What is eSports? History, Top Teams, Revenues and Risks

Esports, also known as eSports, e-Sports, egames, or electronic sports is organized competitive video gaming. It primarily involves teams competing against each other in tournaments for a cash prize. Functionally, it’s the same as traditional sports. Top-level athletes are constantly vying for the top spots in their sport, or game, of choice.

History of Esports

eSports is a modern day gold rush.

Beginning in the 1990s, gaming went from a casual hobby, to an organized professional sport 1 1. Medium: The History and Evolution of Esports × . Today competitive professional gaming, also known as eSports, is a soon-to-be $1 billion dollar industry 2 2. Forbes: Esports To Grow Substantially And Near Billion-Dollar Revenues In 2018 × , championships are watched live by tens of millions of people 3 3. Verge: 'League of Legends' eSports finals watched by 32 million people × , and their potential Olympic debut is on the horizon 4 4. Variety: Professional Competitive Gaming on the Rise, Overwatch Shows Olympic Potential × .

With significant growth year-after-year, the eSports industry is a modern day gold rush. Major media networks ESPN, TBS, SyFy, and Telemundo all broadcast esports events 5 5. Variety: Professional Competitive Gaming on the Rise, Overwatch Shows Olympic Potential × , traditional sport leagues like the NHL and the NBA have launched tournaments and leagues, and owners of NBA and NFL teams have added ownership stakes in esports teams 6 6. Variety: Professional Competitive Gaming on the Rise, Overwatch Shows Olympic Potential × .

In the U.S., over 600 colleges and universities have added varsity esports teams and/or scholarships for esports 7 7. ESPN: List of varsity esports programs spans North America × , and this year PlayVS announced a partnership to bring esports to 19,500 high schools 8 8. Venture-Backed Startup Targets High School Esports Infrastructure, Eyes NCAA × . The numbers clearly show, eSports is here to stay.

Why is eSports so Popular?

Gamers love competition. They want to be the best. From 1972 when the winner of the first eSports event received a yearlong subscription to Rolling Stone magazine, to present day where prize pools include up to tens of millions of dollars 9 9. E-Sports Earnings × , winning is at the core of what playing video games is all about.

eSports is also accessible. To play a traditional sport you may have to organize people into the same physical location, whereas with gaming you can play with people from all around the world instantly with an internet connection from the comfort of your own home.

Esports Viewership: Streaming

Streaming—where you can watch other people (including professional gamers) play on websites like Twitch, is another reason eSports is popular. In 2017, Twitch (owned by Amazon) received 15 million daily visitors, with 355 billion (yes billion) minutes watched.

Gaming culture today is as much about playing games as it is about watching other people play. Our own internal surveys reveal the average gaming addict plays an average of 25 hours per week, while spending 25 hours per week in other internet activities—watching streams.

Esports Careers: Going Pro

Esports sells the dream of going pro. With 83% of teenage girls and 95% of teenage boys playing video games regularly, what could be more exciting than earning your living as a pro gamer, especially compared to traditional careers like being an accountant, lawyer, or sales associate—no offense to people working in those professions. The competition for eSports is fierce, with hundreds of millions of gamers competing for hundreds of spots.

So what is life really like as a pro gamer? Watch these gaming and esports documentaries.

Fortnite: World Cup

In the 2019 Fortnite: World Cup, one teenager walked away with $3 million in prize money. On the surface, this might sound amazing. However, there were over 40 million competitors for that grand prize and only 100 of them walked away with at least $50,000, so overall your chance of winning money in Fortnite is extremely low.

What Are the Biggest Esports?

Like we mentioned at the start, the world of eSports is primarily dominated by team-based games. While some single player tournaments do exist, such as FIFA and Starcraft, they’re not on the same scale as some of the other games out there. Also, Fortnite is technically a single player game, but you’re playing with 99 other people so we’ll include it.

Here’s a list of the most popular eSports games based on prize money, competitors, and viewers in no order:

  • DOTA 2: 15 million peak viewers, 59 active teams, championship prize money $35 million and rising
  • Fortnite: $30 million prize money, 40 million competitors, 2 million viewers
  • League of Legends: 24 teams, peak of 44 million viewers, $7 million
  • CS:GO: 40+ teams, $1 million from championship but they have lots of big tournaments, 1.2 million viewers
  • Overwatch: 20 teams, $5 million, 300k viewers
  • PUBG: $2 million, 20 teams, 800k viewers

Who Are the Best Esports Teams?

It’s difficult to determine the best eSports teams worldwide because some will be part of a larger corporation that competes in a number of different games. For example, Team Liquid takes part in 24 games from Auto Chess to DOTA, earning a total of $2,250 and $22 million in each sport respectively.

In our list, we’ll simply rank them by total earnings across all games, as well as showing the number of competitions they’ve taken part in and their highest-earning game.

