSports has turned into a worldwide phenomenon, it’s important to understand the history to see where its roots began.




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A look back into the past

Picture of a classic video game leader board showing how classic gaming helped esports become popular
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash.

While online and offline competitive gaming is not a new phenomenon, the majority of gamers were considered amateurs until recently. That is until the 2000s, when both the number of professional players and fans experienced a significant surge, widely due to newer game genres, mass media attention, and online streaming technology. And as you’ll soon learn in this section, competitive gaming has roots as early as the 1970s.

The 1970s and 1980s

Picture of a woman in front of a screen with the Space Invaders video game
Photo by Leslie Jones on Unsplash.

The first recorded video game competition for an actual, material prize occurred at Stanford University in 1972. Five students played Spacewar, a space combat game, and competed for the grand prize: a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine. And a few years later, in 1980, Atari held the first Space Invaders Championship, which attracted more than 10,000 participants and mass media attention. This tournament set the record for the largest video game competition at the time.

Then in 1981, Walter Day founded Twin Galaxies, a company that recorded and promoted high scores on video games from over 100 arcades. The company soon became the trusted source as a video game scoreboard and was used to arrange competitions amongst top gamers. Twin Galaxies began holding competitions across the United States, some of which even aired on television, like the popular show Starcade. And in 1983, they formed a group of record-holding video gamers who traveled across the country and became the first professional gaming team in history.

The 1990s

Picture of a woman sitting against an arcade game
Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash.

The 1990s rapidly transformed professional gaming due to the rise of the internet and world wide web. The internet facilitated connections for gamers across the world so that people from any corner of the world could play each other. And thus the era of competitive online gaming was born on the internet. At the same time, the popularity of PC gaming and Nintendo rose to prominence. In 1990, Nintendo launched the Nintendo World Championship with toured around 29 cities across the United States and awarded finalists with $250 cash and other prizes. Then in 1997, the Red Annihilation tournament was held, drawing in about 2000 participants. It is now widely regarded that the tournament was the first eSports event ever.

1997 was a popular year in the history of eSports gaming as the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL), a major gaming league, was formed and held its first tournament later in the year. They were also one of the first to boast substantial prize winnings, of up to $15,000 for winning one of their tournaments.

In 1998, a significant game-changer was launched into the world of gaming. Yes, we’re referring to Starcraft, which was the first of its kind to introduce real-time strategic gameplay. This game rewarded strategic thinking and execution instead of muscle memory and quick reflexes. This game changed the dynamic of gaming, and many games since have been modeled off of Starcraft.

The 2000s

Picture of an arcade in South Korea
Photo by Ciaran O’Brien on Unsplash.

The decade of the 2000s was an inflection point in eSports gaming, beginning in South Korea. In the early 2000s, South Korea was benefiting from a massive infrastructure project, in which over half its population became connected to the internet. In addition to this, there was significant deregulation by the government, which lowered the barrier for new Internet Service Providers and allowed companies to expand upon the existing skeleton framework. As a result, South Korea now boasts some of the fastest internet speeds in the world. Finally, in 1997, the Asian Financial Crisis caused high unemployment rates, especially for the youth, which caused many students and young adults to stay inside and play video games to occupy their time and save money.

It was during this time in South Korea that Starcraft was released, and the game’s popularity grew like a wildfire. Coupled with the fast internet, high connectivity rates and unemployment rates for the youth, South Korea was the perfect environment for pro gaming to sprout up. And as a result, Starcraft implanted itself into Korean culture and history. In 2000, the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism created the Korean e-Sports Associate to market and regulate the industry. eSports matches began to be broadcast on television, professional gamers became celebrities with massive followings, and the industry started to amass huge audiences.

South Korea really set the pace for the rest of the world for professional gaming. It was in the 2000s when major international tournaments and professional gaming leagues were launched, including the World Cyber Games, the Electronic Sports World Cup, and Major League Gaming (MLG). MLG is currently the largest eSports league today and gives out some of the highest prize winnings available. In the latter part of the decade, new games like Dota, Warcraft, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike were released. Most of these have gone on to become staples of professional gaming.

