The State of eSports: 2012

Rod "Slasher" Breslau explains how this year will see more superstars, more money, and more interest in the fast-growing world of eSports.

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This weekend sees the first big Major League Gaming event of the year in the shape of its Winter Arena pay-per-view StarCraft 2 event in New York, which brings 32 of the best players in the world together. GameSpot will be covering the event exclusively, and our content will be hosted by noted eSports caster and host of LiveOnThree, Rod "Slasher" Breslau. Here, he brings us his observations on "the state of eSports" at the beginning of 2012.

I am more confident in eSports/professional gaming/competitive gaming than I ever have been since entering this amazing world. The infrastructure is better than it has ever been in terms of league, team, broadcaster, and player stability, including sponsorship, advertising, sales, and profitability. Major League Gaming and Evil Geniuses have all seen more growth than in years past, with nonendemic sponsors Dr Pepper, Red Bull, Stride, Monster, BIC, and Sony Ericsson in the mix among others. Prize money was over $6 million for players in 2011, including $2.5M for StarCraft 2, $1.6M for DotA2 from Valve, and $1M for Call of Duty. Eighty StarCraft 2 players made at least $10,000, eight made at least $100,000, and three made at least $200,000. A $5 million purse has been promised by Riot Games for League of Legends in 2012.

Players and commentators are Internet superstars entering mainstream sports/tech/geek territory, including Day9, Daigo, BoxeR, Walshy, HotShotGG, Cooller, djWHEAT, GeT RiGhT, Flash, Justin Wong, TotalBiscuit, NesTea, Reginald, Fatal1ty, IdrA, Sundance, cArn, Fwiz, Grubby, Tasteless & Artosis, Rapha, Alex Valle, Husky, Hastro, Moon, n0thing, Tobiwan, Dyrus, HuK, Gootecks, and Cypher--a list that keeps growing every year. Even I've been recognized on the subway, at a warehouse party in Brooklyn, and quite often at major gaming trade events. I saw autograph lines for people at non-autograph sessions for people like Day9 at BlizzCon/Comic Con last year that would rival major gaming figures, developers, and personalities.




Prize money was over $6 million for players in 2011, including $2.5M for StarCraft 2, $1.6M for DotA2 from Valve, and $1M for Call of Duty. Eighty StarCraft 2 players made at least $10,000, eight made at least $100,000, and three made at least $200,000.

Technology has improved tremendously in the past few years. Competitive gaming has led the relatively recent live streaming boom culminating with Justin.tv creating TwitchTV solely for competitive gaming. This new live-streaming culture has been an important catalyst for eSports, providing ease of use for both broadcasters and viewers alike. It's also a key component of a sportslike industry that requires live coverage. There's a greater opportunity than ever before for producers to monetize off merchandise sales, online streaming/video-on-demand ticket packages, and sponsor advertising and for fans to pay for it. Audio/video equipment and software have both gotten better and cheaper, allowing higher production values at major events for less expense and cheap solutions for small teams and individuals. It is now an expectation that fans should be able to watch multiple streams at once, whether it's a different game entirely, multiple perspectives of the same feed, or supplementary content. Internet quality has gotten better all around, making it easier for cross-country play and lower ping for competitors, especially in first-person shooter and fighting games; for content creators to push out at high quality and quickly; and for consumers and their online gaming expectations. High-quality 1080p video is quite doable now and looks great on a TV. More products than ever before for the PC and even consoles have put competitive gamers to the forefront, with those products being some of the best of their field. This includes product from companies like Steel Series, MadCatz, Razer, and Logitech with new mice, keyboards, controllers, fight sticks, headsets, microphones, mousepads, and other accessories. Razer even has a new tablet coming (not that I think it'll be successful.) Intel, Dell, AMD, Asus, Nvidia, Samsung continue to support eSports, while Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, EA, and Epic compete in a league together for charity.