  • Team Liquid: $33.8 million, 1622 tournaments, DOTA
  • OG: $33.4 million, 70 tournaments, DOTA 2
  • Evil Geniuses: $24 million, 798 tournaments, DOTA 2
  • Fnatic: $14.3 million, 856 tournaments, CS:GO
  • Newbee: $14 million, 180 tournaments, DOTA 2
  • Virtus.pro: $13.7 million, 470 tournaments, DOTA 2
  • Vici Gaming: $12.2 million, 268 tournaments, DOTA 2
  • Team Secret: $11 million, 199 tournaments, DOTA 2
  • LGD Gaming: $10.7 million, 131 tournaments, DOTA 2
  • Invictus Gaming: $10.7 million, 432 tournaments, DOTA 2
  • Natus Vincere: $10 million, 432 tournaments. DOTA 2
  • Wings Gaming: $9.7 million, 27 tournaments, DOTA 2
  • SK Telecom T1: $9.2 million, 257 tournaments, League of Legends
  • Cloud 9: $9.2 million, 674 tournaments, CS:GO
  • PSG: $9 million, 56 tournaments, DOTA 2
  • OpTic Gaming: $7.8 million, 292 tournaments, Call of Duty
  • FaZe Clan: $7.7 million, 285 tournaments, CS:GO
  • Astralis: $7.3 million, 75 tournaments, CS:GO
  • Team Envy: $6.5 million, 324 tournaments, CS:GO/Call of Duty
  • SK Gaming: $6.3 million, 649 tournaments, CS:GO

It’s worth noting that our list doesn’t take into account the overall value of each esports team. Forbes recently released their second annual valuation of esports teams.

It’s clear to see that these teams are much more than just competitors in gaming tournaments. With 10’s of millions of followers across every platform, they’ve amassed a cult-like following and are able to reap the rewards.

Faze clan, for example, weren’t on the list in 2018 but have surged up the rankings with an estimated valuation of $35 million in 2019. Most of this is due to them becoming content-creation machines, thanks to the help of their massive fanbase.

Most of the teams on the list have seen increases in excess of 50%, which is a startling representation of just how explosive the esports industry is right now.

The list should be taken with a grain of salt, as it’s difficult to verify their results, but it’s a reminder that esports is bigger than the players. Global investors are watching, and with the huge rise in popularity of the sport, it’ll be interesting to see how it develops in the future.

How Much Do Esports Players Make?

As you can see, some eSports games have become so popular that they’re even outclassing traditional sports in terms of viewership. For example, in 2019 Tiger Woods won the most infamous trophy in Golf – The Masters – and walked away with $3 million. That’s in a sport that’s been around for hundreds of years.

It’s also the same as what was won by 16 year old ‘Bugha’ in the Fortnite World Championship – A game which was created in 2017.

Esports Health and Addiction Concerns

Although eSports and the capacity to earn money as a gamer are positive developments for the industry, there are valid concerns to be aware of.

To be the next eSports star involves gaming many hours each day, and research on the negative impact on your health when you spend hours sitting in a chair in a dark room starring at a screen is conclusive. Faker, one of the world’s biggest eSports stars practices for 12-15 hours a day. That does not bode well for your health.

A recent study carried out by Zwibel et al into the health impacts imposed on esports players discovered that athletes are more likely to incur musculoskeletal injuried in their neck, back, and upper extremities. Also, metabolic disturbances may come about due to excessive time spent in front of a computer monitor. Most of these problems come about due to poor posture and sedentary conditions that are commonplace among esports players .

Because of the sedentary nature of the sport and accompanying poor posture, esports athletes are likely to have musculoskeletal injuries of the neck, back, and upper extremities. Additionally, these athletes may have metabolic disturbances resulting from light-emitting diode computer monitors as well as mental health concerns regarding gaming addiction and social behavior disorders. The authors explore the osteopathic physician’s role in promoting health and reducing injury in this new gaming phenomenon.

The introduction of college scholarships for eSports is another concern, as teenagers will now justify their excessive gaming use because they are going to be the next eSports star—when in reality the chance of that is very slim.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to compete at a high level, but when children are using eSports as a justification for their excessive gaming it starts to become a problem.

There’s a huge difference between a kid playing for 12 hours a day by themselves to a regulated and regimented team with coaches, personal trainers, and advisors; which is what we see in the majority of college programs. This enables people to game in an environment which fosters a healthy relationship to gaming and is crucial in avoiding mental health problems further down the line.

I’m not one to discourage a teenager, or anyone for that matter, to not pursue their dream, however doing so while being informed about what it truly takes is important, and what it takes is more than gaming all day every day. It takes focus and determination, responsibility, maturity, and optimal health—mentally, physically, and emotionally—amongst many other factors, including luck.

When the competition to become a professional gamer involves millions of players for hundreds of spots, having a backup plan if it doesn’t work out would be highly recommended.

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