The 2010s

Screenshot of Counter Strike Global Offensive gameplay and growing esports popularity

Since the 2000s, eSports has continued its rapid ascent into the next decade. According to esportsearnings.com, the number of tournaments grew from 52 in 2000, to 898 in 2010, and hit 4065 in 2017! Game developers are now creating games geared towards eSports audiences and players. You can see the most recent example of this being Fortnite, which became a hit success practically overnight and is quickly rising in the eSports world.

Online streaming services such as Twitch and YouTube have greatly helped bring eSports to viewers across the world. These online streaming services are the go-to method for watching gaming competitions. In addition to online viewership, in-person spectatorship has also grown tremendously. Huge championship events are planned and held all across the world, with thousands of supporters cheering on their favorite pros from the stands. In 2016, the famous League of Legends World Championships was held in Los Angeles, CA in the same arena that professional basketball teams play (the Staples Center). The event had a sell-out crowd and had over 43 million unique viewers.

As you can see, eSports has come a long way and has turned into a bustling industry. In 2017, there was over $114 million awarded in eSports prize money across the world. The largest prize money from a single tournament was $24.6 million at The International 2017! The industry has only really just started to take off, and there’s no end in sight.

So why is eSports so popular, exactly?

Picture of an eSports team having a competition

It’s important to understand that competitive gaming has been around in some shape or form since the 1970s and that the invention of the internet helped eSports take off and become a hit industry. So now that you know the history of eSports and have an understanding of how the industry evolved, we can dive deeper into why eSports are so popular.




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It’s just like any other sport

Competition sits at the foundation of eSports. Just like any other sporting event, like football, basketball, baseball, etc., people can’t help but love the competition of gaming. It’s so easy to follow and become a supporter of a particular eSports team or player. People all across the world love tuning in and watching the pros play each other in competitive matches. So the first reason that eSports are so popular is that it is just like any other sporting event. Fans love watching their favorite sport played at the highest level. And professional gaming is no different. Plus with online streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube, professional gaming is free, easily accessible, and can be watched 24/7.

In addition to this eSports also has similar drama and controversy that other sports do. And like any other group superfans, storylines can create compelling narratives to compel fans and media alike to promote big-name competitions! Just like other sports, top gamers get traded, fired, and frequently move from team to team. There’s always a Cinderella story in pro gaming, in which an underdog comes from behind to take the title. New players are continually challenging to take the throne away from long-standing favorites. Rivalries have quickly begun to emerge against the best teams and players.

As you can see, the parallels between traditional sports and eSports are numerous. So, it’s no surprise that eSports are taking off as it’s just like any other sport!

Accessibility and inclusiveness of gaming

Picture of a high end eSports gaming setup

Another major contributing factor to eSports popularity is how accessible video games have become. Gaming does not require having a lot of money to break into. One can play video games from the comfort of their home with a computer or a gaming console and a couple of video games. It’s generally not a massive investment (although, trust us when we say it can be later on down the road). The other advantage of gaming is that you can play at any time of the day. Other traditional sports can require a ton of equipment, space to play, and organizations to run leagues and teams. The world of gaming is very different and much less complex. As a result, gaming is a low barrier to entry and offers anyone terrific value compared to traditional sports. It’s relatively easy and cheap to begin playing and is extremely accessible.

Another crucial part of gaming’s accessibility is that it doesn’t require you to have an elite physical ability to play, for the most part, to be successful. Traditional sports like soccer or football need you to run, tackle, kick, throw, etc. in order to play and compete. Traditional sports players often have a “prototypical” or an ideal player, who has a certain size, body build, speed, strength, agility, and other key physical attributes that help them be successful.

For example, it is no secret that NBA players are for the most part tall. Really really tall. With professional gaming, you don’t have to be the best athlete or have a specific physical build. Professional gamers are very skilled in what they do, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that by just looking at them. It’s relatively simple for anyone to pick up a controller or mouse and start playing instantly. This is another major factor of why gaming is so successful and popular: anyone with the drive and skill can play!

Anyone has the ability to become a gamer, and thus anyone can eventually break into the world of eSports. In addition to this, eSports is extremely easy to watch online at any time of day through online-streaming services like Twitch and YouTube. As long as you have an internet connection, you’ll be instantly connected to the world of eSports. This is entirely different from most traditional sports, which can only be watched live, in-person or with an expensive cable subscription.

