The need for excellence is inherent in people since it is similar to the need to develop or to work. From time immemorial, people competed with each other, trying to become the best at what they were doing. Namely, the ancient hunters killed the wild animals to show a winning number of hides to their opponents, which were also hunters. Thousands of years later, the need for excellence has not left the people, but the ways of satisfying it have changed significantly. In particular, bow and sword were replaced by keyboard and mouse, and the hunting grounds were substituted for a virtual world. Nowadays, computer and video games are an important part of the lives of many people. Schoolchildren, students, and even adults that have a regular job enjoy playing such virtual games. However, for some of them, namely for professional players, it is not just a hobby, but also a job. Still, despite the rapidly growing popularity of electronic entertainments and competitions, it is still unclear whether it is right to use such term as e-sports in relation to them openly. Moreover, some may argue that playing such games cannot be considered sports at all. In order to clarify this matter, it is necessary to track down the process of development of e-sports throughout the years. Therefore, the study of the process of e-sports development will allow identifying it on the analogy of the traditional sports as well as defining its role and place in the modern world. The following paper is dedicated to the definition of e-sports, its origins and development, as well as its current place in the entertainment industry.
The Definition of E-Sports
In order to conduct a comprehensive study concerning the development of e-sports, it is required to define the boundaries of its modern understanding. Many people consider electronic competitions to be a sport, but the latter has its own criteria for the definition. In particular, this term is referred to the activities of people that are organized in accordance with the certain rules and are related to their physical or intellectual abilities, as well as preparation for this activity (training) and interpersonal relations arising in the course of it. The electronic competitions are also organized according to certain rules, involving the use of physical or intellectual abilities of the participants. Apparently, physical abilities have no direct connection with e-sports as contrasted with the intellectual ones. Preparation for these activities is also required. The exact time of training varies for each professional, depending on the discipline he participates in (the game he plays), but it can reach up to six hours per day. Finally, there are also interpersonal relationships. Namely, they include the signing of sponsorship contracts by a player or a team that establishes the terms of the further cooperation (Castronova 18). Currently, there are many organizations involved in the promotion of e-sports, operating both on local and global scale. They have the most significant influence in the Asian countries. For example, in China, there is a state program for the development of e-sports. It is also worth mentioning that cyber tournaments are broadcasted on national channels in Korea (Jin 21).
Following this definition, it is possible to consider the electronic competitions as sports. Since many people would obviously disagree, it is necessary to establish some boundaries of the concept of e-sports. For instance, cyber disciplines can be considered games in cases where luck and coincidence play the smallest role, while the experience and skills are of paramount importance. Thus, the games like those based on Dungeons & Dragons system, where almost everything depends on the roll of the dice, cannot be regarded as such (Hjorth 51). However, such genres as MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) and RTS (real time strategy) rarely depend on luck of the player, and everything is predetermined solely by his skills and the ability to work in a team. A professional gamer requires a number of skills, primarily the intelligence. However, a fast reaction, fine motor skills, and the ability to think outside the box are also not superfluous. In order to play many hours to hone one’s gaming skills rather than to play just for fun, one also needs a very strong mentality, especially when playing with a team. In addition, the endurance factor also plays an important role in this matter (Christopher and Scholz 29).
Moreover, just as the usual sports, electronic competitions are also divided into disciplines. Currently, DotA 2, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends and, of course, StarCraft 2 are considered to be the primary ones. These games serve as a basis for the creation of the world’s most promising tournaments and have the largest number of players around the world. It is worth noting such rapidly evolving discipline as World of Tanks, which can be considered to be among the leaders. A first-person shooter, Point Blank, has been also gaining popularity for a long time, meticulously gathering fans and desperately fighting for a place in the top ranks. However, some disciplines lose their popularity. The unsuccess affects Quake Live, which is related to the game that has spearheaded e-sports, FIFA series, WarCraft 3, Need for Speed series, and Unreal Tournament series, which have recently lost their status of e-sports disciplines (Christopher and Scholz 43).
Therefore, it is possible to say that despite their virtual nature and the negative treatment it receives from a part of the society, electronic competitions can be viewed as sports events. Moreover, their similarities with the real sports have influenced the way of their development, which is rather close to that of the usual sports competitions. These aspects will be analyzed further.
