Today marks the start of the first ever Overwatch league, and with it, a new chapter of eSports. ESports are on their way to becoming full-fledged franchises similar to the NFL, MLB, and NBA.
Professional sports based on video games, also known as eSports, have been a part of the gaming world for decades. Primarily taking the form of tournaments, eSports have offered different prizes for the best of the best gamers out there.
Ever since the 80s and 90s, video game tournaments have been held for both fun and prizes. The first competitive tournament was held in 1980 by Atari and exclusively featured Space Invaders. Soon after, it became a common trend for companies to hold their own tournaments.
This raised awareness for new games and game companies. Towards the 90s, companies such as Blockbuster and Nintendo began sponsoring major competitive tournaments, even world championships. The most popular tournament to come out of this era was the Smash Brothers centered competitions. Even to this day, Smash Brothers remains a major center of many video game tournaments.
The first instance of team eSports, as we know of them now, was most likely the 1997 Red Annihilation Quake tournament. The winner of the said tournament won a Ferrari. Soon after the tournament, the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) was formed. The CPL was one of the first major gaming leagues ever created. The league further laid the groundwork for modern eSports by holding competitions with huge prizes. Their first tournament had a grand prize of $15,000.
In 2002, the Major League Gaming (MLG) franchise launched. It has since become the largest gaming league and holds tournaments in a variety of games and genres. Some of these tournaments have prizes worth a few hundred thousand dollars.
The newest furthering addition to eSports is the new Overwatch league. This league has been the biggest push towards eSports being more of a full-fledged sports franchise.
What makes this league a huge step for eSports is that it is structured like a professional sports league.
The league features 12 different city-based franchises. Including cities from all over the world. These 12 teams are split into two divisions, the Atlantic Division and the Pacific Division. Matches in the league are scheduled weekly while the regular season lasts. There is even a playoff style tournament at the end of the season which grants the winning team a huge cash prize.
As eSports are becoming more and more identical to professional sports, a question arises. Can the two worlds ever become one?
As far as comparison towards fully fledged professional sports leagues goes, eSports is a ways off from being at the same economic value, though it is certainly approaching a comparison level. On average, when compared to the salaries of players in the top professional sporting leagues in the United States, eSports players tend to make far less.
According to the Sports Interaction, NBA salaries for players average $5.15 million a year, NFL averages $2.4 million, MLB averages $3.2 million, NHL averages $2.4 million a year, and MLS averages $.16 million a year. In comparison, eSports players tend to make a few thousand dollars yearly from their salaries. It is hard to accurately compare eSport salaries to the large sports franchises in America because the eSport world tends to be secretive about such matters. Many eSports franchises have salaries for their players but do not always disclose that information.
There are, however, a few franchises that have disclosed such information.
Riot Games’ League of Legends franchise has its own eSports competition. According to the 2014 handbook for the league, players have a minimum salary of $12,500. The North American League of Legends team Ember has stated that their players have base salaries between $65,000-75,000, with added on bonuses around $25,000.
The newly founded Overwatch league has a base salary for players set at $50,000. Players also have health care plans, retirement plans, and free housing available to them throughout their season. Which again makes this league a huge step for eSports as it establishes employment protocol similar to full sport franchises.
Yet there is a large economic difference between professional eSports player and professional sports players. Even with prize money from gaming tournaments, endorsement deals, and year-end bonuses; the top eSport players yearly earning will not nearly reach the top professional athletes yearly winnings.
According to a 2017 Statista report, the highest paid eSport player of all time was UNiVeRsE, A.K.A Saahil Arora. His total earnings for his entire career was $2,826,896 from 67 tournaments (as of 2017). Which means he averaged about $42,000 a tournament. It seems like a lot, and it is, but it is nothing compared to other top paid athletes.
According to Forbes, Lebron James was the highest-paid American athlete in 2017. The NBA players total salary for the year was $31.2 million, before bonuses and endorsements.
Just in a top athlete’s yearly salary, they make more than the top-earning eSport player’s entire career winnings.
Obviously, there is still a large gap in pay between eSports and professional sports.
To make any business successful you always need customers. As fun as it is to watch professional sports sometimes, they are still businesses.
What makes professional sports such a huge business is the millions of fans who watch them and buy merchandise from them. There is an entire culture around professional sports; even restaurants and bars centered around them. This culture can be seen throughout America and much of the world.
Unfortunately, eSports is not there yet.
For many years there has been a strong stigma around video games and those who play them. Most gamers have experienced this. Sometimes gamers are shunned for spending large quantities of money on video games and products associated with them. Or gamers are looked down upon for spending long hours playing their favorite game. Then there is the popular opinion that video games cause players to exhibit extreme violence.
These societal views of video games are hypocritical when expressed by most Americans and severely hurt eSports.
If a parent spends a few hundred dollars on sporting equipment so their child can play football, then it is commonly seen as a good thing that will grow the child’s abilities. Conversely, if a parent buys a child a new PC for a few hundred dollars, most assume there is not much value that will come of it. If someone watches 12 hours of baseball on TV in one day, then they are seen as relaxing and enjoying what the world has to offer. However, if someone spends 12 hours playing a video game they love, then most view it as lazy and a waste of time.
Overall, the public opinion towards video games has never been in a good state in North America, even in most of the world. They are seen as past time activities that are just for children and hold no real-world value.
This stigma has faded with time yet is still prevalent. The idea that video games cause extreme violence is still held in many Americans minds, despite the fact that no concrete research has ever shown such an effect. This societal view of video games severely inhibits eSports growth. The gaming community is comprised of millions upon millions of members, though it is still overtaken by the population who do not play video games and do not understand the gaming community.
This means that eSports is not seen as a serious franchise. If consumers are looked down upon for buying a product, they are less likely to buy the product. So is the case with eSports. So long as video games continue being seen as they are now, eSports will never grow to the heights of other professional sports empires.
If the eSports world wants to rise to the billion dollar level that professional sports franchises are at, the social views will have to change. The societal view of video games is the largest repellent to eSport growth. However, the community is doing their best to show the general public that video games are a reliable market for jobs.
As the eSport community continues its implementations of yearly salaries, healthcare, retirement plans, city-based teams, and high stakes tournament; then the more and more people will start to see it as a career. By mimicking high profile leagues, eSports is beginning to show the world that they mean business. As long as this progress continues, eSports will continue to grow.
The world’s view on video games is changing, as is the world of video games. Fortunately for gamers everywhere, the change is for the better.Make sure to support the change and tune in for the first season of the Overwatch League.