Hundreds of millions of people around the world play video games every day, probably even Johnny Manziel. While consoles still dominate certain spaces within the gaming industry – such as first-person-shooters – they are now joined by countless upstarts and new form factors that include everything from PC based League of Legends (LOL) to FarmVille and Angry Birds. While FarmVille and Angry Birds are wildly popular, the creators of these games are constantly fighting to maintain relevancy, come up with new addictive games, and keep their user bases active. League of Legends, on the other hand, has developed a loyal and quickly growing following larger than that of most professional sports teams. Might this be because the creators of LOL and other eSports franchises have figured out how to build their own concussion-proof versions of heroes like Johnny Manziel?
There is no doubt that part of the success in eSports is driven by the game owner’s focus on giving players the ability to amass fame and fortune, which is part of the appeal of superstars such as Johnny Manziel. By the end of 2013, the number of people worldwide that watch competitive gaming had reached over 70 million, more than twice the number that watched competitive gaming in 2012. As with traditional sports, eSports offer players an opportunity to turn practice into perfection. More importantly, they also offer players the chance to compete on a global stage, to nurture a fan base, and to become celebrities in their own right.
Evidence of the skyrocketing influence of eSports in the leisure industry can be found by looking at Google’s recent acquisition of Twitch. Twitch is a streaming service that gamers use to let others watch them play, and that gaming companies use to broadcast popular tournaments and competitions. Founded only three years ago, Twitch now has an astonishing 45 million unique viewers on a monthly basis. This makes it one of the most popular sites in the entire world. It is no wonder that Google was willing to shell out a reported $1 billion dollars for the upstart.
“Faker” is the name under which League of Legend’s top professional player – Lee Sang-hyeok of South Korea – controls his avatar. With tens of millions of fans worldwide, Faker is able to earn nearly a quarter of a million dollars annually after combining tournament winnings, sponsorships, and advertising revenue from his streams. More than 30 million people tuned in to watch his team, SK Telecom, defeat Royal Club of China in the 2013 World Championships. Faker is one of a new generation of what can only be described as “heroes” of eSports.
Only time will tell if eSports can retain the loyal fan bases akin to those that support the world’s top sports teams, but there are many dynamics in place that make this a legitimate possibility. Just like regular sports, anyone can enjoy playing the game, casual players can follow “professionals,” a vast social community exists around top teams and tournaments are broadcast worldwide to millions of viewers. While Faker may not ever match the earnings potential of Johnny Manziel, as a hero of eSports he will never have to worry about a concussion, and his career will not be over when his body gives out.
By Benjamin A. Buchanan