The Origins of E-Sports
It is a common knowledge that the entire game industry has originated from a simple slot machine. The same can be said about the e-sports. In particular, pinball was a game played by almost everyone. Some played it on a computer while the others discovered pinball on a slot machine in the distant 1960s, the times that can be considered the infancy of e-sports. The first electronic competition is considered to be Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics, conducted in 1972 by the students and employees of Stanford University (Wolf 35). At that time, the players did not compete directly with each other, indentifying the winner by his results. Such an approach is characteristic of gymnastics or athletics, where the results of athletes are determined at a given time and in a particular discipline. In the following decade, the similar tournaments, where friends or colleagues competed for small prizes, were organized by the research institutes and offices, as well as the owners of private computers. The popularity of these tournaments grew together with the scope of activities of their organizers (Taylor 53).
The next milestone in the development of computer sport was the Space Invaders Championship organized by Atari in 1981. It was conducted on an unprecedented scale for the time, involving more than thousand participants from across the United States (Taylor 32). These people were no longer simple fans of video games since gaming has become their main hobby for which they spent most of their lives, training for more than ten hours a day. Due to the introduction of the affordable home computers by Commodore and Apple, games have gained enough popularity to organize such competitions. Pong-type game consoles, as well as cartridge-based home systems have made computer games even more accessible. In addition, 1970-80s were known as the golden age of arcade gaming (Wolf 40). Having gained an immense popularity in Japan, the arcade games have crossed the ocean and turned into a whole subculture of the American youth. The number of machines for video games grew rapidly. They were placed everywhere: in bars, cafes, gas stations, and, of course, in the specialized shops. In every arcade, the players competed with each other for the right to end up in the table of champions, which was displayed in the most conspicuous place (Fromme and Unger 62).
However, the abovementioned events can be considered the infancy of electronic competitions. The e-sports, as it is known today, have been formed during the 1990s. At that time, Nintendo, recurring Japanese gaming corporation, kept almost the entire gaming industry in its tight grip and held a number of gaming competitions under the brand of Nintendo World Championships. The participants competed in playing Tetris, Super Mario Bros., and Rad Racer throughout the United States, and the finalists were sent to the first LAN tournament in California. It is noteworthy that the winner received ten thousand dollars and a new car as a prize, which marked the beginning of the commercialization of e-sports. Since then, it has been growing and evolving: Blockbuster LLC created an annual world video game championship in the late 1990 (Taylor 35). However, Tetris and Super Mario Bros were the primary disciplines, with the later addition of NBA Jam and Virtua Racing. Moreover, it was the first competition of such sort to be broadcasted on television.
Later, Netrek, one of the first multiplayer games, entered the stage. It was a graphic shooter that used text commands for the control. Players were divided into two camps and fought among themselves. Their primary objective was to capture all the planets of the enemy. The novelty of the game consisted in the fact that it allowed up to sixteen players to take part simultaneously by using the local network. It was one more aspect that predetermined the new era of electronic competition. However, only 1996 can be considered the starting point in the process of formation of e-sports, since at that date id Software introduced its famous first-person shooter named Quake (Wolf 54). One can write a lot about its merits, but the main thing is that the developer initially focused on e-sports component of the game (Taylor 39). A month after its release, QuakeCon 96, the first Quake tournament organized by id Software itself, was held. Despite the fact that it was attended by only forty people, it served as an important sign that a development company with a worldwide reputation openly declared e-sports advent on the personal computer (PC), and started to develop it. Thus, the time of console games as e-sports disciplines has passed, making PC the ultimate e-sports platform.
The year 1997 also became an important milestone in the process of the development of e-sports. Only a year after QuakeCon 96, Angel Munoz created The Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL), the first organization to conduct electronic tournaments in a professional manner. Since then, CPL has held more than sixty international competitions with a total prize pool of more than four million dollars. In total, more than 600 events have been held under the auspices of this organization (including qualifying), which were attended by more than 300 thousand gamers. Quake II, which was released in December 1997, was the primary discipline for the time. Its multiplayer competition could not be rivaled by any other similar project (Taylor 57).
