Press Start: eSports

With the video game industry seeing more than $100 billion in revenues each year with no signs of slowing, Press Start is a series to help you navigate the growing popularity of gaming subculture.

In the first “Press Start,” I looked at speedrunning as one side of the gaming world constantly gaining traction. Yes many of today’s most popular games for console, PC and mobile can’t be speedrun – but they can be won. I touched on eSports in my Gaming Year in Review 2017, and here I take a deeper look into the phenomenon.

As long as games have had multiplayer capability (basically since the beginning), there’s been a competitive aspect that some players can’t help but share with the world. Even getting the high score in arcades or being Player 2 in just about any pre-1996 console game led to intense competition that, at times, would be broadcast on the world stage. In fact, Nintendo has held “World Championships” (assuming the world is just the US, mostly) a couples times in the last few years, with the first iteration in 1990 pitting players against each other and Nintendo’s 8-bit creations.

Now, eSports flourishes of the near-ubiquity of reasonable (or good) internet around the world. Gamers can play against or with each other in real time from anywhere, and games themselves have continuously progressed to allow for a state of spectacle when watching skilled players compete. The biggest of these games are usually classified as arena-style games and first-person shooters: Dota 2, League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch. Many of these games see individuals and teams competing for prize pools, with Dota 2’s last “International” competition seeing a $24 million prize pool.

The distinction of what makes an eSports game is that there is a definitive “win” condition and usually that games take place in matches. This means you can’t expect people to compete in one-player games like Assassin’s Creed, but after 5 minutes of play in car-soccer mashup Rocket League, there’s a definitive winner.

eSports has become a catch-all for online competitive gaming, and teams and the games themselves have taken bigger and bigger stages, including broadcast on ESPN and TSN (partially thanks to competitive sports games like Fifa and NBA 2k). Like physical sports, players practice over time, building skill and knowledge to best their opponents. In many instances, players are drafted to teams to provide support, structure and sometimes financing.

While not as easy to dive into as speedrunning, there are a growing number of accessible mobile games vying your attention with a vibrant eSports scene, including Clash Royale and Vainglory. If you think your gaming is good enough, check out what leagues might be available near you at the Ontario eSports League or Canada eSports League.

About author

Sammy is many things: a mandolin pop "musician", a non-profit professional, a video game aficionado, an avid movie & concert-goer, a collector of Blu Rays, an enjoyer of peanut butter and a knower of things. Sammy is not: very good at writing bios, an avocado.