Diversity of games

The beauty of eSports is that there are so many options in terms of video games to play. There are a TON of different games one can play and watch in the world of eSports. These games come in many different varieties and complexities. For example, if you enjoy first-person shooter games, Call of Duty or Counter-Strike are great options for you to check out. If you enjoy traditional sports games, FIFA, Madden, or NBA 2k are probably going to be your top options. Or if you prefer multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, League of Legends or Fortnite are going to be your cup of tea. The best part of eSports is that you have a considerable amount of options! With so many choices in the market, it’s not very difficult for gamers and fans to choose a game they like to play or watch. If you want to read more about some of the top eSports games, check out an article on the 10 best eSports games you should play right now!

Quality of video games

It’s no secret that the quality of video games has dramatically improved over the past decade. We’ve come a long way from the days of basic 8-bit graphics. Game developers have done nothing short of a fantastic job with the graphics of video games. As a result, video games are much easier to play and watch. It’s now entirely realistic to sit at your computer or television and play for hours without your eyes getting tired or developing an awful headache from terrible graphics.

Some games look so realistic that it’s at times hard to discern video games from television or movies. In addition to this, the motion of the graphics has also gotten phenomenally better. It used to be difficult to play games for hours because the motion on graphics was slow, sometimes having prolonged response times that killed your groove while playing. These cutting-edge improvements allow gamers to experience games in fully rendered worlds with realistic textures and scenery. At times, it can feel like you’re right inside of the game, which is nothing short of amazing.

As technology has evolved in gaming, more and more people have begun to play, and thus these improvements have helped lead to eSports massive popularity.

Video games are addicting

The statement above says it all. Video games have a highly addicting quality, which contributes to their extreme popularity. People LOVE to play and watch video games because of their highly addictive nature. There’s a constant drive for gamers to reach the next rank or level, to unlock a new hero or weapon, or to beat the competition. This addiction easily translates into the world of eSports. Pro gamers and teams are addicted to getting better and to winning. They will play and practice for hours upon hours each day and train to become elite in their craft. And the fans are right there behind them, supporting them in their quest to become better players. This addiction element of video games contributes heavily to the popularity of eSports.

Gaming is a social activity

The other, often unforgotten, part of gaming that makes it so popular is that it is an extremely social activity. Through video games, friends can play with and against each other, help each other out, and of course learn and improve. In the 2000s, online gaming enabled gamers all over the world to meet and connect with each other in ways that had never been seen before. People from all corners of the world can now log-in, play with each other, and forge friendships in the virtual arena. The social nature of gaming is one of the core reasons why the industry has become so popular.

In addition to this, many eSports games are team-based, meaning you compete with teammates. This only adds to the social nature of gaming, as you cannot win without your team. Skills like communication and coordination are highly valued and essential in the world of gaming. To put it simply, you will not find success without meshing well with your team. eSports is a very social sport by nature, and in the majority of cases, you’ll have to rely on working with others to achieve success.

Legitimate career options

Another piece of the eSports puzzle is the opportunity it provides gamers all over the world in terms of a career. Unlike other traditional sports, it’s a lot more realistic for gamers to go pro. You don’t need to be a superior physical human specimen to become a professional gamer. Instead, you need to train hard, often for hours upon hours each day, and you need to dedicate yourself to the craft of gaming. Now, don’t be fooled. It is not an easy path to become a pro gamer, but it is generally more attainable than other professional sporting careers. For more information, check out our post on the 8 steps to becoming an eSports gamer and how to get into eSports.

And it’s because of this that eSports is experiencing a surge in popularity. We’ve seen that children, teenagers, and adults have a deeper desire to go pro in gaming, more than ever before. It’s now thought of as a legitimate career path that one can thrive and succeed off of. People all across the world aspire to become professional eSports gamers.

In summary: eSports is only just beginning to take off

eSports has come a long way since it’s early beginnings in the 1970s. And there are no signs of it slowing down any time soon. eSports revenue is projected to hit a whopping 1.5 billion by 2020! That’s quite impressive considering it’s still a relatively young industry.

Just like the traditional sporting industry, eSports has started to amass a huge following and demand. People across the world are tuning in online and attending in-person mega-events to watch their favorite teams and players compete in tournaments. And now big brands and advertisers have even started to notice as sponsorships and marketing dollars are being fought over by companies all over the world who are looking to get a piece of the eSports pie. There is no end in sight, and if anything, we expect the eSports popularity to continue to grow at exponential rates over the next few years.

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