Fans are in greater number than they've ever been. A typical eSports event will see around a quarter of a million concurrent online viewers and tens of millions of hours of video will be watched by fans from more than 150 countries over the course of one event weekend. More people watched MLG than the 2011 college football CBS Sports live stream of LSU vs. Alabama, who were number one and number two at the timel. Tens of thousands of people come out to play and spectate at pro-gaming events like MLG, the fighting game tournament series EVO, and IGN’s IPL. Official tournament play at non-eSports-centric events like BlizzCon, GamesCom, QuakeCon, and DreamHack draw the biggest seated and standing crowds of anything going on at those events. The GSL (Global StarCraft 2 League) finals at BlizzCon 2011 were easily the number-one highlight and viewing experience of the event, with both the main stage and competition stage areas being completely full with a standing crowd that went as far back to the sponsor booths in the middle of the hall. The cancelation of this year’s BlizzCon 2012 isn't a problem for eSports fans as the Battle.net Worldwide Championship will be taking its place.

There has been more quality coverage of the sport and the associated culture on mainstream gaming media sites, such as GameSpot, Verge, Giant Bomb, Kotaku, G4, Rock Paper Shotgun, IGN, Joystiq, Destructoid, and PC Gamer; less vitriolic and more interested discussion comments; and more of a presence in mainstream media, with ESPN, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist showing some serious interest. Competitive and game-specific community sites, such as TeamLiquid.net, Shoryuken.com, and HLTV.org enjoy traffic and engagement levels that compete favorably with some all-gaming media publications. Fans spend money purchasing HD quality streams and season-ticket packages from all the leagues, merchandise from all the teams, coaching from the pro players, and they actually buy sponsor products (while letting the sponsor and everyone else know too). BarCraft has been created as an entirely community-based movement to have large meet-ups in bars to watch the big events as traditional sports, shattering the shuttered-gamer stereotype. The enormous amount of activity on multiple high-profile non-gaming-specific communities, such as Reddit and SomethingAwful, and gaming communities like NeoGAF and /v/ has fueled record social media numbers for followers, engagement, and views on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

A typical eSports event will see around a quarter of a million concurrent online viewers and tens of millions of hours of video will be watched by fans from more than 150 countries over the course of one event weekend.

What makes competitive gaming and eSports so unique are the passionate gamers that will play one or two specific titles for years of their lives. The same genre, the same developer, the same series, or, specifically, the exact same game and game mode. In the past two to three years, nearly every major competitive gaming franchise in history has had a new game release, some of which are the first in a decade. The two with the biggest impact are StarCraft 2, released 12 years after Brood War, which put real-time strategy games back on top as the definitive worldwide competitive gaming genre, and Street Fighter IV, released nine years after Street Fighter III: Third Strike, which resurrected Capcom's legendary series and the entire fighting genre as a whole. Blizzard and Capcom created both games with multiplayer and competitive-gaming focus and direction, and they delivered with game-of-the-year quality titles. As critical, cynical, and ravenous as these players are, even more so than other gaming communities like role-playing game gamers or first-person shooter players, they overwhelmingly have supported both titles as legitimate sequels that live up to the highest of expectations. Blizzard and StarCraft 2 continue to roll on with Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm primed for later in the year, and Capcom has rekindled its entire fighting game lineup with more games and new franchises, as Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds lead the charge. 

Along with those two games and subsequent releases, several other significant developers and communities have made their own moves. The legendary mod DotA has a stand-alone sequel (Dota 2) being worked on eight years after the original came out, with Valve hiring the lead designer and commanding the project. The game has created an entirely new game genre called MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena; which DotA players refuse to be denominated as), spawning Riot Games' League of Legends, which reportedly now has more players than World of Warcraft, S2 Games' Heroes of Newerth, and Blizzard's own version. Valve is also working on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, 11 years after Counter Strike's original release and seven years after Counter-Strike: Source. Although not considered a true sequel, it's a new game with Valve's aim of unifying the number-one PC FPS community of all time and attempting to replicate the most competitive, balanced, and beloved tactical FPS of all time. Team Fortress 2 going free to play has brought many new players to the competitive space, 11 years after the original Team Fortress.

