For a field that hardly existed a decade or two ago, we’ve really seen esports come into their own in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic did esports an unexpected favor, as the sporting league shutdowns and stay at home orders around the world left people scrambling for something to do. Some people took up knitting or making bread to pass the time while they stayed stuck at home or unable to work.
Enterprising esports leagues used the opportunity to benefit off of the remote style of play: you don’t have to be in the same physical location in order to play a video game together, so we’ve seen the pastime really take off since 2020.
Whether it’s professional and collegiate leagues or amateur competitions for games like Overwatch, League of Legends, Madden or Call of Duty, the diversity of the world of video games—with hundreds of different games to choose from, and more coming out every year—means that we could see the field continue to take off in the coming years. For the uninitiated, here’s a look at what makes esports stand out.
Once again, it’s important to note that esports are very much a growing field. While they may seem pretty niche at this point, we’ve seen them take off in recent years, and it’ll be cool to see how they continue to grow. Esports provide a natural gathering point for fans of various video games: if you love Madden, for instance, what better place to further your interest in the game than by watching the best of the best do their thing?
One thing that I want to keep an eye on is the increasing inclusion of esports programs at the Division I level. College kids love sports, and they’ll root for just about anything if it has the name of the school they attend on the back.
Just like college football fans will root for their favorite quarterback once he hits the NFL, I think that the burgeoning collegiate leagues will help introduce more people to the pastime, creating fans for life as their favorite players graduate to the pros.
Another way that the esports fandom will continue to grow is through sports betting. It’s the name of the game these days, with lucrative promotions like deposit match bonus offers bringing in thousands of new bettors each day. Sports wagering platforms are starting to offer betting lines on esports, and the past few years have shown that people will bet on pretty much anything if they’re given the opportunity to do so.
That, in turn, creates renewed interest in the various esports, because people want to be informed on what they’re betting on, bringing in a new generation of fans in an unexpected way.
Esports teams follow a number of different paths. Some, like the collegiate or professional teams I mentioned, are rooted to a specific university or city. The Overwatch League, for instance, has teams in Atlanta, Dallas, and a number of other cities in the United States and around the world, following in the footsteps of traditional sports leagues
Others, like the FaZe Clan in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, take advantage of the detached location that the internet affords, playing many of their tournaments in an exclusively online fashion.
Streaming helps boost the popularity of esports, as fans can hear their players talk trash to their rivals or communicate among teammates as they work toward a common goal, adding a flair of personality that is sometimes lacking in other sports.
With all the various teams and leagues, getting into esports can feel overwhelming at first: I’d recommend picking a game you like to play and watching a competition or two as you get a feel for things.
I’ll end this article on a high note. You can’t get a better live competition opportunity than you’ll find at an esports tournament. Think like an arcade on steroids, with televisions everywhere showing the point of view of various players.
You’ll feel like the director of the CIA in a movie, watching the action unfold from a dozen different screens, experiencing the excitement and intrigue through a bird’s eye view. Say one player is creeping up on another during a Call of Duty match. You’ll experience the thrill of the chase from both sides, the hunter and the hunted, a sporting experience unlike any other. You can stream most esports competitions from the comfort of your own home, but it’s absolutely worth it to make a trip and take in the action in person.
One of the best things about these tournaments is the different levels of professionalism you’ll find. You don’t have to shell out the big bucks to travel to a world championship when there are amateur tournaments springing up all over the country, a cheap and accessible way for people to get their feet wet in the growing industry.