What was once a fringe interest of gaming and technology enthusiasts, has become an industry behemoth, competing with traditional sporting leagues in both size and investment—and the future is looking brighter than ever. Esports (or electronic sports) is a term which describes any organized, competitive video gaming, and participation is at a record level.
Online casino providers such as Virgin Games have recognized the potential in the esports market and have begun to get in on the action themselves. Esports are commonly included on the books at some of the leading websites and many of the most prominent casinos, especially in Las Vegas, are responsible for funding esports arenas in the area.
The History of Esports
The first video game tournament on record would be hosted in 1972 at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab in Los Altos, California. Spacewar was the game and it was adapted specifically for the tournament to enable five players to play simultaneously. The event would take place weeks before even the first Pong arcade machine would be installed.
Fast forward five decades, and esports fans, players and enthusiasts now number in the hundreds of millions. The internet has been essential in the proliferation of the sport, allowing people from all around the globe to participate, support and promote the games.
The breadth of esports titles played covers battle games, first person shooters, beat em ups, sports games, racers and battle royales. While there are burgeoning esports leagues in just about every competitive video game, the prize pools associated with each tournament is a good measure of their popularity.
A surprise hit in the esports world and the video game world at large, Rocket League sees teams of up to eight try to score in the opposition’s goal using only the vehicle they’re put in control of—the game was aptly described as soccer with rocket-powered cars. Prize money for the RLCS (Rocket League Championship Series) 2021-22 season is set at $6 million US.
Hearthstone is a digital, collectible card game where players build decks and duel one another. During the 2019 Hearthstone World Championship, more than $4 million US was available in the prize pool with the winner, Norwegian Casper “Hunterace” Notto, taking home the top prize of $250 thousand US.
A game that has attracted a lot of publicity, with some of its stars crossing over into mainstream media (it’s subject to debate whether esports is itself part of that fold). Richard Tyler Blevins aka Ninja rose to fame playing Fortnite and is now the most subscribed to channel on the Twitch streaming service. Epic, Fortnite’s developer, set the prize pool for the 2019 World Cup at $30 million US.
The sequel to the community created mod of Warcraft III, Defense of The Ancients (DotA), Dota 2 is a team online battle arena style game that pits five against five, with each player controlling their own choice of ‘hero’. The prize pool for Dota 2’s ‘The International 2021’ tournament topped out at over $40 million US and broke records in doing so.
Prize funds have driven the legitimacy of esports as a valid vocation among young people. Esports teams today are run in much the same way that other sports franchises are, with coaches, financial backing and training regimens.
Streaming sites have played an integral role in the growth of esports. Professional gamers as well as streamers that play purely for entertainment amass huge numbers of fans that will tune in to watch them play video games.
YouTube and Twitch are the largest streaming services for the gaming market with the latter recording an average of 2.9 million viewers at any one time so far in 2022. Ninja, who plays Fortnite, among other games, is currently the most subscribed channel and has 17.4 million followers.
Competitive Casino Games
The writing was on the wall for competitive casino gaming. Poker ostensibly paved the way for the modern esports phenomenon with early TV broadcasting and the subsequent acceptance of players qualifying from online tournaments. The jury is out as to whether poker’s online equivalent is itself an esport, possibly one of the first.
Blackjack is another traditional card game that is threatening to graduate from the casinos to the world of esports. Both blackjack and poker, as well as slots are well represented on the streaming site, Twitch.
The Future of the Gaming Market
Esports have made a multi-billion dollar industry even more lucrative by bringing focus to the competitive element of gaming. A large customer base has become the currency of game developers and pricing models have adapted to reflect this.
Some of the most popular titles now are free-to-play with no initial money required to obtain the game. Instead, microtransactions are integrated into the experience for players to upgrade their in-game avatars, sometimes only cosmetically.
Streaming sites like Twitch have become a self-sufficient marketing machine, with gamers promoting new releases to their viewership, simply by playing them. Many believe esports will rival traditional sports in terms of financial opportunities if current trends continue. Licensing, merchandising, sponsorship and ticket sales are huge potential growth areas as esports continues to evolve and it shows no signs of slowing.