Less than two years after the release of Quake II, in June 1999, a modification of the one of the biggest hits of the year, Half-Life, was released by Valve. It was the invention of Counter-Strike. Although the idea of introducing realism to first-person shooters, namely the damage system and real-life weapons, caused a rapid increase in the popularity of the project, only a few people considered it important at the time and certainly did not perceive it as a competitor of the products of id Software. Moreover, in 1999, a title that was much more expected by the millions of people – Quake III: Arena – was released (Taylor 63). It incorporated the best from the previous games (the dynamics and speed of the first one and the open spaces of the second), possessed an incredibly beautiful graphics for that time, and almost immediately became a number one choice for most of the fans of online battles. Being further enhanced by a series of patches, Quake III: Arena has become the primary discipline of the CPL. Thus, the electronic competition, as it is known today, was created.
The Development of E-Sports
The development of e-sports was not limited only by the genre of first-person shooters. In 1998, a cult RTS, StarCraft, which remains a standard of the genre up to this day, was introduced by Blizzard. In the same year, the developer released an add-on named Brood War. A fine balance of playable races together with the Battle.net online service gave the strategy a future that no one could have foreseen, even the developers themselves (Crawford 45). The game became a huge hit in both single and multiplayer matches, gaining a special popularity in South Korea only in two years. By 2001, more than five thousand Korean players wished to participate in the national qualifiers for the StarCraft world tournament. Moreover, in 2003, South Korean players formed two professional leagues, OnGameNet StarLeague and MBC Game StarLeague, the contests in which were broadcast on two gaming television channels (Jin 25). A few years after the release, StarCraft became a national sport in South Korea, gathering the whole stadiums of people wishing to see the finals. Currently, StarCraft is the most popular form of entertainment in South Korea, and pro-gamers earn from 20 to 600 thousand dollars per year (Jin 42). It should be noted that the local army, in order not to interrupt the career of the gaming professionals and enhance its prestige, created a specified 1S military unit, consisting only of the pro-gamers (Jin 48).
The next significant event in the development of e-sports took place in 2001. That was when the rapidly evolving Samsung Electronics organized the first global championship on computer games named World Cyber Games (WCG). For this purpose, a separate organization of the same name was created, with Samsung being its global partner. The total prize pool amounted to an unprecedented sum for the time – 600 thousand dollars. The winner in each of the disciplines received 20 thousand dollars (40 thousand dollars in Counter-Strike discipline); silver medalist obtained 10 thousand dollars (20 thousand dollars in Counter-Strike discipline); and 5 thousand dollars (10 thousand dollars in Counter-Strike discipline) accompanied bronze (Taylor 69). A feature of the event was a system in accordance to which the final part of the competition in Seoul was open for the champions of national qualifiers held worldwide in the local offices of Samsung. Moreover, only the citizens of the country the qualifiers were held in were allowed to participate. Thus, the final accumulated more than 400 best gamers out of 389 thousand comers, which took part in the national tournaments of 33 countries (Taylor 78). Since then, the World Cyber Games have been held annually.
Until 2005, Samsung increased the amount of investment in WCG, but after that, the total number of participants and the amount of the prize fund have ceased to be advertised. While the first decision is quite difficult to understand, the reason for concealing the sum of the prize is the redistribution of funding and transfer of prize funds of national qualifiers from the central office to the local ones. Nevertheless, WCG has secured the title of computer Olympic Games, showing even more spectacular and impressive tournaments from year to year (Christopher and Scholz 63).
The third major player in the field of global e-sports emerged in France in 2003. Electronic Sport World Cup (ESWC) is an international championship and a direct competitor of WCG, supported by the companies such as Intel and NVIDIA. Having a total prize fund that is almost equal to that of the opponent, but with larger rewards for the individual disciplines due to the smaller number of games, the event has attracted the attention of gamers from around the world. The first tournament of the series, which took place in August 2003, was organized as a fabulous show, arranged in a huge stadium in front of thousands of spectators (Taylor 73). Since then, ESWC tournaments are held annually, but in spite of European origin and ambitions, this brand did not manage to oust WCG.