Capcom's success paved the way for new titles from NetherRealm and Namco, including Mortal Kombat, SoulCalibur V, and the upcoming Street Fighter X Tekken. The console-focused Call of Duty series, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, all broke sales records one after the other as Infinity Ward and Treyarch put out quality games within short time spans and amid Activision turmoil. Epic spent much time on competitive features for Gears of War 3, and gameplay was lauded as the best since the first game. Bungie put out a solid performance with neat features for Halo: Reach, and although the consensus on gameplay is rather split, it has been active making changes. Even id Software put out an updated and balanced version of Quake 3 online for free as Quake Live, and Hi-Rez Studios is creating Tribes: Ascend, the first true Tribes sequel in 10 years.

Many of these titles rely on the support of competitive gamers, providing endless hype before, during, and after release. Many developers' early success and ongoing legacies, including those from Valve, Blizzard, id Software, Epic, Bungie, Infinity Ward, and Capcom, were made from these same gamers during a time when competitive gaming didn't really exist and developers weren't purposely trying to create long-lasting sports. History, knowledge, and experience of eSports this time benefited the game creators, allowing them to develop with high-level competitive gaming as one of the main focal points. Gameplay has been refined to cater to both the professional elite and the casual newcomers without making it too easy or difficult for both. Important features for eSports unrelated to gameplay have also been at the forefront, including quick-finding online play; matchmaking skill services; integration of in-game restricted rule sets/game modes; competitive ladders; spectator modes; cheat protection; replays and demos; and easy capturing, editing, and distribution of gameplay. Even the publishers are involved with both Microsoft and Sony sponsoring large events, jockeying for position as the leading competitive console in 2012. 

I've had three goals in the past few years that I've wanted to fulfill for the betterment of professional gaming. 1) To hunt down, pitch, educate, and appeal to the gaming press at large for more legitimate coverage of events and less content that only seeks to poke fun. 2) I've wanted the superstars and organizations within eSports to become leaders in influence and authority across all social media channels, and the sport as a whole along with it. That includes verified Twitter accounts and trending topics, YouTube pioneers, Facebook fan pages, and everything in between. 3) I've wanted to have the numerous different and segregated eSports, professional gaming, and competitive gaming communities interact with each other, compound exposure by cross-pollination, and unify for common goals, some of which I listed above. I've been in this community for nearly half of my life and have experienced firsthand the highs and many lows that this unpredictable ride has been. I feel confident in saying that each of those goals has been reached, they will continue to thrive in the new year, and it's full-speed ahead from here on out. With a new era upon us, new goals must be set for the future of our culture/community/sport or whatever term it may be called by then. Maybe that should be the first goal!

Discussion

60 comments
Gooshnads
Gooshnads

 @redness19 

About your question to physical training, they obviously do much less than mainstream professional athletes, but KESPA [Korean E-Sports Association] has their players training to keep up an image.

 

They're sadly the corrupt / one of the biggest names in the e-sports industry and they do things for money. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you that I don't know the specifics of their training, but they do put in at least 4-5 hours from what is released.

 

One of the biggest problems is players trying to juggle both training physically and in game, and it is one of the biggest problems people have with kespa [the inhumane treatment of their players]

Gooshnads
Gooshnads

 @kintama88 

 

Then please, state SPECIFICALLY all the requirements of something to be considered a "sport"

 

rezyn8
rezyn8

Great article - eSports is definitely growing in Australia thanks to StarCraft 2. If you are in Melbourne, you should come to BarCraft Melbourne on May 19th and watch the GSL Finals with 400+ people details can be found at facebook.com/siliconsports

darkfox101
darkfox101

So pretty much starcraft 2 happened. E-sports is bigger than ever. Half of gamespot comments are unaware of the sc2 scene and how large it is with comments like "i'd rather play". Compare it more to you playing back yard football then going to watch a game at the bar. Yes starcraft 2 has all this.

