Justin Blowers

With the first season of the now AHSAA sanctioned Esports quickly approaching in February, I figured now might be a good time to address Esports.

Esports is actually a blanket term that essentially refers to all the video games that are played competitively at a professional level. This includes different types of games like first-person shooters (think Call of Duty), MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena), RTS (Real Time Strategy) games, fighting games and sports games (like Madden).

While this is just really starting to catch steam in America, in places like South Korea, Esports is old news. In South Korea, high level video game players are basically celebrities and treated like any other athlete. In 2014, more than 40,000 people in Seoul filled the soccer stadium used for the 2002 World Cup semifinal to watch two teams compete in League of Legends for $1 million in prize money.

Again, that was 2014. In 2018, the prize pool was $2.25 million.

In Japan, Esports players are officially licensed individuals and even have The Japanese Esports Union.

Now, America is finally starting to take notice and really dive into the multi-million-dollar industry.

Dedicated Esports arenas have already popped up in Hawaii, Texas, California and Nevada to accommodate the need for venues moving forward.

The Overwatch League boasts franchises around the world including South Korea, United States, United Kingdom, Canada and China. In the first year of the league, players competed for about $1.7 million in prize money.

The official Overwatch League states that all players in the league have a base $50,000 USD salary and healthcare.

For fighting games, Evolution 2018 in Las Vegas had an attendance of 7,437 competitors and overall attendees of 10,541.

These numbers don’t take into account the amount of people that watch these competitions through streaming services, such as Twitch.

Going back to the League of Legends, taking all viewers into consideration, the 2018 finals hit 200 million concurrent viewers at one time.

For the people running the competitions, those viewers are where all the money comes from because of sponsors. Companies are pouring a lot of advertising resources into sponsoring not only players but the events themselves.

Each event in a cup or league usually takes a couple days so if a company sponsors the event, that’s thousands or millions of eyes seeing a company logo for days at a time.

Ramen noodle brand Cup Noodle sponsored the Tekken World Finals and had their logo incorporated to where it was seen on screen almost the entire time when there wasn’t game play.

It goes even further, too. Victrix and Vertagear sponsored the Capcom Pro Tour, which meant that every top 16 or top 8 the players would be seen using Victrix headphones and sitting in Vertagear chairs. Monitor companies do the same thing so that entire tour will use their monitors exclusively.

It’s an emerging industry for both players and advertisers in America. The fact that the AHSAA sanctioned some Esports isn’t just a sign of that, but also the acceptance at the collegiate level.

Boise State University, University of Missouri, University of Oklahoma, Western Kentucky University, Georgia Southern University and many others all have varsity Esports team. What’s more is that some universities have actually started offering scholarships for Esports.

The high school level, though, is still in its infancy. Only three games are sanctioned by the AHSAA and most high school athletic associations because there isn’t a great system yet. PlayVs is really one of the leading websites that makes running a season and competition viable, but it only has League of Legends (there it is again), Rocket League and Smite as lineups. While that’s a great start, it doesn’t feature any first person shooters like Overwatch or Counter Strike, which the prize pool for all events in 2018 comes out to $22.47 million. It also doesn’t feature Dota 2, which the 2018 prize pool culminated with a $41.26 million total.

It also doesn’t feature any fighting games, such as Street Fighter, which the Capcom Cup winner took home $250,000, or RTS games like StartCraft 2, which had a 2018 total prize pool of $4.53 million.

This league is missing some of the highest played and watched games that currently take up the Esports category, but all things do take time. It’s definitely a good first step into Esports.

Now that just leaves one question, should Enterprise invest in Esports? Well, with more and more high school teams popping up and there has been talk about the new Dothan High School having Esports, this might be a when, not if, question.

Justin Blowers is a staff writer for The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun-Courier. The opinions of this writer are his own and not the opinion of the paper. He can be reached at (334) 393-2969 or by email at sjblowers@southeastsun.com.

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