Meanwhile, in Europe, e-sports are actively developing at the local level. Its two primary centers are Germany and Scandinavia. Namely, in Sweden and Norway, virtually free quality online, as well as much free time at the disposal of youths (for example, the average age at first full-time job in Norway is about 27 years), have become the basis of the popularity of Quake and Counter-Strike. On the other hand, in Germany, it is conditioned by a punctual approach to business. To date, on both banks of the Rhine, there are more than one hundred leagues of WarCraft and Counter-Strike, comprising of participants of all sorts – from pro-gamers to casual players. The leader among these leagues is Electronic Sport League, conducting dozens of online matches daily (Christopher and Scholz 48).
Lately, e-sports, which is firmly entrenched both in the Old and the New World, has begun penetrating rapidly progressive Chinese society. In particular, in 2005, the total number of well-known pro-gamers specializing in WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne did not exceed ten people while in 2006, their ranks grew tenfold. Moreover, it turned out that the Chinese players are not only great in RTS, but also in Counter-Strike, often playing better than Swedish or Americans. In 2007, this fact has been followed by a new discovery – the world learned of the People’s Republic of China as a paradise for competitive players. An abundance of strong contenders, low costs of housing and food, as well as online quality has allured a number of professionals from Europe and Korea to move to Beijing. In addition, e-sports is supported at the state level in the country. For instance, in 2007, Chinese authorities even officially invited the International Olympic Committee to add e-sports to the list of the Olympic sports disciplines (Jin 62).
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In 2007, Intel, which has supported e-sports for many years, began a large-scale expansion in the industry on a new level with the clear intention to dominate it. By advancing its e-sports brand named Intel Extreme Masters through ESL, which provides the international competitions with the prize pools never seen before, the company also organizes the local tournaments. Moreover, in the same year, a new and ambitious player entered the industry: the largest U.S. cable channel DirecTV (with the coverage exceeding 15 million households) presented its project, a weekly television league named Championship Gaming Series (Taylor 82). In its framework, a team of the best professionals in the Counter-Strike: Source was formed, which involved several people from each region of the world competing among themselves. It is noteworthy that the participants of this league receive wages, which are solid even by the standards of the U.S. They usually earn tens of thousands of dollars per season, and the total prize fund is one million dollars (Jackson n.p.). In addition to all the above-mentioned leagues, there are also such well-known series of competitions as WEG, IEST, KODE 5 and DreamHack (Taylor 90). Thus, e-sports have become a highly developed and commercialized business supported at all levels of the global society.
The Current Situation
The recent years have not only strengthened the e-sports in general, but also added a new discipline to it – MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) – a genre that combines the elements of real-time strategy and role-playing computer games. Despite taking its origin from the StarCraft map called Aeon of Strife, it was ultimately shaped by the user map for WarCraft III named Defense of the Ancients. The genre has gained an immense popularity among the gamers. Moreover, DotA 2 and League of Legends have been acknowledged as e-sports disciplines (Christopher and Scholz 35).
One of the most recent MOBA tournaments was The International DotA 2 Championship of 2014 (or simply The International 2014), the fourth annual tournament dedicated to this game, organized by Valve. The tournament took place in Seattle, Washington on the KeyArena of Seattle Center. The initial prize fund was about 1.6 million dollars (DotA 2 Event n.p.). However, a book entitled “The Compendium” dedicated to The International 2014 has been added to a game store. As during the previous tournaments, the people who have bought the book got the opportunity to participate in various contests and polls, as well as were awarded with various prizes. The price of the book was 9.99 dollars, and 25% of the proceeds from the sales were added to the prize pool. In 2014, Valve added a possibility to increase the level of books, giving their owners a variety of bonuses. The level of books could be raised by performing certain actions, such as giving correct predictions on the outcome of the qualifications or collecting the cards of players. In addition, the level of books could be increased for money, with 25% of the proceeds also being added to the prize pool. As soon as the prize money increased, the owners of the books have received the unique gifts (DotA 2: 2014 Compendium n.p.). As a result, these measures have allowed increasing the prize pool of the tournament to almost eleven million dollars. Moreover, the tournament has been watched by more than 20 million people, which clarifies that the popularity of e-sports will only continue to grow in the future (Dyer n.p.). In particular, Repucom and Newzoo companies have published the results of their latest study on the global development of e-sports in terms of trends, incomes, and the number of viewers. The study shows the importance of e-sports for the world industry, namely, it is assumed that the revenues from it will reach 465 billion dollars by 2017 (The Esports Economy n.p.). This figure partly depends on an increase in the total fan base of the industry. According to the results of the research, the number of people watching e-sports events (live, on TV, and the Internet) is to be increased from 89 to 145 million people in 2017. Forecasts presume that the audience of e-sports will catch up with that of the American football (The Esports Economy n.p.).