synwave
synwave

Excellent article, really well written. I don't think PPV is the proper way but I don't blame MLG for at least trying it. As far as all the kids here misunderstanding or even hating on gaming culture Im a bit surprised considering they have an account on a gaming website and post there. Irony at its best I suppose.

alodude
alodude

Good luck to Slasher. Enlighten these noobs, and get them interested in Starcraft 2.

dubble64ever
dubble64ever

Thumbs down if you like to watch other people play video games. Thumbs up if you would rather play a game yourself.

shaft3205
shaft3205

MLG is awesome. If you are a casual video game player, you owe it to yourself to check out an MLG event. I recommend the upcoming Columbus winter championships. The storylines are amazing... and Starcraft 2 played at the highest level is really a beautiful game

neotheinstein
neotheinstein

i am new to xbox live and i wonder if they have mlg like tournaments for games like halo reach, fifa 12, gow 3 and ssfiv. it would be really great for all the gamers to participate in tournaments like mlg. i would request gamespot and the fans to do something about it. it would be really great to compete and to get some rewards as well. thanks cheers!

KAM10000
KAM10000

@infestedHunter That Nice. This Event is Great.

jollybest1
jollybest1

@nyran125 Counter strike is still the king ,I hope....BF should be there too because it would have been nice to see several teams fighting each other

jollybest1
jollybest1

well good for them for making money from a hobby but I doubt that someone that has to work will ever beat them at a game ... someone that considers gaming as a hobby will never have a chance, probably most of them play games more than 3-5 hours per day...Well nothing against this but to be honest gaming competitions shouldn't be considered sport events but gaming events ....Games are made to relax you but it is pretty nice seeing people wining some money from this

Vrygar777
Vrygar777

I like how everyone on a gaming website complains about competitive play. Some games are interesting to watch, like Starcraft 2 or Halo 2. Others, well, not so much lol. But I admit, the idea doesn't sound very interesting. "Watch this grown man play a video game for hours, such exciting entertainment!"

Vari3ty
Vari3ty

I love sports, and I love videogames. When the two get combined, however, something just doesn't seem to mix right. There's just something about videogames that make them boring to watch... you have to be the one playing them, if you know what I mean.

Nightrain50
Nightrain50

Pathetic, anyone who cares about this. Unless you're the one getting paid, how could anyone find this interesting.

xknight351
xknight351

I have a prediction. Blizzard, Capcom and other game companies should realize how the dynamic of "eSports" is growing and make a concerted effort to turn their games into spectator sports for the average person. It's amazing to watch these pros play Starcraft 2, but it's only amazing -if you already understand Starcraft 2.- I was watching a stream of professional LiquidRet the other day with a friend who has never played SC2, and I had to try to explain to someone how incredible it was to watch the micromanagement of units during a battle. Unfortunately my friend just did not "get it." I don't blame him at all, because he's never actually tried to play SC2. In general with games, the viewing experience is inaccessible to anyone who doesn't understand what's happening. Blizzard & Capcom have already taken steps in this direction by adding Spectators modes and allowing mods which can drastically improve the quality for the viewer. But what if, for example, during a SC2 battle the camera could "zoom in" to certain units, slow time and highlight battles? Or what if during certain battle events, the spectator mode could change and even play a small cutscene? It would appeal to a drastically large audience than it does now where only people who play SC2 understand the blisteringly fast skill that progamers have. I am all for the creation of new markets in gaming, as I think it is good for the gaming industry as a whole.

worlock77
worlock77

@kintama88 No. Sport does not require, per the definition of the word, physical exertion. It can include physical exertion or athletic prowess, but does not require such. The word "sport", in origin, was used in general to refer to any kind of pastime, athletic or not, such as chess or hunting or pankration. In fact "sport" and "game" were once often used interchangeably. For some reason now we've gotten it into our heads that for something to be a sport it requires people running around on a field of play performing feats of athleticism.

redness19
redness19

@FkThisName - Very funny and very true. Don't think I am ragging on video games or even the people who play them too much. I am probably one of those people. I just find it absurd that anyone would compare eSports to any actually sport. Change the name, change the notion that video games could even constitute a sport, and I'd be far less likely to deride it.

