The e-sport evolution continues as gaming edges closer to pro sport status

Firefall beta testingDuring SXSW, I had the chance to meet up with TwitchTv’s Kevin Lin and Matthew DiPietro, as well as IGN’s David Ting. They were part of the SXSW Screenburn event, which hosted professional gaming tournaments throughout the week, one of the many efforts attempting to champion the rise of video gaming as a professional sport. Ting, Lin, and DiPietro all agree that professional gaming hitting the mainstream is just around the corner.

“It’s happening really quickly,” says Lin. “The concept of e-sports has been around a good 10 to 12 years and I think last year was a really good year for the growth largely because of technology and because the people who have been trying to grow it have matured.” Lin says these advocates better understand how to treat e-sports like a business, and how to see the ecosystem as one that needs to support and involve advertisers, sponsors, players, networks, and so on.  The growth for TwitchTv alone is obvious: since launching in June 2011, the site is exceeding 16 million visitors a month, growing 11-percent a month, and users average 47 minutes of viewing time.

Ting pinpoints this evolution for me in terms I’m familiar with. He says professional gaming will be equivalent to what professional basketball is in two years, and professional soccer (speaking internationally here) in one year. The numbers are certainly good enough to suggest we’re heading this way: the two-day IPL All-Stars live event at SXSW drew 106,868 unique visitors and 596,512 video views across the three games. 

When asked what titles are going to be a big part of this evolution, both Ting and the guys from TwitchTv mention Streetfighter, and Lin also points to League of Legends and Starcraft. “Starcraft is a perfect example,” says Lin, explaining it’s a great spectator game. “Real-time strategy games are just easier to understand, easier to watch. First person shooters are so popular, but the problem is that the observer perspective isn’t there yet,” he says. “It’s going to take a fundamental design change in the game to make it easier to watch, so you can zoom out and see the battlefield; here’s the sniper, here’s the rocket launcher, why are they positioned where they are?”

Of course nostalgia counts for something as well. “A lot of people grew up in America playing Streetfighter,” says Lin. “And that’s a great game to play and watch. Those are going to lead us more into the mainstream because they are so popular – it’s been around since we were children.”

He and DiPietro also point out that gameplay itself has become a media experience.

“We tend to talk about e-sports a lot because it’s really hot and it’s really interesting,” says DiPietro. “But e-sports is probably half of [TwitchTv’s] content. The other half is just people playing games, streaming their games.” He mentions that people will live stream “speed running,” in which a player speeds through a level of Mario Bros with no regard for points. “People are doing these interesting little things that generate traffic,” he says.

IdraDon’t discount the level of celebrity that professional video gaming is bringing with it. “You look at South Korea, and the celebrities there are gamers,” says Lin. “Starcraft is bigger than soccer over there, and soccer’s huge. The pro players there make millions of dollars a year, they get endorsed by the biggest brands over there, they’re on TV, they date pop stars. They’re our equivalent of sports stars.” Apparently the U.S. will have no shortage of celebrity gamers either.

“Stephano is like a Jeremy Lin type story: Somebody coming out of nowhere and making a name for himself,” Ting says. “Idra is another good example.”

From a technical perspective, a lot of what has to happen to push e-sports into the mainstream already has. The technology has come leaps and bounds in the past few years, thanks in part to the mass adoption of live streaming. “Up until last year you couldn’t really watch a high-def stream that was affordable,” says Lin. “Even last  year a lot of people that built their own custom solutions to deliver live video at 2.5 megabits per second at a 1080p quality would be spending literally hundreds of thousands of dollars every weekend to deliver an event to 150,000-250,000 people around the world.”

Of course it doesn’t all boil down to specs. “The passionate e-sports community needs to continue to spread the word and teach people how to enjoy the game,” says Ting. “We also need sponsors to catch on, and a local hero.” He references Chris Moneymaker of the World Poker Series, who went from complete anonymity to bringing insane amounts of attention to the sport overnight. “We need someone here who goes from being a nobody to a champion and winning a lot of money to drive popularity,” says Ting, noting that an American hasn’t ever won a major global tournament.

