Let’s Watch the Game Online: A Look into the eSport Industry

Ever heard of League of Legends or Overwatch? If not, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the multimillion-dollar eSports industry whose revenues are projected to reach nearly $1.5 billion by 2020. For those that are unfamiliar with eSports, the industry is competitive video gaming at a professional level; the premise behind much of what the industry produces and streams is to have two teams competing against one another in front of a live audience, similar to traditional sporting events. The biggest difference, however, is that with eSports, everything is virtual. Two teams, despite being geographically central to one another, compete online and communicate through the Internet over microphones.  

How do these competitions work? In League of Legends, one of the most popular games currently in the eSport industry, “champions” of each team have unique abilities, strengths, and weaknesses that distinguish them from their competition. They use these skills to kill opposing enemy champions in an effort to siege the enemy’s base and destroy their nexus in order to win the game. Similar to more traditional sports, players on the same team must work together to develop a strategy, executing both offensive and defensive plays in order to win. Players compete for cash, other prizes, or simply the pride of winning on platforms such as Twitch that allow live audiences to stream the competitions remotely on their computers and smartphones. International competitions are the largest platform for eSports competition, with available incentives as large as sponsorship deals from companies such as Coca-Cola, Comcast, and Redbull. In fact, the League of Legends World Final last year raked in a greater viewership that the North American Baseball World Series Final.

The percentage of teens that play video games reached 72% in 2015. In 2017, over 335 million people engaged in eSports by either playing or watching. Percentage-wise, this industry has witnessed steady increasing growth rates of 19% in recent years, and these numbers aren’t expected to slow anytime soon. The predicted revenue for eSports in 2018 is $905 million, which is a 38% increase from 2017’s reported revenue of $655 million.

The competition within the eSports industry is not just at the professional level: it has now penetrated the amateur level as well. One of the most recent profound advances for the eSports industry is its partnership with NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations). The NFHS currently drafts rules and codes of conduct for traditional high school sport competitions, just like for football and track.

Avid gamer Delane Parnell is bringing an eSports league to high schools across America with the hope that he can engage other kids in a pastime of his that kept him out of trouble as a child. Parnell’s company, PlayVS, has partnered with NFHS to build an infrastructure for the technology-based competition that has swept the globe. The idea behind the company is to give teen gamers a platform to demonstrate their talent and compete in doing what they love for just $16/year. Players will be able to form teams at their respective high schools and compete against other schools, ultimately reaching state and regional championships, just as real sports teams do. The website handles all of the coordination required to kickstart the program: from scheduling and league organization to real-time statistics and leaderboards.

Parnell has explained his drive to create a platform for eSports: “Since there are more high school gamers than athletes, it's about time we foster this pastime in an educational setting.” Spreading the technology to school computers would provide an outlet for students who don’t have access to computers at home, perhaps engaging those students who find themselves dissuaded by traditional high school sports. There is some concern, however, around the correlation between video games and increased violence rates; these statistics have contributed to hesitant support for the advancement in eSports in light of recent events. Until the program is officially implemented, gamers like Delane Parnell hope to continue to profit from the continuation of sponsorships and investments flowing into the industry.