FkThisName
FkThisName

Its pretty sad when esports make bowling and darts look like athletic sports.

Caddy
Caddy moderator

Some of these comments are hurting my brain. Nothing would ever grow and develop if it were up to some people who can't see past their own short-sighted nose. Luckily, it's a minority opinion and the e-sport scene is growing rapidly, which pleases me a lot. Even though I only watch Starcraft 2, and none of the other games developing as an e-sport, it's something I want to succeed. It's an industry which can definitely grow to become something huge, which also promotes gaming in general.

It's good to see that GameSpot is working with Slasher to cover this MLG event, and maybe e-sports in general. It's promoting the cause.

djforlife84
djforlife84

Im sorry, but categorizing this as a sport is absolutely ridiculous. bunch of losers no lifers playing video games for a living. I do not care how much money they make, get a real job and a real life ya losers. This is not a sport, its a hobby.

AzatiS
AzatiS

But but.... PC gaming Dying... or NOT!

Jmaster211
Jmaster211

Call of Duty...idk why that's mlg. But starcraft 2 is AMAZING. I've seen some MLG footage, and wow. Those guys are crazy.

Brockbfball
Brockbfball

@TonnFool Because there is developer support and the game is extremely popular. It may not be the best game for competition from a gameplay perspective, but if the developers of the game are willing to shell out money and gear for prizes in addition to the game having a huge backing, the game will undoubtedly be at major tournaments and events.

TonnFool23
TonnFool23

Why does a crappy game like call of duty become a competitive game in tournaments?

kintama88
kintama88

@Gooshnads competition? yes.... sport? nope. for it to be considered a sport, it would require more physical activity than keyboard inputs and mouse clicks.

nyran125
nyran125

call of duty a competitive shooter, shouldnt even be allowed in any competitive environment. Matter of fact anything that has any form of auto-aiming assists shouldnt be allowed in any form of competition. Especially Halo.

InfestedHunter
InfestedHunter

I just want it so when I turn on my TV all I see is people playing video games.

PyscoJuggalo
PyscoJuggalo

In the East this may be Big, but I find World Series of Poker more interesting personally.... Watching someone play some FPS or RTS does not appeal to me personally, rather watch paint dry. Now am I saying I'd never watch eSports? No, maybe if the games were more interesting than a Fighter, FPS or RTS, maybe if they were some new genre yet to be discovered.... and maybe not. But as it is right now, eSports ain't going to draw my interest.

santinegrete
santinegrete

Pay per view? really? that doesn't hell to expand the so called popularity.

FkThisName
FkThisName

pay per view. That is too funny. What kind of ultra loser would pay money to see this.

lumbergoose
lumbergoose

If mlg wants to be mainstream they need find a way to follow there broadcast schedule and not leave "be back soon" signs on the stream for 30 minutes plus (when its not there lunch break). As it is now, you have to commit an entire weekend to see the games you want.

GreySeven
GreySeven

I'm an eAthlete, but I like sunlight too.

Diegocr
Diegocr

Move on! Excellent article.

singhellotaku
singhellotaku

Only pathetic losers like e-sports, mlg cant die soon enough.