And, obviously, it’s about money. “It’s getting sponsors, getting advertisers to feel comfortable with competitive gaming as something that they want to put their brand around.” “It’s all starting to happen,” says DiPetro, regarding market attention. “Intel spends very heavily in the space, [as do] the Red Bulls and Dr. Peppers of the world that are really interested in reaching dudes 18-25. One of the challenges is telling the story – getting them to really understand the value of the content and how insanely passionate this audience is.”


Google’s Stadia is the future of gaming, and that’s bad news for our planet

Google’s upcoming Stadia cloud gaming service, and its competitors, are ready to change the way gamers play, but in doing so they may kick off a new wave of data center growth – with unfortunate consequences for the environment.

Lenovo Legion, IdeaPad gaming laptops sport 9th-gen CPUs and 16-series graphics

Lenovo is expanding its gaming laptop range with a line of new Legion and IdeaPad notebooks that sport Intel's latest, ninth-generation Core CPUs up to an i7 and a choice of Nvidia graphics with options for everything up to an RTX 2080…

From rugged wagons to hot sports cars, the 2019 NY Auto Show brought it all

From city cars to supercars, anything goes at the New York Auto Show. Automakers from all over the globe traveled to the 2019 show to unveil their newest concept cars and production models.

Puma is looking for volunteers to test its self-lacing sports shoe

Puma unveiled its high-tech self-lacing shoe at the start of the year, and now it's looking for volunteers from around the world to try it out and offer feedback so it can finalize the design prior to launch.

Qiantu K50 is a Chinese electric sports car that’s coming to the U.S.

The Qiantu K50 is a Chinese electric sports car that will be marketed in the United States by California-based Mullen Technologies. The carbon-fiber bodied, 402-horsepower K50 is expected to go on sale in 2020.

A beginner’s guide to flawless victory in Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11 is a complex fighting game with several systems to learn, but with our beginner's guide and a bit of practice, you can be finishing enemies off with a Fatality in no time.
Product Review

Gloriously gory and fantastically fluid: Mortal Kombat 11 is the best one yet

Mortal Kombatt 11 reinforces NetherRealm Studios’ status as the greatest western fighting developer on the planet, building on what made Mortal Kombat X so great while adding in a few new tricks.

Cyberpunk 2077 dev speaks on gameplay and Witcher 3 Easter eggs

A Spanish publication had the opportunity to pick the brain of Cyberpunk 2077's quest director at CD Projekt Red and he speaks on gameplay changes, player choice, and how the team approaches Easter eggs across games.

Asus launches a fleet of ROG gaming laptops with 240Hz screens and 9th-gen CPUs

Asus launched updates to nearly every gaming laptop line they have, ranging from the high-end Zephyrus to the budget-level TUF Gaming. The naming schemes might be hard to parse, but there are some impressive options in Asus' new lineup.

From fatalities to new characters, here's what we know about Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11 releases April 23 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Here is everything we know about NetherRealm's latest fighting game, including its characters.

A guide to climbing the Klassic Tower and Towers of Time in Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11 has two Towers modes: Klassic and the Towers of Time. Klassic is an offline mode, whereas Towers of Time is an online revolving door of challenges that force you to deal with combat modifiers and wield trusty Konsumables.

Master Mortal Kombat 11's cryptic Krypt and get the best rewards

Once you complete the story mode in Mortal Kombat 11 and try out the Towers, you'll head into the Krypt to get your rewards. In our Mortal Kombat 11 Krypt guide, we'll show you how to make the most of it.

Swing Thor’s Stormbreaker during the Fortnite-Avengers: Endgame crossover

Epic Games revealed a new crossover with Marvel and Disney's Avengers: Endgame film, showing off Captain America's shield. Players will also get to summon the powers of a god as well when they wield Thor's Stormbreaker.

Here's our guide to becoming a master of Fatalities in Mortal Kombat 11

Fatalities are the bread and butt of any Mortal Kombat game, and they're particularly brutal in Mortal Kombat 11. Here's how to do Fatalities in the game, and how you can unlock new ones.