NJ Games, casino/betting aggregator, has complied different statistics about esports, distilling them into a visually appealing and easily digestible infographic. It shows the rise of esports from its humble beginnings of Space Invader tournaments to world tours and massive international events, with prize pools in the millions. The idea of esports as a spectator sport and potential inclusion in the Olympics stands out to me, and I will attempt to explore these through the lens of an amateur esports fan. It is important to mention that the source of this info-graphic (NJ Games) links to gambling sites with sign up codes; therefore I felt it relevant to spend a little time reflecting upon some of the impact that gambling has had on esports. The infographic can be found here.
Esports as a Spectator sport?
Personally one of the most interesting stats brought up in the infographic was that at least 40 percent of spectators do not play the game they watch. Perhaps the reason I found this intriguing might be the fact that I myself haven’t played League of Legends for a couple of years and yet am still an active watcher of both the European and North American professional leagues. Perhaps a large proportion of the 40 percent could be cross pollination from other esports. For example, an Overwatch fan might be interested in watching a CS:GO major. Despite mainly watching LoL and not really played many other MOBAs, I am going to the Dota 2 ESL-ONE tournament later this month. This might suggest that esports might become a spectator sport like football or basketball. However, there are some major inherent differences within esports that make them fundamentally different to conventional/traditional sports.
Even the more complex sports like football (soccer for American readers) is, at its core, a relatively easy to follow game. It has depth in how one can approach the game and different formations to play and when to make substitutions, but newcomers can easily understand that players kick the ball into a goal to win. In contrast, many games that become esports are very complex, and this is what makes them deep and so interesting to watch. This leads to a high barrier to entry for outsiders wishing to understand the game. This might make it less appealing to a wider global audience, which makes the debate around esports in the Olympics an interesting topic to discuss.
Esports in the Olympic Games
This topic is its whole own debate, which spans from topics around the legitimacy of esports as a “real sport”. This includes legal issues around copyrights of commercial games or logistically fitting events around the LoL/Overwatch leagues or Dota 2/CS:GO tournaments. However, the two main points I would like to focus on are the ones brought up in the infographic, mainly that of demographics and accessibility. As touched on above, accessibility of major esports games is often not high, especially compared to the easy-to-understand sports of running and swimming. However, there are some games that might be better suited than others. For example, CS:GO has done a wonderful job of creating a very slick watching experience. Players are visible through walls for the viewer and their health bars are displayed on the player model itself – very unintrusive details, yet still providing valuable information.
Given this issue, why might the Olympics benefit? The reason is that the demographic of esports watchers are very different to that of those who watch the Olympics. The Olympics attracts a generally older audience, with the majority being in the 55+ years range. Esports has a predominantly young demographic, with 56% of the viewership being 21-35 years old. This is important for the Olympics as it not only expands its scope and appeal but it also opens avenues for advertisers to target the 21-35 age group.
Impact of gambling
As displayed in the infographic, a staggering $5.5 billion dollars was wagered on esports in 2016. As doctors, we are obliged to discuss the seedy aspects of gaming that should give some pause. In the 2018 Esports Survey Report (created by Foley & Lardner LLP and The Esports Observer), match-fixing topped the list of risks to e-ports with almost 80 percent of participants ranking it as a “serious or moderate risk.” Other risks included net neutrality regulations, illegal gambling and a lack of safeguards for underage players.
This is not without reason as there is plenty of precedent. In 2016, StarCraft II pro Lee Seung-Hyun was given a huge fine and jail time for match fixing. In 2014-15, Counter Strike: Global Offensive professionals were banned indefinitely after Valve found that these members had received high value skins after losing a game in which they were the heavy favorites. During a recent podcast, esports pundit and historian Thorin hinted at previous match fixing in League of Legends, particularly in Asia.
Match fixing goes further than only deteriorating the integrity of the pro scene. One of the biggest recent scandals in gambling and gaming was seen with CS:GO skins. In the scandal notable YouTubers were advertising gambling sites without disclosing that they owned the sites and may have manipulated/rigged the results, leading to Federal Trade Commission involvement.
More and more people are watching esports. With this increased viewership and popularity, the scene’s growth has been rather impressive and it is interesting to have this rapid rise illustrated. It casts an interesting eye on various aspects of esports, from the streaming services and breath-taking numbers to the enviable individual athlete/team earning records and investment by sports leagues. It’s an interesting collection of data and one that hints that the rise of esports has only just begun.