Incredible as it seems, competitive video gaming has been around for much longer than many of us care to believe, becoming so much more than a hobby or simple pastime. The remarkable world of esports has genuinely boomed over the last few years, making household names out of previously anonymous gamers who excel at the biggest tournaments.
Let’s explore how esports reached such an impressive level of popularity, how key events became trending topics, and the mind-boggling earnings enjoyed by the biggest video gaming stars around right now.
The rapid rise of Esports
The popularity of online gaming has blossomed over the last few decades. This is not only because people can now share gaming experiences and forge new virtual friendships, it’s also an opportunity to compete, which remains one of the oldest pastimes in human existence, regardless of the activity involved.
Competitive video gaming is nothing new. The first Space Invaders Championship held by Atari back in 1980, while tournament-high scores for Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were also featured in the Guinness Book of World Records. By 1990 we had the very first Nintendo World Championships, and with increased internet connectivity and the growing popularity of PC gaming, professional video gaming became a new career for the best players.
With the advent of organizations such as the Cyberathlete Professional League, QuakeCon, and the Professional Gamers League, it’s not hard to see where the term “electronic sports” or “esports” came from. Not only did these professional competitions embrace virtual sport simulations such as Madden for American football or NBA Jam for basketball fanatics, they also featured fantasy games like Warcraft or action shooters like Counter-Strike and Quake.
Indeed, esports have become serious business. They are now one of the biggest sources of revenue for many game developers and publishers, who have taken advantage of the huge surge in the popularity of online gaming, taking things to the next level. Tech and game companies also pump millions of dollars into sponsoring events, while just like real or traditional sporting events, online sportsbooks are now offering odds on the biggest events.
There are now celebrity gamers with legions of followers via Twitch and other streaming platforms, where every minute of their performances can be observed and scrutinized, accompanied by expert commentary. Of course, if you’re betting on the next big esports tournament, make sure you know where it’s safe and legal, given that online wagering isn’t yet permitted in all areas across the United States.
It started as a niche…
Who’d have thought it would come to this! Okay, so the reference to Hot Chocolate there was probably one that older readers will get, playing on the words from one of their biggest hits. Amusingly, younger readers will probably think of Hot Chocolate as a sexy cheat from Grand Theft Auto, rather than the name of a pop group that enjoyed success during the 1970’s and 1980’s, although it does highlight the fact that during those decades, video gaming was very much a niche hobby.
When personal computers and console systems became increasingly popular in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, so did multiplayer gaming. And as video gaming became increasingly more mainstream, the industry evolved and created its very own additional genres and niches. When internet connections became more widely available during the mid to late 1990’s, the online gaming niche started to become trendy.
Following the launch of massively multiplayer online games (MMO’s) such as Ultima Online and EverQuest, the role-playing game (RPG) genre enjoyed instant success with thousands of people simultaneously online, from pretty much all corners of the globe. As technology rapidly improved and connections got much quicker, the online gaming niche continued to expand, embracing numerous other gaming genres and themes.
By the turn of the 21st century, it’s fair to say that online gaming was no longer a niche audience. Broadband home connections were pretty much commonplace, while the boom in mobile communications led to another new horizon for gamers to explore. Fast forward to 2020, we now have games like Fortnite that can be played across multiple platforms and devices.
Now, online gaming has become anything but niche, with literally billions of participants around the whole globe. As the esports phenomenon shows, it’s also a booming sector of the entertainments industry, just like watching sports or going to see the latest blockbuster movie. What’s more, the current generation of esports celebrities are even becoming more famous than movie stars, top sporting athletes, and even chart-topping musicians.
The top Esports earners
According to an article published earlier this year, the highest-earning video gamer in 2019 was a veteran player of Dota 2 hailing from Denmark, known as Johan “N0tail” Sundstein. The consistency of his talent for playing that game alone, including consecutive successes at the 8th and 9th editions of The International esports tournaments, earned Sundstein an impressive $6.9 million in prize earnings.
Other leading earners include Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, the latest celebrity gamer who earned a whopping $3.1 million by dominating the Fortnite World Cup in 2019. Another dominant Dane is Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth in the latest iteration of the Counter-Strike scene, leading his Astralis team to becoming the most successful of all time in 2019, winning his fourth straight Valve Major last year.
Amongst the most popular esports games is League of Legends, published by Riot Games, which still tops the charts as the top core PC game played anywhere around the world. One exceptional player has become more famous than anyone else at LoL tournaments, and that’s 23-year-old Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. Widely considered to be one of the most accomplished and competitive gamers of all time, he too has become a keyboard and mouse millionaire.
Of course, joining such prestigious players takes countless hours and practice, not to mention lightning reactions and the most intimate knowledge of the games they’re playing. It’s not something we’re all capable of doing, however, that doesn’t prevent us from enjoying the action. Just as easily as betting on the next NFL or NBA games, there are now equally expansive markets for wagering on upcoming esports events. That fact alone indicates just how much esports are trending.