What is eSports? The Ultimate Guide for Beginners in 2021

what is esports

Esports is a word we can’t escape these days especially if you’re a seasoned fan of video games.

In layman’s terms, eSports means competitive gaming. It’s where a large numbers of people play against each other at a professional level. The platform where gamers meet and compete is called eSports tournaments.

Why do people watch eSports? Well, we have the innate desire for competition and it’s always fun to see our favorite players perform.

To be fair, though, there are many reasons as to why people watch eSports.

It’s the same as asking why some like watching football, basketball, streaming Youtube videos, etc. We all have different hobbies and interests.

History of eSports: When did eSports Start


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Although eSports started to gain momentum in recent years, competitive gaming has been with us for as long as we can remember.

Many of the games that we play even dating back to the retro era belong to this genre. However, if we look back at what’s considered the breakthrough moment of eSports, then competition that took place at Stanford University is probably the one that started it all.

At the 1972 event, a bunch of players were invited to take part in playing a game called Spacewar. As you may suggest, it’s a space combat game. Players were enticed with a free subscription of Rolling Stone magazine if they could win the game.

Since then, people became more and more intrigued with the idea of competing in a match with a massive number of players. The events that followed after further boosted the popularity of competitive gaming.

The Space Invaders event organized by Atari in 1980, for instance, was able to attract more than 10,000 players. This also catapulted video games to new heights.

And today, video games are no longer considered as a niche market. The back-to-back success of consoles and games released since decades ago prove that people have a special place in their hearts for video games.

The advent of eSports only reinforces that impression. There are some other events that may be attributed to the rise of eSports, like Twin Galaxies.

Founded in 1981, this company served to record players’ scores earned in games such as Space Invaders and Donkey Kong.

Places to Watch eSports


The best thing about eSports is the flexibility provided not only to the players, but also to the fans. Some tournaments don’t require players to attend in person. They can sign up and compete from the comfort of their home.

And if you’re a fan who just wants to watch without participating, then you can get eSports coverage on your laptop.

Here are some places to watch eSports:

A. Youtube

As the most popular video streaming platform, most of us know how to use Youtube on PC or mobile.

If you want to watch an eSports tournament and it turns out that the organizer broadcasts it on Youtube, you can watch via the official channel.

Just type in the name of the event and check out the relevant results. Or you can simply browse through the official channel’s history. There could be a livestream page set up already.

If this is your first attempt at watching that kind of event on Youtube, better start with past events.

There are many long-duration videos that provide coverage of eSports leagues on the site.

B. Twitch

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Twitch is a go-to platform for gaming-related content. However, eSports coverage is different from day-to-day playthrough footage that your favorite player broadcasts.

It takes extra effort to find ongoing matches on the platform. The good news is with the new update, it’s easier for anyone to locate live events in Twitch’s vast library.

Twitch has added an eSports directory which archives eSports content in one place. This way, you can keep tabs on the latest competitions and discover new channels.

Just make sure you know when a specific event will take place. For example, if you are eagerly waiting for the upcoming LoL World Championship, mark the date on your calendar, so that you don’t miss that one out.

C. Facebook

Games are probably not the first thing that comes across your mind when hearing the word Facebook.

Yep, Facebook for the most part is a social media platform. It has outlived dozens of competitors that existed around the time it started gaining worldwide recognition.

And if you’re an eSports enthusiast, we’d love to tell you that Facebook has teamed up with organizers to present gaming-related content to users.

With this, you can now enjoy ongoing matches.

They are easily accessible since the events are featured on the organizers’ official pages.

So if you follow an account, you’ll receive an instant notice anytime an event is about to happen.

How Do People Compete in eSports


To get into eSports, the most important thing is to find a team that will take you to a competition.

It doesn’t have to be a prestigious team or anything, but should be skilled enough to progress further because other competitors would field their best rosters as well.

In a tournament, teams must go through the group stage and bracket stage. Knowing that teams can be good in one map and lacking in another, matches are commonly played several times.

A tournament can use one of these formats to decide who can continue to the next round.

image credit: esportstalk.com
  • Best of 1 (Bo1): is when only one game is played between teams. It’s not common that this is picked as a qualification method in the group stage.
  • Best of 2 (Bo2): is when teams are pitted against each other in 2-game matches. In this format, points for draw could be awarded.
  • Best of 3 (Bo3): is when teams are put in head-to-head competition up to 3 sets. The team that wins twice will be decided as the winner. The third game is not needed when one team wins two games in a row.
  • Best of 5 (Bo5): is when teams play each other in a 5-set match. Just like other formats with multiple games, the match can be stopped before reaching the fifth set if one team earns 3 wins before the other.

