Esports have gained a considerable amount of popularity in the past decade and a half, beginning with YouTube streamers like Pewdiepie and later morphing into platforms like Twitch, where streamers like Ninja brought a newfound level of fame to the world of professional online gaming playing games like Fortnite: Battle Royale.
Games We Love
The best thing about esports is that there’s something for just about everyone, provided you’re a video game fan. If you like first person shooters, there are Call of Duty leagues to stream; if you like shooters that require more tactical and strategic ability, you have Counter-Strike: Global-Offensive and Overwatch; if you like sports, there are leagues for 2K and Madden, and there are also arena based games like League of Legends.
Esports share many similar themes with traditional sports, like the need for practice, excellent hand-eye coordination, and the heated fan bases and passionate debates that they create. In many ways, though, it’s the ways that esports differ that makes them great, and today I’ll do a deep dive into what makes this new medium of competition stand out.
Looking at the Fans
I’ve already mentioned these themes, and you’re going to hear me talk about this a lot, because diversity is one of the best things about esports. Part of what makes sports like football, basketball and baseball so popular in the United States today is the robust pipelines from youth sports to the pros. Kids get involved in playing Little League, Pop Warner or AAU Basketball from a young age, learning to love the various sports because they’re playing them. Even if they don’t have a future as collegiate or professional athletes, there’s a good chance that those sports have earned a fan for life: there’s a reason why pro sports leagues invest heavily in their youth sports counterparts.
In much the same way, games like Fortnite and Minecraft can appeal to young kids with the colorful graphics and cartoonish style, even though adults love to play the game too. By catering to younger demographics, though, these video games (and any respective esports leagues that derive from them) are doing much the same thing as traditional sports.
Streamers like Ninja gained popularity because they broadcast their games in a family friendly style, refraining from swearing and using pop culture languages and references that kids would understand in the hopes of creating a wholesome atmosphere. Of course, for every Ninja there are dozens of streamers who cater to older teens and adults, so once again, there’s something for everyone.
When you’re trying to build a fanbase, appealing to as many people as possible is an excellent business model to take, and the wide variety of video games and esports leagues make them perfectly suited for that strategy.
Another thing that will help esports fanbases grow in the coming years is their increased adoption by sports betting platforms. People will bet on anything if they’re given the opportunity to do so, and that’s how it is with esports, where plenty of betting apps cater to the growing pastime.
In previous years, some traditional sports fans have derided esports for not requiring the same level of athletic ability that football or basketball does, but providing betting lines is an excellent way to meet in the middle and get those who were previously opposed to esports to widen their horizons a little bit, exploring new passions in the hopes of winning big.
Teams to Watch
Just like the types of video games offered can vary quite a bit when compared to traditional sports, esports leagues follow a number of different formats. Many use a detached style, with streamers taking advantage of the remote format to play from the comfort of their own homes.
Here in the United States, though, many leagues are trying to copy the format of traditional sports leagues, with teams located in specific cities. The Overwatch League, for instance, has teams in Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Boston, and a handful of other cities in the US and across the world, although it could be going through some changes as Blizzard weighs what to do with Overwatch 2 and other new developments with the franchise.
Another burgeoning arena for esports is in college athletics, with many Division I programs starting to offer scholarships or intramural esports teams. It’s still in its infancy, like the rest of the genre, but if your alma mater or a city you have a connection to has an esports team for a video game you like, it’s worth keeping an eye on.
That’ll help you get your feet wet in the world of esports as they continue to expand, and it’s a much easier jumping off point for the brain of an American sports fan than dealing with sorting through thousands of twitch streams on the fly.