Thus, the spread of e-sports has currently reached the impressive proportions. It is unlikely that any of the usual sports, except, perhaps, the most popular ones, can boast about a comparable number of adherents. The scale of the event means that in order to achieve any significant results, for example, becoming one of the best players of a country in a particular discipline, one’s efforts should be comparable to those required in swimming or volleyball. Moreover, as in the traditional sports, the training process has a well-established tradition in e-sports (Jong 31).
In the single-player disciplines, such as RTS, which do not involve teamwork, the first stage of preparation involves a constant multiplayer game, about 6-8 games per day. Within six months of training, the player develops basic skills of a battle for one race, memorizes hot keys and maps, and develops a sense of control and understanding of the situation. The number of clicks per minute gradually comes to three-digit numbers in comparison to 20-30 for a casual player (Sirlin 25). The next six months will be spent trying and learning all the common situations, different options of strategies and counter-strategies against all the possible races. Only after that, being subject to the availability of talent and luck, a gamer will be able to become one of the best in the city. In case there is a higher goal, at least to qualify for ASUS, he will have to spend another year or two on training. Moreover, even in this case, victory requires a good combination of physical training (to fight at the tournament for the whole day is rather difficult), endurance, composure, and luck (Sirlin 27).
As for the first-person shooters, the situation is rather different. In order to achieve significant results at the local level, the team consisting of good players requires about three to four hours of training several times a week during the year. These trainings can be held in computer clubs (which is more useful and efficient) or the web. Sparring usually takes place at a pre-agreed time, involving other teams. The key components of a successful performance are both personal skills and mutual understanding of the team members. As any sports, electronic competitions produce a huge amount of emotions. Therefore, it is rather difficult to maintain good relations between the team members, especially in the case of lesions in the major competitions. That is why, along with a great individual talent, it is necessary to be able to hold back, admit one’s mistakes and listen to the teammates (Sirlin 32).
Currently, social factor plays a key role in e-sports. Since it is not easy to assemble a team of compatible people, most of the teams have variable composition. Prior to achieving success, gamers have to visit five or six teams. They have to learn a lot and often overstep personal ambitions in favor of the team. Some former specialists believe that a person that has attained success in e-sports will be successful in any social group, because there is nothing more complicated than being equal among the other talented people united by the common goal. Nowadays, anyone wishing to succeed in e-sports requires a number of qualities that are identical to those of the athletes in the classical disciplines. Perseverance and belief in success, talent and composure, developed thinking and endurance, the ability to work at one’s mistakes are only a few aspects of the long list necessary for transformation into a professional (Sirlin 35). Therefore, the difference between traditional and electronic competitions has been reduced to the names of disciplines, meaning that e-sports will continue its rapid development in the following years.
In conclusion, it is possible to say that electronic competition is a completely new type of competition, which has covered its path of development with long strides, and sometimes even jumps. Namely, the usual home game matches have escalated into real tournaments with multi-million dollar prize pools. However, it is yet to be declared sports as football or basketball. The primary reason for this is a popular opinion that the virtual competitions are no different from the usual games. However, this opinion may be changed soon, since some of the e-sports disciplines have been proposed to the list of the Olympic Games, as well as the European and Asian competitions.
The recent successes of e-sports have made it a highly promising activity. However, it largely depends on the people who are engaged in it: the players, their sponsors, and the community. In case the organizers continue to carry out the expensive and prestigious tournaments, they will attract the attention of high-level players and organizations, which will increase the popularity of e-sports (The International DotA 2 Championship of 2014 serves as a vivid example of such situation). If the community continues to support their favorite disciplines, the new young talents will be appearing on the scene. Hence, representatives of e-sports will not worry about the departure of the old players since competitions will continue to evolve. Currently, it holds a strong position and develops every year due to the efforts of the large companies sponsoring high-level tournaments and organizations with professional teams. Consequently, it is possible to suggest that in the nearest future e-sports will be legalized as a full-featured kind of sport in most of the countries of the world.