The GIST's Guide to Esports

You’ve probably heard about this thing called “esports” that’s apparently “all the rage” these days. Kinda sorta dunno what esports is?! We didn’t either. Don’t fret, you’re not old and washed up. We’re here to give you #thegist of it.

esports arena.jpg


Unlike the more traditional sports (e.g., soccer, basketball, baseball, hockey, etc.) that have been around for decades, esports is a new ‘sport’ to hit the mainstream. WTF are esports? The simplest way to think about them is as “electronic sports.” Essentially esports is competitive/professional video gaming. Esports is kinda an umbrella term similar to saying “sports” as there isn’t one defined video game that all competitors play. So take football, basketball and soccer and sub that in for League of Legends, Overwatch and Dota 2. Make sense?

How are esports organized?

Esports are normally played in tournaments. In its infancy, esports tournaments were predominantly played online. However, in the early 2010s, streaming and esports took off and these gaming tournaments started taking place IRL.

Nowadays, there are thousands of tournaments around the world being hosted online and offline where competitors vy for millions of dollars in prize money. That’s right. These high-level gamers are competing professionally for a chance to win millions of dollars for playing their favourite video game. Literally living the dream. We guess our parents may have been wrong when they said: “go outside, play in the sunshine, it’s good for you.”

Backup, what do you mean tournaments?

We totally get it - it’s hard to picture. The same way you play a soccer tournament, teams of gamers play against other teams of players, or individual players play against other individual players. It’s generally round-robin style with the winner of group game moving on to some sort of playoff. Tournaments can be played and watched online, but when they’re hosted IRL, they’re normally playing in large stadiums or arenas where fans can watch too. Some tournaments are even held in the same areas as major league sports like the Rogers Centre in Vancouver and Barclay’s Centre in New York. Pretty cool, right? Both these major sporting arenas have hosted million dollar tournaments - the Rogers Centre hosted a $25.5 million dollar tournament called ‘The International’ this past summer and the Barclay’s Centre hosted the Overwatch League Grand Finals where the winners walked away with a cool half a million. Just a couple of causal millionaires from playing video games.

How big is esports? Why is it all the rage these days?

Esports is a big, big industry and it’s been rapidly growing for years. By the year 2020, sources estimate the global esports industry will be worth OVER $1.65B. Damn, baby - not bad for a sport that’s only about 10 YEARS OLD! Because of its global scale, competitive players come from all over the world: China, South Africa, Pakistan, Norway, Brazil, and yes, even Canada.

One of the biggest reasons for industry growth is the investments being made by traditional sport owners like Robert Kraft. Kraft owns the New England Patriots, and also purchased the pro esports team, the Boston Uprising, from the Overwatch League. The COO of the New York Mets Jeff Wilpon also owns the New York Excelsior from the Overwatch League. Our very own Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman is launching his own esports company called Eleven Gaming. He is currently assembling a team of nine professional Fortnite players to compete in TwitchCon (pssttt Twitch is a live-streaming video platform where a lot of viewers watch people - including pro gamers - play video games). This is a recent launch and we’re excited to see how Zach’s team fares. Three-time NBA Champion Rick Fox, yes THE Rick Fox, bought a League of Legends team called the Gravity Gaming and renamed it Echo Fox. His purchase of Gravity Gaming was largely based on the bond Rick and his son had for League of Legends. What better way to bond over a mutual love of a video game than buying a professional team?! Don’t you wish your dad was like Rick Fox?

The Games

Not all video games are played professionally (e.g., you won’t find a Sims league in esports). However, there are a lot of different “leagues” out there. And that’s really the beauty of esports - there is something for everyone. Do you enjoy fast-paced shooting games? You should check out CS:GO. Do you fancy a fantasy-based game where strategy is the name of the game? DotA 2 might be your next obsession. Are you a huge soccer fan? Rocket League is basically monster trucks playing soccer. We love how inclusive esports can be. Each of these video games really has its own league around it.

And why is it so inclusive? Well, unlike a lot of traditional sports where physical fitness is key (so a lot of athletes retire around the age of 40), esports players don’t have to worry about aging out of the game. You can be a professional esports player at any age so long as you can play the game!

The International Superstars

Esports is a pretty broad term that encompasses a whole bunch of different games. Each game has its own “league” that functions independently from all other games. But how lucrative can esports be? How much money do these players earn?

The top three gamers in the world are:

Dota 2: Kuro “KuroKy” Takhasomi (Germany) - KuroKy has been playing Dota 2 for almost a decade and recently became the highest net earner at an astonishing $4m USD in annual income. He surpasses every other esports player in the entire esports industry. Damn boi!

League of Legends:  Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok (Korea) - Faker is the highest paid League of Legends player with a net earning of over $1.1m USD and he reportedly makes $2.5m USD a year with his team, SK Telecom T1.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth (Denmark) - Xyp9x is CS:GO’s highest earning player with an impressive total earnings of $965k USD. If you check out his most recent tournament standings, you’ll see that part of his position as highest earning player in CS:GO is partly due to his winning six of their past ten tournaments.

Where our girls at?

The sad reality in esports is that women are still being left out of professional teams. Esports has predominantly been a “man’s world” with issues of sexism and misogyny running rampant. Ugh, what else is new?! But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ANY women competing. Kim "Geguri" Se-yeon (Overwatch), Stephanie “missharvey” Harvey (CS:GO), Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn (Starcraft II), and Kristen “KittyPlays” Michaela (Fortnite) are some of the top female players. Although women make up half the population of amateur gamers, we’re still incredibly under-represented in pro-gaming esports. Slowly more women are being signed to top tier organizations but it’s a slow process. Remember, esports, much like traditional sports, was a man’s world for a long time. Esports is evolving and becoming more inclusive but it’s a slow process.

Did you know...

  • Professional esports players train the same way traditional athletes do. They focus on their health, physical fitness (reaction times are KEY) and mental stamina with the small exception being they primarily practice on screen instead of on the field.

  • Did you know that esports gaming chairs (yes, if you’re going to be playing a long game you want to make sure that you’re well equipped) can cost as much as THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS?! Just nutty. Check out the most expensive chairs in the world here.

That’s #thegist of it!

Written by Guest Writer: Gillian Scott

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