Esports: Understanding the Competitive Gaming Phenomenon

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BetMGM Aug 07, 2023, 7:17 AM

Welcome to the virtual battlegrounds of esports, where reflexes, skill and strategy reign supreme. Competitive gaming has evolved into a cultural and economic powerhouse, captivating millions worldwide with official tournaments, major brand sponsorships and millions of dollars in prize money.

What Is Esports?

Whether it’s online poker tournaments or battle royales, the growth of popular esports has transformed competitive gaming from niche entertainment into mainstream spectacle, with stadium events filled to capacity and hundreds of millions of online viewers. 

Professional teams and players are celebrity superstars to passionate fans, training for hours daily for the chance to earn six-figure salaries. But what is esports to the uninitiated? How did it manage to reach mass appeal on par with traditional spectator sports?

By definition, electronic sports games are any video games played competitively for fame and prize money, such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite and Apex Legends, for example. Organized, high-profile tournaments for these electronic sports games (or esports games) are played in front of live crowds and broadcast to streaming platforms such as Twitch and Youtube.

It wasn’t always this way, though. Esports games with mass appeal were rare for decades after the genre’s inception back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. In fact, esports was only popular in a handful of countries up until the 2010s. Popular competitive games could never reach their full potential without several technologies needed for accelerated growth.

The Rise of Competitive Gaming

In the late ‘90s, as the internet became more widespread, online multiplayer fueled the early growth of esports gaming. Top esports at the time, like Quake and StarCraft, gained worldwide popularity quickly, leading to some of the earliest international esports organizations and professional competitions.

The 2000s marked a significant turning point for esports. South Korea played a crucial role, with the rise of StarCraft as a national obsession. Seeing the demand for gaming streams skyrocket, television networks in the country began broadcasting the biggest competitions, bringing gaming to mainstream audiences as a legitimate form of entertainment.

The mobile revolution, combined with the introduction of streaming platforms and online sports betting in the mid-2010s, made it easier to work esports into busy life schedules, leading to greater exposure for the most popular games. Viewers could now watch live matches, follow their favorite players on social media and engage with the wider esports community from anywhere in the world. 

Accessibility, support from mainstream media and abundant potential for entertainment fueled the meteoric growth of esports. Nowadays, the influence of esports is widespread across the gaming industry, whether you’re playing real-time strategy, first-person shooter or online poker tournaments. 

Why Should Esports Be Considered a Sport?

With over 500 million viewers in 2022, esports now boasts the viewership numbers to rival established sports like baseball, basketball and football. Tournaments for top esports games such as League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike have prize pools as high as $300 million, thanks to combinations of crowdfunding, developer investment and sponsorships from gaming and sports brands.

Renowned sports broadcasters like ESPN have invested heavily into esports, NBA and Formula One both have virtual leagues and esports in the casino industry brought electronic betting to the masses. There’s a clear and positive economic impact on the gaming industry, regardless of genre or platform, from combat games on consoles to casino games on tablets. 

Why should esports be considered a sport? No matter the game, esports showcases the skills, tactics and composure of the world’s best gamers. For example, poker and PUBG: Battlegrounds share the same fundamentals when you’re playing for prize money, where talent and ingenuity can lead to climactic moments similar to the goals and touchdowns of conventional sports. 

Like any established sport, most revenue for esports comes from advertising, ticket sales, licensing, sponsorships and merchandising. There must be high demand to see the best players competing for coveted prizes and prominent esports players are celebrities in their own right, with passionate fan bases, six-figure salaries and brand endorsements.

Going Pro

So, how do you get into esports and what does it take to make a career out of esports gaming? Absolutely anyone can download a popular esports game and jump straight into online multiplayer, but they’re going to have a hard time against players with more experience and better gameplay.

Pro esports players dedicate countless hours to honing their skills, completing demanding training regimens and adapting to new strategies. They also need fast reflexes and keen hand-eye coordination. Making tactical decisions quickly and effectively is the hallmark of a good spectator sport; it’s the reason why esports and poker share so many similar characteristics.

Avid fans enjoy betting on their favorite teams to win and when there are millions of dollars on the line, video games become highly competitive arenas where only the best of the best succeed and live to fight another day. That’s the definition of modern-day sports and esports gaming ticks all the boxes needed for nail-biting competition.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.