RayvinAzn
RayvinAzn

@redness19 I remember back in the day in Quake III/Unreal Tournament you had to memorize timings of power-ups that appeared on the map, memorize the routes to get to those power-ups, etc. I even know of a few players that ran maps blind (from spawn) to ensure their muscle memory and timings were perfect to hit the places they wanted to. This also applies to enemies - know their routes, know all the locations they're likely to take, and you can have a rocket heading their way before they even pop out from behind that corner. You alo had to know exactly how far your cursor would move if you moved your mouse. You have to memorize how long projectile weapons take to reach their target. How many hits to which parts of the body would kill. Quite a bit of work really, and not all of it is fun.

phillkillv2
phillkillv2

I love the fact that you can make money off of a video game that you like playing.

nik0la2
nik0la2

@Gooshnads perhaps, but it's still difficult for people to take professional gaming seriously.

redness19
redness19

@Gooshnads - Care to elaborate on the training requirements, physical limitations and mental capacity that go into eSports? I am not trolling here, it’s just all those things you listed compared to say Hockey, seem like a joke.

Vangaurdius
Vangaurdius

MLG isn't important. Nobody involved in proper e-sports cares about those morons. 95% of the MLG players suck anyways. MLG is to e-sports as high school football is to professional football. Also, the games they consider competitive are idiotic and about as balanced as a man who just had his leg eaten by an alligator while on a tight rope.

Gooshnads
Gooshnads

People who say esports arent real sports doesnt understand what pertains to a sport. The competition, the training requires, the physical limitations, the mental capacity, all of this is needed.

Fiscaldeal
Fiscaldeal

Esports is the same as physical sports in that they are both made up of a number of different games which may appeal to some viewers more than others. I feel that too many people end up watching a match of one genre of video game, such as an FPS, and, if they don't enjoy it, subsequently write off all of esports as boring. That's equivalent to saying that Golf is boring; therefore, Football and Basketball must be boring as well. I urge those who have may have an interest in watching competitive play, but ended up bouncing off of a certain game, to branch out into other genres. I personally don't find watching FPS to be very entertaining, but love watching Starcraft 2; especially since I found some awesome casters.

alenth
alenth

Except that Capcom games are not designed for competitive gameplay, the community makes them competitive, but these games are not designed for this because they are plagued with problems and are designed to reward casuals with a false sense of achievment giving them instant solutions, (X-factor, horrible balance, braindead characters and hit confirms, etc.) that's why you see a lot of drama between veteran players vs casuals, same with COD and WoW arena. A game designed for competitive gameplay has more focus in create high level players and encourage new players to make efforts to be good (SC for example).

RayvinAzn
RayvinAzn

Pro SC2 and SFIV are great fun to watch. Watching the current crop of CoD thumbstick warriors pretending to be pros is boring as hell unfortunately. None of them deserve the title "pro gamer". They're slow, inprecise, and inaccurate and have only a passing understanding of the maps. Watching Zero4 go 12-0 as an opener in the finals at QuakeCon '01 was exhilarating. His powerup control was spot-on, with almost perfect timings. His reads on where his opponent would be were superb. His railgun shots were things of beauty. In modern FPS games their idea of map control is knowing approximately where you and your opponent will spawn, and learning the weapons just means minor recoil adjustments. Of course it's going to be boring to watch. Aside from slightly superior reflexes, all these so-called "pros" are essentially pubstar players with good communication. Give any one of them a year with a mouse & keyboard and throw them into a Quake Live game - they'll rage-quit on the livestream within minutes after they go 0-20.

worlock77
worlock77

No thanks. I spend enough of my finite time playing video games on my own. I'm not going to spend more of my time watching other people play them.

dubel_07
dubel_07

As someone who works in the eSports industry I can tell you that it's not even close to as simple as this has been outlined to be. I spend a good deal of my week networking getting players for tournaments and neglecting sleep and food. It's tough but fun as hell when you see the final product.

mdboomer
mdboomer

I can only watch MLG in small bursts. After 15 minutes its like watching golf.

Epicurus-Reborn
Epicurus-Reborn

i do love me some pro-starcraft 2 :) cant wait to see the expansion.