Just 20 years ago video gamers were stereotypically considered to be a fringe of society, mostly adolescent males with limited social lives, often labeled as basement or bedroom dwellers.
Fast-forward two decades and now that playing video games has become so mainstream, the industry itself has become a multi-billion dollar global enterprise. What’s more, compared to the mostly straight-white-male demographic that typically dominated the gaming scene in the past, there is more diversity amongst gamers and the industry itself.
There are more women who identify as gamers than ever before, while statistics for the last couple of years show far more of a gender balance amongst male and female players. Likewise, more gamers come from a broader variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, while rapidly growing numbers openly identify as LGBTQ in recent surveys.
Video games for everyone
Such diversity has not only enhanced the variety of games and broader audiences available; it has taken the industry to a whole new level. Of course, this has also been aided by the rapid technological improvements in the last two decades, with internet and mobile connections getting faster each and every year.
These days, quite literally anyone and everyone can feel more comfortable playing games as a pastime. Whether it’s via their desktop or laptop PC, the latest console or gaming system, and on the move with mobile devices like smartphones or tablets; access to playing games has never been easier or more accessible.
There are now so many genres and sub-genres of video games, it’s almost impossible to name them all here. Suffice it to say that if there’s a particular theme, topic, activity, hobby, or leisure pursuit you’re interested in, there’s a great chance that someone has made a video game about it.
We can emulate all the action and excitement of our favorite sports, drive all manner of vehicles from Formula 1 cars to farmyard tractors, strategically conquer entire worlds or fantasy realms, and even assume entirely different identities by role-playing any kind of character we choose.
We can dive into these games alone, although increasingly, sharing the experience has become the most popular way to enjoy gaming, evolving in ways that we never could have predicted or imagined just a few decades ago.
The massive growth of Esports
Over the last decade or so, an entirely new gaming phenomenon has risen to prominence. While the concept multi-player elements have been a constant feature of video games, back since there were amusement arcades or people marveled at Atari console systems in the 1970’s, the rapid growth of the internet from the 1990’s onwards made competitive gaming possible.
As online elements to popular video games franchises like Counter-Strike, Quake and Warcraft became hugely successful with gamers, so did the desire to compete in tournaments with other players from all around the world. Amongst the first professional tournaments in the late 1990’s were the Professional Gamers League and the Cyberathlete Professional League. Given such names, you don’t need to guess how the term “esports” began to appear.
By the 2000’s and 2010’s, esports (electronic sports) and iGaming (internet gaming) had become established and widely recognized additions to the gaming industry, driven by huge demand and reaching a truly massive global audience. Live online poker tournaments hosted by online casinos were broadcast on TV, while competitive video game leagues and tournaments began featuring prominently on sports channels like ESPN.
The success of merging both esports and iGaming events is due to the popularity and increase of online gambling activity in the states. Over recent years, states across the USA have fought to legalize online gambling, one state in particular proved successful in legalizing online gambling activities. New Jersey have fought long and hard to legalize online gambling in their state, including both online casinos and sports betting. Their fight for legalizing sports betting ended in 2018 when their decision was approved in the US supreme court. The legalization of gambling activities in New Jersey inspired other states to do the same, leading to an increase in activity of online casinos and gambling in the USA.
Following the emergence and instant success of online streaming services like Twitch took hold, providing live feeds and coverage of esports events around the world since 2011, we entered an era in which competitive gaming reached an entirely new stratosphere. League of Legends and Dota 2 were amongst the most popular amongst competitive gamers and fans alike, attracting massive audiences and coverage for every major event.
As gaming developers and sponsors quickly began to realize the huge potential of esports, multi-million dollar prizes were up for grabs at leading international events, often attended by hundreds or even thousands of eager fans at large indoor venues. Some of the most successful gamers even attracted huge followings via streaming services and social networks, making them household names overnight.
The future of Esports and iGaming
According to recent studies and reports, the esports revenues will surpass $1.1 billion by the end of 2020. Likewise, predictions have estimated that an audience of more than 500 million people around the world will be actively following the action. This indicates that esports competitions have quickly become just as popular as “actual” sports competitions.
Indeed, many of the top ranking professional esports competitors in the world have become millionaires, reaching a level of earning potential and celebrity status that was previously considered unimaginable. One professional gamer from Denmark known online as “N0tail” has almost reached $7 million in total earnings, mostly gained from their success playing Dota 2.
Superstars in soccer, basketball and boxing currently ranking amongst the highest paid professionals in their vocations, although as the focus of entertainment shifts and evolves, it’s not hard to envisage the most renowned esports professionals matching or even surpassing their fame and fortune in years to come.
Times have certainly changed and in the truly digital age of the 21st century, there have even been calls esports to be considered actual sports. After featuring as an exhibition event at the 2018 Asian Games, several esports games will become medal events at the 2020 event.
Just imagine the very plausible situation that at future Olympic games, virtual sports could become more popular than many physical sporting events, and you have a perfect conclusion as to just how prominent competitive gaming and esports have become. As yet, we are at the dawn of this digital boom.