What is esports? There’s a lot of people out there who won’t know the answer but the competitive world of esports has become one of the biggest phenomenon in modern gaming.
Players gather around the world to test their skills against each other in thrilling tournaments for life changing amounts of money, and this summer the whole world will be watching as esports takes to the stage at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
The inaugural championship will serve as arguably the grandest platform for competitive gaming. The Commonwealth Games have clearly recognised the potential esports holds and its appeal to younger audiences. Data suggests that 32% of 16-24 year olds are more likely to watch an esports tournament, compared to 31% who would prefer to watch traditional sports tournaments.
This is a moment of validation for esports and could be the first steps to bigger and better things.
Greatness from small beginnings
Esports’ meteoric rise in popularity is closely associated with the popular streaming platform Twitch but its roots go back decades.
In 1972, Stanford University held the first ever video game competition. Five students competed against each other in Space Wars, the first commercially available arcade game which paved the way for Space Invaders.
The grand prize was a years subscription to Rolling Stone magazine, a far cry from the vast amount of money that players compete for today.
Popular Esports title Rocket League will be offering a staggering $300,000 dollars to the winning team at its Spring Major Championship series this year on June 29th.
The competitive nature of video games was later established in the 1980s with over 10,000 people attempting to set a record score for Space Invaders.
Twin Galaxies was founded in 1982 to record high scores in video games and publish results to the Guinness World Records.
The introduction of fighting games and first person shooter games in the 90s firmly established players competitive streaks resulting in Nintendo holding a championship across 29 US cities.
Esports continued growth would last well into the 2000s with televised events in the UK, South Korea, Germany and France, but it was the emergence of Twitch in 2011 that set the stage for what Esports is today.
Twitch changes the game
Twitch was introduced exclusively for the purposes of streaming competitive multiplayer games. From its inception Twitch saw 3.2 million unique visitors per month, with that number growing to 20 million by the end of the year.
Games journalist Andrew Thorton spoke to Clyde Insider and highlighted Twitch’s appeal to gamers.
“Video games are a 100 billion dollar industry, almost everyone plays some form of game. There’s a huge potential audience that didn’t need to convince traditional broadcasters to embrace them, they could directly connect with the content,” says Andrew.
Amazon’s acquisition of Twitch in 2014 and online multiplayer games like League of Legends propelled the streaming platform to even further heights and resulted in community generated prize pools for tournaments.
Twitch has had a massive impact in Esports growth and popularity, an average of 2.84 million viewers were recorded in 2021 with a total of 18.6 billion hours of content viewed in 2020.
What’s the appeal of esports?
“In a lot of ways I don’t love the comparison between sports and Esports, but in their core appeal I think it’s pretty fundamentally the same.” argues Thorton “There’s something pretty incredible about watching people who are the very best at anything. Beyond that, competition is inherently fun.”
There will be many traditionalists who are resistant to Thorton’s point of view but the appeal of Esports exists far beyond its competitive nature, many are benefiting from Esports socially and educationally.
Sander Somers, a committee member of Glasgow University’s Esports Society, better known as Glasgow Grizzlies, highlighted the social benefits “It’s like football, but it’s so unlike football, it doesn’t require you to get some mates together or join a club, you can just find some friends hop online and then play some games together,” says Sander.
Paul Wagenaar, a fellow committee member from Glasgow Grizzlies, added the importance of the society during his time at university describing it as “relevant and significant” to his academic life.
Esports in scotland
Glasgow Clyde College is currently offering a Computing and Esports course which awards candidates with a BTEC (Business Technology and Eucation Council) qualification in Esports.
The course also provides students with skills such as game development, marketing, branding and streaming to prepare them for a variety of career paths.
The college is also home to The Clyde Hotshots who put on an impressive display during the 2020 British Esports Championship where they went all the way to the finals.
The North East is also gathering a reputation as a hot spot for esports in Scotland. Dundee’s state of the art space-age-building is designed to be the one of the world’s leading digital and online gaming hubs, bringing with it jobs, a boost in tourism and local education facilities.
Northern Lights Arena Europe is being developed in collaboration with Abertay University and Dundee and Angus College to build on their gaming curriculum and is set to open in 2025.
The future of esports
The Commonwealth Games is set to propel Esports to new heights and anticipation is building for the months ahead as fans, players and coaches come together to represent their community on a global stage.
For many this is an opportunity for Esports to earn the respect its long been denied while opening up new opportunities to young people across the world.
Mark McCready, Scottish liaison officer for The British Esports Federation spoke to Clyde Insider to emphasise the opportunities Esports offers and what he hopes young people will take away from the pilot scheme: “We’re starting to really understand the benefits of enabling people in different ways. They’re benefiting from communication skills, leadership, teamwork. It also spans into other elements of the Esports sector itself within the games industry. Game development and game design is a very mainstream avenue for a career, but there’s so much more to broadcasting and production, all these Esports events have fantastic world class production value. It’s a fantastic opportunity for young people to explore a different concept to what’s traditionally run in the Commonwealth Games.”