With the recent announcement of the big three major Esports organisations – ESL, Dreamhack and MLG eSports – coming together to create one unified promotion, it seems that the future of digital sports is set: gaming is here to stay. On top of this, we have the statistic from MLG, that alone its organisation had nearly 12 million unique viewers throughout the year. That's a big number.
With this in mind, the question we're asking today is: “Would you ever pay to see professionals play video games?”
There are many, many sport fans the world over. Most of them are into Soccer, but there are other huge sports too, like Cricket, Basketball, Hockey, Football, Rugby. There's a common theme there, they're all physical sports and that's what's so interesting about competitive gaming. While there is certainly a physical element to it, in terms of reaction speeds and hand to eye coordination, there's a lot more strategy involved and even then, it's seen as more of a mental game than a physical one. The fact that we have yet to see steroid pumped gamers tells us that.
However physical sports don't dominate everywhere in the world. Take a look at South Korea and you'll see a community of gamers that almost rivals the other major sports in the nation, making Starcraft alone practically the country's national past time.
That and the growth of streaming services within games and the number of pro streams popping up around online, for everything from FPS, to racing to RTS titles, suggests that the interest in watching games is there. We know people do that and enjoy doing so. The question though, is would you pay for a ticket to see it in the flesh, like you might your favourite sports team?
And that's the crux of it. In order to generate the same kind of fandom that professional sports gain, professional gaming will need personalities. The same is true of more traditional sports. Take a look at the MMA organisation, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). A few years ago it was the self-proclaimed, “fastest growing sport in America.” Now it's stagnated a little and the experts put that down to a lack of personality. With some of its biggest names sidelined, retired or injured – save the recent return of GSP – its growth has slowed.
For every sport, there will always be a hardcore audience of people that love the game itself; and that's why they watch it: to see the game played in as close to perfection as can be – better than they themselves could ever achieve. However for the rest of us, it's the personalities and the teams that we follow. We want to feel like we're part of the winning side, by supporting our favourites. And in order for someone or some group to become our favourite, they need to have something we like.
It could be as simple as a clan logo, or a friendly face. Perhaps we love the smack talk from one of the players or the fact that one guy always loses, but does so in a humorous fashion. That's what professional gaming needs.
It's on the way, with certain names being well known within the Starcraft gaming circuit, but for the majority of us there's not enough to connect to yet. Older gamers – or King of Kong fans – will know all about Billy Mitchell and his contemporaries and the first big name earner in terms of professional gaming was Jonathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel, but in the heyday of these guys, no one was paying to see them compete.
Are we there yet? I don't think so. Are we far off? Probably not.
So I ask you Megagames readers, are you willing to pay to see the pros go at it? Or would it take something a bit more for you to shell out your hard earned money? Let us know below.