The development of video games has closely paralleled the development of computers and the internet. As new technology emerges and becomes more sophisticated, so does the entertainment value of e-Sports.
The e-Sports Phenomenon
The logic behind e-Sports is simple. If millions of people are willing to watch competitive sports – from football to poker to gold – why wouldn't viewers flock to gaming competition? A well-made game incites skillful play, competitive depth and thoughtful analysis.
While games such as Halo: Reach and Call of Duty: Black Ops and World of Warcraft Arena have large followings, Starcraft II is emerging as the seminal face of spectator e-sports. Starcraft II was released to much anticipation after nearly a decade of development in July 2010. It quickly became the fastest selling strategy game of all time and the most pirated item in internet history, with 15.77 petabytes distributed through torrent channels.
Whereas other games rely on a first person perspective, in Starcraft the commentators have observer status, which allows them to view the entire game map in third-person. The stunning graphics and interesting units, along with delicious special effects, make it an engrossing experience. The strategy element provides ample room for discussion, both among commentators and spectators.
Gaming jargon is employed and respect for player skills is easily analogous to professional sports such as baseball and basketball. Home based commentators such as “HD Starcraft,” “Husky” and “Day” have millions of views online in a variety of formats including YouTube, streaming, and internet television networks. Professional and amateur players utilize streaming sites such as Justin.tv, livestream, and ustream to attract thousands of fans while simply playing practice matches. Featured streams on sites such as TeamLiquiddraw tens of thousands of viewers every hour. Tournaments and leagues also provide live streams and purchasable Videos on Demand (VoDs).
Straight Outta Korea
Korea is seen as the mecca of e-Sports, especially for Starcraft II and its predecessor Starcraft: Brood War. The first decade of the new millennium saw e-Sports grow from a hobby to a national pastime in Korea. Professionals, known by their usernames such as OGsMC and Slayers_BoxeR, have made a career of gaming through in-stream advertisements, coaching, tournament prize money, and sponsorships. While several 'foreign' players were competitive, including North American players LiquidHuK and EGIdrA, they moved to Korea to be closer to the core of the scene.
However, with the new decade and the launch of Starcraft II, e-Sports has taken a hold of North America. Tournaments such as the Major League Gaming (MLG) series and the North American Star League (NASL) have filled large convention center venues. Millions more – 22.5 million to be exact at MLG Columbus – tuned in to watch the action online. Even Korean players, used to being treated as celebrities at home, have expressed admiration for the enthusiasm of American crowds. Korean player Lee "PuMa" Ho Joon recently broke down barriers by leaving established Korean team TSL to join the American-based team Evil Geniuses (EG). Furthermore, the GSL – Korea's premier e-Sports league – has made a deal with game developer Blizzard Entertainment (now a subsidiary of Activision) to host the grand finals of their tournament not in Korea, but at the annual BlizzCon event in Anaheim, California. The American fan base has been receptive and ever-growing in response to the hype.
As the e-Sports industry grows, both as a culture and spectator event, there are many opportunities to capitalize on the business. One trend that has risen with tremendous success is affectionately known as BarCraft. BarCraft began as an experiment at the Chao Bistro in Seattle. The owners expected their Wednesday and Sunday broadcasts of regular season NASL matches to draw in a few die-hard gamers, but the event exploded when more than 100 patrons showed up the first night. You can read the full story of Chao Bistro here.
Other restaurants and bars took a hint and began offering similar programing. The Mad Dog in the Fog, a San Francisco bar, had over 200 people show up to watch the finals and third-place match of the NASL. Excitement ran so high during the event that the spectators couldn’t hear the commentators over the cheering. Starcraft themed appetizers and drinks sold like hotcakes.
Restaurants and bars have successfully taken off coast-to-coast, from its origins in Seattle and San Francisco to Tampa Bay and Boston. A reddit thread pulls together postings about BarCraft. While some are announcements of events, many more are hungry spectators wondering when watching e-Sports in public will become a reality in their area.
Photo credit: Blizzard Entertainment and FilmPopper.com.