Take a look at the picture above, shot at the Seattle final of game developer/publisher Valve's International 2013 Dota 2 Championship. The audience size pictured is impressive enough, but wait until you hear this: Over one million people live-streamed the tournament, too. The winners, a professional Swedish team called The Alliance, took home $1,437,190. Hardly chump change, especially for doing something many of us do already: Playing video games.
By now, you may be wondering how to get a bit of Defence of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2) action (and prize money) yourself. How hard can e-sports be?
You'll have to sacrifice a few things to get to the top. Your job for starters, as this is the competitors' full-time jobs. In order to improve reflexes and react to situations faster than their opponents, these players practice for 8-10 hours a day, every day. That just begs the question that if playing games was your full-time job, then what exactly would you do for fun? Go outside? Talk to people? Balls to that. Besides, if you play games for a living, the best you can hope for is that people don't immediately respond with "Ha, pull the other one. But really, what do you do?"
Riot Games, the developers of League of Legends (LoL), recently announced that tickets were on sale for the season three League of Legends championship finals in Los Angeles. The tickets sold out in 20 minutes. They continued to release a second batch, which went even faster, in just 5 minutes. That's 11,000 tickets sold at $40 - $100 each in less time than it takes to actually finish a match in the game.
MOBA (mobile online battle arena) games such as Dota 2 and LoL have the most impressive stats behind them, with a combined registered user count of well over a hundred million, but they aren't the only e-sport game. Technically, any game that has any sort of competitive element to it can potentially have an e-sport community form around it. Street Fighter was one of the earliest competitive franchises and still has a strong presence on the e-sports scene. Other notable games include shooters such Counter-Strike, Halo and Call of Duty, along with region-specific games such FIFA and Dance Dance Revolution.
If the last Olympics taught us three things it's that Usain Bolt is more machine than man; that Britain wasn't awful at hosting hundreds of thousands of people despite what we all feared, and people want to watch other people pushing themselves to the limit competitively.
If any country exemplifies what could be in store for the future, it's South Korea. It could be argued that the national sport of South Korea is Starcraft 2, a strategy game by Blizzard Entertainment. There are no less than two television channels dedicated to broadcasting professional Starcraft matches. Just think about that for a second. Two television channels showing nothing but matches of a single game. I'd gladly swap some of our endless Friends, The Big Bang Theory or Peep Show repeats for a few glimpses of their competitive gaming.
The west hasn't come quite that far (yet), but what we do have is Twitch. Twitch.tv is a URL you better get used to, as both Sony and Mircosoft have (or will have) Twitch integrated into their respective next-gen consoles. This will make it a lot easier to stream matches of console games across the internet, opening up to a wider audience than just PC gamers.
It's hard to say exactly what the future holds for e-sports and whether it's just another fad that will die down once something else replaces it. Yet maybe, just maybe, we will all one day support e-teams in the same way you may support a football or rugby team, tuning in to Sky Sports News to watch Jeff Stelling and co. tell us how Team Dignitas just totally pwned those noobs in Evil Geniuses. Like football, the only sensible way for us to engage with it (if we can't actually quit our jobs and compete ourselves) is by watching middle-aged men get overly-excited on a Saturday afternoon.
And then watch some e-sports highlights when that's over.