The Biggest Games in eSports


Prize money is a good way to measure a game’s popularity. Higher prize money indicates that fans and sponsors alike have tremendous support for the game.

Sponsors won’t hesitate to pay top dollars to advertise in games that can bring in impressive viewership numbers.

But, at the same time, a game is nothing without the fans. So for a game to reach that level of popularity, both of these elements need to come together in synergy.

Here are some games are be considered huge in the eSports scene.

1. Dota 2

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Total awarded prize money = $228,064,706.51

Unlike LoL which becomes a phenomenon in Asian regions, the top earners of Dota 2 are not concentrated in the regions.

There are winners coming from different parts of the world, like France, China, and the United States.

Dota 2 is a league of its own when it comes to prize payouts.

The total amount awarded to players is more than double of that taking the second place.

2. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Total awarded prize money = $103,278,035.58

Often abbreviated as CS:GO, this FPS game has maintained success throughout the years.

Aside from having a large player base, the constant updates also play a part in keeping fans excited.

Not just in popularity, but this game also does exceptionally well in prize payouts.

As you can see, Counter Strike nabs the second-place spot in this list, which shows how lucrative the game is still.

There are many events that contribute to those numbers, such as the WESG, ELeague, and ESL Pro League.

3. Fortnite

Total awarded prize money = $99,355,172.91

Seeing Fortnite on this list isn’t unexpected since it can catch up with other top titles in terms of popularity and viewership.

Like when it broke the concurrent player count of 12.3 million, the news really made the rounds on the internet.

In terms of prizes, this game also doesn’t lag far behind.

It may not take the first spot, but there are many titles played in eSports tournaments, so making it to the top 3 is still a major achievement.

4. League of Legends

Total awarded prize money = $81,500,756.99

Speaking of MOBA games, when we narrow it down to only those that have found great success in eSports, then League of Legends and Dota 2 are the answer.

LoL has been around for over a decade, has paid out more than $81 million to players. Interestingly, South Korea is the main market for it right now as evidenced by the top earners disproportionately coming from the country.

Faker, who is one of the bona fide talents in eSports, was also born and raised there.

And that was just 4 of the many titles that make up the eSports industry.

For a more comprehensive list of games with the best prize payouts so far, you can click the link.

How Do Teams Make Money in eSports


A. Prize money

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When an organization decides to send its roster to a tournament, the goal is not to just take part in the game, but to bring home victory and earn some of the prize money.

That’s why professional players are trained hard.

Depending on the scale of the tournament, a team can get thousands to millions by securing a win.

For those unaware, ‘prize pool’ which is often used to describe the amount of money awarded to winners actually refers to the total amount.

For example, when The International paid out over $34 million, that sum was shared among players.

Of course, the first winner earned a hefty chunk of the figure ($15,607,638) because it showed the best performance throughout the game.

The second-place winner got $4,459,325, and less for the lower-tier winners.

B. Merchandise sales

Merchandise is another potential revenue stream for an eSports team. Fans would love to be a part of their team’s growth by purchasing merchandise provided.

This could be a significant source of income if the team has a big fanbase or if the players in the team are well-known figures. Merchandise comes in many forms, like jerseys, hoodies, mugs, pins, and collectibles.

To bring in more money, companies often sell merchandise for a limited period of time.

The idea is to provide a small number of goods to a large number of devoted fans. Even if the prices are on the higher side, they will still sell out due to supply and demand.

C. Sponsorships

Sponsorships account for at least 40% of eSports’ total revenue. That says a lot about the level of support it has for the industry.

Sponsors don’t randomly decide to tap into this growing market. They do it because they know that eSports has yet to reach its apex.

The viewership numbers are stellar and the player bases spread across titles are also huge. That makes both endemic and non-endemic brands feel tempted to advertise through this platform.

For endemic brands specifically, the impact on sales is obvious. It makes sense because the products they create are closely linked to eSports.

Computer hardware and peripherals are some of the examples. These are items that not only pro players, but also regular gamers use. Successful sponsorships benefit both parties.

For teams, these deals help them cover operational costs.

For companies, they provide an opportunity to market products and services to the massive eSports audience.

eSports vs Traditional Sports


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Is eSports similar to traditional sports?

There are areas where they overlap, but there are differences as well.

Traditional sports tend to use a lot of physical movement. eSports, on the other hand, doesn’t focus on physical prowess.

While you use your hands heavily, that’s nothing compared to the amount of energy exerted when competing in a sports match.

Another difference is sports require all participants to be in one location before a match is started.

eSports is kind of similar in this regard, LAN tournaments are a perfect example for that. The thing is it’s not an obligation.

An eSports event can still be organized even when players can’t attend in person. As long as there’s an internet connection, the tournament can still take place.

