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What is Esports?

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

Esports is a phenomenon that is often considered difficult to define. The conceptual parameters are fluid and subjective making a prescriptive definition not only difficult but inappropriate. Yet, we recognise it when we see it. Here I provide a holistic, descriptive approach to defining esports.

Competitive… sport? – At its core esports is the evolution of human competition experienced through the medium of videogames. A game publisher or external organiser can establish a competitive framework for a videogame, but it will not really achieve recognition as an esport until it becomes popular enough to be considered as such by the community. The most common competitive frameworks rely on one v one or team v team matches, either in tournaments or league tables. Some other frameworks include ‘speedrunning’ where games are completed as fast as possible, and ‘race to world first’ events where individuals or teams attempt to be the first to achieve a certain in-game milestone following a game or expansion release. It is currently debated whether esports should be considered ‘sport’. The difference of opinion even exists between industry stakeholders themselves with some seeking the respect of ‘sport’ status while others recognise differences between the two and perhaps even a superiority of esports.

An Industry – Over the past decade esports has grown from a relatively non-existent by-product of gaming into an industry in its own right. A sporting and entertainment phenomenon. Whether you consider it to be an offshoot of the videogame industry or its natural evolution, it is undeniable the two are co-dependent. As the space has grown more and more opportunities and questions have arisen. It would be too long to cover here all of the different interconnected parties, career and investment opportunities, legal challenges etc. but please do have a look through the Ethoughts platform for more information.

An elaborate marketing campaign? – Esports has two huge propelling forces – (1) An abundance of talented players who want to test their skills and compete against worthy challengers; and (2) an abundance of people who are excited to watch and learn from other players. Publishers have found that they can use the competitive scene as a marketing campaign to encourage an audience of more casual players to spend money in-game. This has been an important drive for the early esports industry as at the time of writing there are few, if any, publishers who have a self-sustainable esports offering. Despite the loses publishers make the level of customer engagement is extraordinary value for money as most of the work is done indirectly through other parties such as streamers and professional esports teams. Most publishers, however, see the potential of esports beyond mere marketing and are striving to make their competitive offerings profitable in their own right.

Entertainment phenomenon – Statistics show that viewership is changing. Fewer people are watching traditional sports but it goes further… across the board people are spending less time watching movies and traditional television. Perhaps it is because more people are watching on their computers and phones these days? Well, you’re right but even streaming giants are seeing a decline. Videogame viewership has seen a steady increase as streaming platforms allow professional players to monetise their content and publishers/ tournament organisers broadcast their events. Along with the growing popularity of the space as a whole we have seen personalities shine, driving an influencer culture where the community can find entertainment beyond just gameplay and players can cultivate their own following. If you’re a streamer, or work in an esports team/organisation be sure to check out our Players and Teams portfolio.

Culture/Community – So I have mentioned the ‘community’. There number of people who play videogames is huge and over the last decade these individuals have found more and more ways to connect. A massive community continue to bond through playing and watching games. The esports community has become infamous being intelligent, shrewd, tech-savvy and opinionative. Businesses trying to enter or trade in the esports space with unconvincing brand activations/ marketing campaigns have encountered huge outspoken resistance while genuine, authentic businesses have found fierce loyalty. There are countless subcommunities organised around different games, teams, players and personalities but there are rarely any barriers between these. It is usually the case that enthusiasts will participate in a wide variety of different subcommunities, each having their own norms, hierarchies, languages, etc. It is a sad truth that some stereotypes and cultural barriers exist within the community at large but esports has the potential to be perhaps the most diverse and inclusive industry. It has certainly seen huge steps towards diversity and equality in a very short space of time. For research developments into this and other topics see Academics and Students.

Investment opportunity – Perhaps you’re a businessperson trying to market your product to a statistically young demographic which has been notoriously difficult to reach in the past. Perhaps you notice how lucrative it can be to compete and/or stream. Whether you’re looking at the growing number of videogame players, ever increasing viewership statistics, the greater engagement with complimentary industries, or the demand for innovative supporting technology… there is room for investors to play in the esports industry and find a lucrative return. Excitement about the industry has caught the attention of some of the world’s largest organisations, most prominent investors and most famous celebrities. Check out the Businesses and Investors section if you want to know more.

A legal minefield – With so much money and attention pouring into the esports industry unique legal challenges are being continually exacerbated. Alongside corporate and commercial legal issues faced by most industries esports faces particular difficulty with IP law, employment law, immigration law, gambling law, advertising law, and a host of other areas. Without a well-recognised governing framework at the time of writing the industry is largely based on contractual agreements with publishers often retaining a large proportion of the bargaining power. However, regulators are starting to take notice. With a rapidly changing industry comes a rapidly changing legal landscape. Go check out the Lawyers and Agents section to keep up to date with all the latest.

The future of fun – Cultural, technological and media trends are pointing towards the success of esports. As technology advances we are finding more efficient solutions to the demands of society. More and more aspects of work and home life are becoming automated and we are being left with more time on our hands for leisure and entertainment. Meanwhile advances in gaming and communication allow us to experience and enjoy our favourite pastimes with friends and challengers at ease. Whether you want to reinvent an existing game with new features or rip up the rule book completely esports could be the start of a whole new era of human competition.

Precursor to a gamified virtual future? – Let’s look into the future and take the growth of esports to the n'th degree… ever seen Enders Game? Ready Player One? As a species we are evolving more through technology than through biology - is it really so difficult to predict that competitive videogames and the technological advances that come with them might shape how we socialise? But thinking further… the transferability of gaming ability is undeniable. At what point will macro economies of businesses and governments controlled in the same way they are in games? How about space exploration? When will wars be fought virtually? Will our education system adapt to a new digital future? Perhaps we won’t encounter all of these developments in our lifetime but the world of esports is a veritable cornucopia of possibilities and we at Ethoughts are excited to embrace what comes next.

Adam McGlynn

1 Comment

Joe Babbage
Joe Babbage
Feb 06, 2020

Have you covered gaming schools / universities at all? Is there much scope for them to look into esports and future developments or transferable skills?

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