The idea of eSports became fascinating to me as a young woman who has enjoyed the competitive aspect of gaming since the release of Call of Duty 4. There was a wave of enthusiastic growth, and suddenly every kid played as if they wanted to be professionals. Players became winners who escalated into competitive idols, and now, competitive gaming has developed its own special niche inside of the industry.
It’s still young and misunderstood, and compared to other athletes in spectator sports, professional gamers will probably always remain overwhelmed by controversy. But whether or not you enjoy watching video game tournaments, the niche is rapidly growing. It’s not just a segment of gaming that is held under a tiny microscope anymore, and it doesn’t just appeal to hardcore fans.
“A lot of the misconceptions in the industry right are still that it’s very niche or they don’t really understand what it is, or that eSports isn’t for them. It’s too hardcore,” said Craig Levine, VP North America at the Electronic Sports League. “That’s sort of a recurring theme that you hear and I think from my perspective eSports is the culture of gaming.
“Just like the Super Bowl – everyone watches it whether you’re a fan or not of football – it gets everyone together. I think the reach for eSports and the appeal is broader than people superficially give it credit for.”
In the recent X Games in Austin, competitive Call of Duty was placed beside well-known extreme sports such as BMX and skateboarding for the first time ever. Optic Gaming, a major powerhouse in professional gaming, took home gold medals. As someone who has enjoyed playing and watching Call of Duty, it was an exciting and passionate moment for me.
But not only is it growing as an exciting spectator event, it’s thriving as a business. In an interview with Game Informer, owner of Optic Gaming Hector Rodriguez spoke about prize winnings and the business of entertainment. “Our organization was built on entertainment. By the time that I acquired the professional team I had already built a steady business where entertainment was going to pay the bills.”
He continued, “It’s more lucrative for players to come play for us because we’ve been around for so long that we have a firm grasp on how players can grow themselves into a personal brand.”
Captain of Optic Gaming’s competitive team Matt “Nadeshot” Haag has become one of the most popular video game celebrities in the world. His global popularity not only stems from his competitive prowess, but also his status as a sponsored athlete with Red Bull.
“What is it about me that people gravitate toward? I wish I knew,” he stated. “I don’t consider myself to be over-the-top entertaining or someone that would be a joy to be around 24-7, but it’s working for me.”
Now, ESPN looks to expand its eSports coverage after the success of both MLG’s spot in the X Games and the coverage of The International Dota 2 Championships. Mainstream recognition of eSports, once considered a distant dream for many people, is now a realistic possibility.
But there is still lots of room for growth. Rodriguez explained what Optic would eventually have to face. “Expanding is always in front of us. I know, at one point or another, I’m going to have to grow with eSports and pick up a League of Legends team. As it stands, it’s something that is in the future. As big as we are right now, there is much more room for improvement. We need to hire to help me with the things that I need help with.
“As a company we’ve reached a plateau where we need to hire a salesperson to represent the 48-52 million monthly impressions that we get across our network. We need to start getting other brands involved. We need to make them aware that this is a thing, this is happening and it’s growing.”