Now, let’s discuss the similarities.

As with traditional sports, you can also find teams and professional players in eSports. These people are trained professionally and handed out a contract that outlines responsibilities and other details like salary and bonuses.

Another similarity is players in eSports are focused on one game only.

This is comparable to how athletes pick one sport to compete in, like hockey, football, tennis, basketball, etc.

How Do Organizers Generate Revenue


Some organizers of eSports events are huge enough that they don’t need help from any party.

Valve as the organizer of The International, for instance, is a multi-billion dollar company, so it has no problem hosting an event as big as the TI.

On top of that, this competition is known for its staggering prizes, which make it even more impressive.

Well, not every tournament is on this level. Smaller ones may still need funding to launch.

And if this is what you’re curious about, then there are several options available.

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The first common option is crowdfunding. As we know, this way of funding a project involves collective efforts from people who care or want the project to materialize.

So when a party has a plan to organize a competition yet they’re struggling with budget, they can decide to raise money by setting up a crowdfunding page.

The perks of crowdfunding is you can spread out the word, which may lead to more people voicing their support and donating for the project.

Another way to generate money is through sponsorships.

Sponsorships will never cease to exist as long as they benefit those involved. Basically, if you can offer a sponsor some benefits in exchange for the money provided, a deal can be done between you and the sponsor.

In most cases, sponsors usually ask their logos to be used as product placement, so that the eSports fans would notice them. Compared to sponsored tournaments, crowd-funded ones typically offer smaller prize polls.

The good news is that it doesn’t come at the expense of the community’s mission.

When an event is organized this way, the way the game progresses is totally decided by the community, unlike a sponsored event which is controlled by the party that has a hand in funding it.

The Future of eSports


It’s hard to say for sure what the future holds for eSports.

While we can make predictions, we won’t know the outcome until a few years later. There’s no denying that the industry is blooming right now. Some can even say that it hasn’t reached its peak.

However, even the biggest thing can go spiraling down and fade away when people stop caring.

Well, that might never happen to eSports.

People are too hooked with games to make them lose interest suddenly like that.

Back to the question, what will the future of eSports be like? We’ll outline some possible scenarios:

A. Mobile eSports will be a thing

When it comes to eSports, most of us would picture a stadium with a bunch of computers connected to each other and fans watching from the bleachers.

But since mobile gaming is thriving right now, it is possible that eSports leagues will be conducted on this platform someday.

As we know, many people play games strictly on mobile, which means they can be a new audience for organizers.

That being said, what may hamper the realization is connection.

It takes a stable and speedy connection for an eSports event to be carried out successfully.

B. State-sponsored training programs

image credit: esportsedition.com

If eSports continues on the trajectory it’s currently on, then it may come to the point where countries start taking it seriously because it’s considered one of the highest honors a country can earn.

Assuming that’s what’s gonna happen, then countries may develop sponsored training programs to help find new talents and send them to international competitions.

As of today, many eSports teams aren’t funded by the government.

They fund themselves through methods that have been mentioned earlier. Besides crowdfunding, many raise capital to cover costs by securing endorsement deals.

Hence, that would be great if the government intervenes because it will help eSports command greater respect in the international arena.

C. Higher competition between livestream platforms

eSports is likely to spawn many famous names in the future.

That’s not to say that there are no major players in the industry right now because there are some obviously.

What we’re trying to say is the growing popularity of eSports can directly impact the livestreaming scene.

As we know, some gamers aren’t just focused on training. They also set up accounts on platforms like Twitch to broadcast gaming content.

As of today, there are few major players in this niche.

If in the future pro players are getting more interested in making it another revenue stream, we can expect an influx of similar platforms.

This will make competition even fiercer because the new services would try to give the existing ones a run for their money.

Final Thoughts


As eSports continues to grow in popularity and money, more people will join in and be part of its development.

eSports is at a stage where the hype surrounding it feels huge. We can’t say it as inferior to traditional sports because in many aspects, they can be compared.

eSports has found its way to mainstream culture and now, it’s about time until it explodes even more.

Will it overtake traditional sports, though?

It’s too soon to tell. Besides, not everything is a competition. Both can coexist due to the different audiences.

One can like gaming, but doesn’t soccer, or vice versa. And it’s definitely not a problem to love both equally.

By the way, eSports is on track to top $1 billion in revenue in 2020. That’s how big the industry is. It makes sense that companies don’t want to be left behind in the race to capture the new market.

If you have a slight interest in eSports or want to jump onboard, finishing this article is a good start.

This way, you can decide whether you’re going to be a player, a streamer, or someone behind the scene.

Most importantly, you’ll no longer ask, ‘what is eSports’? since we’ve covered a lot in this article.

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