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18 April 2017

From gamer to athlete: the communications challenge behind eSports

Written by: James Herring, Account Manager at Edelman

Innovation, Technology

Is it really that surprising, with the popularity of smart phones and gaming consoles, that professional gaming would be a natural by-product? With its global revenue expected to smash $1 billion by 2019, electronic sports (eSports) are a hot topic right now – everyone seems to want to be involved. So why is it still struggling with an issue of legitimacy – why can’t kids grow up aspiring to play computer games at Wembley Stadium in front of 70,000 fans?

Professional gaming actually goes all the way back to the 1970s, with things really heating up when the internet landed, making multiplayer games very common. Over the past 10 years, eSports have started to break into the mainstream media. One of the most popular eSports is League of Legends, an online game where five players compete against five others. Last year, the League of Legends 2016 World Championship took place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in front of 20,000 people, with over 43 million people tuning in to the livestream. One of the main differences between traditional sports and eSports is the different media they appear on. Twitch.tv is a website that was bought by Amazon in 2014 for $970m, and is the leading social video platform for competitive gamers, attracting over 9.7 million daily active users, and 2 million monthly broadcasters.

I understand it sounds crazy…9.7 million people tune in every day to watch other people play computer games… but people also love watching guys kick a ball around for 90 minutes, or hitting a tiny white ball with a stick and hoping it lands in a hole. We naturally love competition, and we also enjoy watching others truly excel at something, be it football, or chess, or Call of Duty.

Questions have been raised over whether eSports should aim to feature on mainstream television, but with Twitch pulling in these types of figures, you can see why eSports might not be in a hurry.

There is no denying that eSports are very popular, and has a very active community, however it still has some major obstacles to overcome. As mentioned previously, the current perception of ‘gamers’ is almost painfully stereotypical: geeks with poor hygiene. The reality is, there is huge amounts of money within eSports, and with organisations such as the Philadelphia 76ers investing in the scene, these professional gamers are gaining access to some of the best sporting organisations in the country. Is it really too forward thinking to consider that professional gamers might eventually be viewed in a similar light to professional athletes?

When you look at the current state of the scene, professional gamers are being paid to compete in tournaments across the globe, with accommodation, food and personal trainers provided; it’s fair to say we’ve come a long way since gamers were confined to their basements. I’m confident that once the media begin viewing these figures as ‘stars’, and the benefits of working in the industry are highlighted, eSports will no longer be constrained by stereotypes which are growing increasingly outdated.

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