Competitive electronic gaming growing worldwide
The concept of professional gaming is a relatively new one. Even in 2011, video games are thought of as mindless leisure activities played by kids and teens. Even with gaming competitions being held since the ’90s, games have never been a real source of income for anyone. Competitive gaming used to be a few dozen guys in an arcade or a competition held by small organizations.
It wasn’t until “StarCraft” was released in 1998, along with Blizzard’s Battle.net service, that competitive gaming reached a new level. Battle.net introduced an integrated “laddering” and tournament system in which players could compete against each other. The popularity of “StarCraft” grew, especially in South Korea where a boom in cyber cafes in the ’90s brought about a large computer gaming culture. These cyber cafés began as a way to pass time and as more people went, more cyber cafes were made to take advantage of the market. “StarCraft” came out around the time of these changes and it quickly became a favorite among the South Koreans. “StarCraft” was a standard game installed on the computers and became wrapped up in the entire business of owning a cyber café. Casual competitions are held inside of the game itself thanks to the Battle.Net system, but eventually players wanted more. Gaming leagues and teams were created and seeing the boom in popularity, TV stations dedicated to broadcasting “StarCraft” matches popped up. The popularity of these tournaments in South Korea grew and in 2000 the first World Cyber Games competition was held in Seoul, South Korea with 174 competitors and a total prize pool of $200,000. Mega popular games such as “Unreal Tournament” and “Age of Empires II” accompanied “StarCraft” in the competition.
Today, many teams have changed, many players have changed and the gaming leagues have changed, but the biggest change is the popularity. In recent years, tournaments have held competitions with crowds as high as 100,000 people. For comparison, the Yankee’s Stadium holds just over 50,000 people. This doesn’t count the people watching on TV and through online streams. Major League Gaming was formed in 2002 in America, and monthly competitions garner over 50,000 online viewers and live attendance over 3,000. Dreamhack competitions in Sweden have grown from a few kids in school to an international competition with crowd attendance over 13,000. These competitions come with the features of a professional sporting event complete with commentators giving play-by-play action and competitive analysis on the game. These commentators are very important for the viewers since many of these viewers do not play the game themselves and the commentators provide important insight on the thought process of the players.
The popularity of computer gaming has given rise to a new form of entertainment in the form of internet streams where players will record themselves playing the game and stream it online. These players are often top-tier players who can give insight and tips on how to play the game better. Popular game streamers such as Sean “Day9” Plott, and Steven “Destiny” Bonnell for “StarCraft 2″ often have more than 4,000 live viewers. These streamers make money through ad revenue. Bonnell has so many viewers that he has quit his job in order to stream full time. Besides streaming, he coaches other people in the game for $100 an hour. This may seem like a lot but for people serious about becoming great at the game, these lessons allow professional players to interact with fans and allow the fans to gain a greater appreciation for the game. Justin.tv, an online streaming site, has become so popular as a destination for gaming streams that they have designated a new specialized site dedicated to gaming streams called Twitch.tv
The title professional gamer is no joke and for some people, gaming is a lucrative job where the best make a lot of money. Lee Young-Ho, aka Flash, earned over $250,000 last year. Teams and players are sponsored by large companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Stride Gum, LG, Razer and Intel. Prize pools have grown from $100,000 to $200,000 for yearly competitions to over $50,000 every month.