At age 2, Ryan Zyskowski could beat his dad at the original Super Mario Bros. video game. At age 13, he started online gaming with Halo 2, and he’s been playing games online with a gaming laptop pretty much every week since.
“I like to push myself to be the best, and when you play online it opens up a whole new world of competition,” said now 25-year-old Zyskowski, of Denver, Colorado. “Literally.”
Competitive video gaming, or eSports, is rapidly growing and changing the conventional idea of sports. Since its 162 million viewers in 2016, the amount of eSports enthusiasts is expected to rise to 286 million by 2020, according to Statista.com. Not only is the viewership growing, but the value of this already multi-million dollar industry is expected to more than double in the next 5 years. In 2016 the value of the eSports market was about $493 million and by 2020, this number is estimated to reach $1.49 billion, according to Statista.com.
A growing community has been created by online gaming, and eSports offer various unique outlets for its viewers to come together and experience this developing phenomenon. Here are three things to watch for when playing games online.
Jacob Holbrook from Bloomington, Indiana, better known by those in the gaming community as Savage, went from casual gamer to regular podcast co-host. “Live from Mannfield,” a weekly podcast about the online game Rocket League, had over 1,300 hits in one week at its peak. The podcast talks strategy, events and chats with pros from the game.
Each episode, which now has a total count nearing 100, begins with the intro, “For those who prefer their cars rocket-powered, flying in high with no boost but holding onto the dream, its Knox Phoenix and Savage coming to you, Live from Mannfield.”
Episode 65 discusses their trip to California for a Local Area Network, or LAN event, where they were able to meet and interview some of their listeners and Rocket League pros. “There’s this thing that happens often, where you shake hands with someone and introduce yourself as your online name from a video game you play, and people light up because they recognize it,” said Savage’s co-host Knox Pheonix during the episode.
Podcasts reach a unique group of gamers, who may love the game but not have the ability to play as much as they’d like. “We had a lot of dads, who listened to the podcast,” said Savage. “They would care what was going on, but wouldn’t have the time to spend all day on Reddit or somewhere paging through to see what team won what tournament.”
Dakota Jones, a 27-year-old safety manager from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and avid listener of “Live from Mannfield” works full time but still gets his gaming fix through podcasts on his way to work.
“I listen to podcasts a lot driving 45 minutes a day,” said Jones. “I want to be listening to it when I can’t be playing.” He plays about an hour a night, but still finds time for his girlfriend, eating meals and cleaning, he said.
Jones’ involvement with the podcast led him to meet other listeners and now games with them as well. “I like playing with other people and just having fun together, laughing, and not worrying about anything else in the world,” said Jones.
Savage has since retired his title as podcast co-host to put more time for college, but it took him awhile to decide to leave. “The community around the podcast was a huge factor in keeping me involved,” he said. He met some awesome people and made friends with it, something he hadn’t expected, he said.
Listeners of podcasts can hear theories and discussions about their favorite games, but it’s nothing like watching the live streams. “I try to watch every minute of it I can,” said Jones, about the Rocket League tournament series streaming online.
Jones isn’t alone. Streaming services, like Twitch.tv, have grown in popularity and offer a unique way for gamers to share their gaming experience. According to its website, Twitch hosts 15 million active users daily.
“It’s fun to share your experience of playing a game, especially a competitive game with other people,” said Seth Nieman, a Diamond1 ranked Rocket League gamer and streamer from British Columbia. “The whole process of climbing in ranks and getting better, you get to share that.”
In comparing eSports with traditional sports, Nieman talks about why watching video games online can be more exciting. “It combines the competitiveness of traditional sports, but it also mixes it with something that I think a lot of people love about video games – more fantasy and more possibilities within the game itself,” he said. “In Rocket League, you can fly.”
Peter F. from Wayne, New Jersey, known online as Bored, thinks more potential careers in video game streaming are on the horizon. “Our society is changing, where people aren’t going to have traditional jobs in the future,” he said. “Streaming for some people is already a source of income.” According to Esportsearnings.com, German player KuroKy has earned a career-long total of over $3.4 million playing online games since 2011.
Online gaming gives people the opportunity to be good at something without having these physical characteristics that traditional sports may require, according to Bored, and streaming is an outlet where friends continents apart can watch and follow tournaments together.
Fans filling stadiums isn’t reserved for conventional sports like football and soccer anymore. Traditional sports make up a multi-billion dollar industry, and eSports aren’t far behind. With the industry’s rapid growth approaching value at $1 billion by 2020, a majority of the revenue comes from sponsorships and advertising, according to Statista.com. A top team ranking for the online game, League of Legends, was done by ESPN.com for the 2017 World Championship. The top three – SK Telecom T1, Longzhu Gaming, and Samsung Galaxy – hold big name sponsors from both Asia and North America including popular gaming brand Razer, South Korean leading telecom company SK Telecom, Samsung Galaxy and Coca-Cola.
Nieman predicts these sorts of eSports leagues will grow alongside conventional sports and share the spotlight. “You’re on ESPN, you’ll watch a football game and then after that you’ll see a League of Legends game,” he envisions.
With eSports growing, professional leagues and franchises modeled after existing sports teams are emerging, according to Paul Kuehl, a 28-year-old gamer from Lexington, Kentucky.
Kuehl plays a variety games, but predominantly Overwatch, a futuristic team-based shooter game, which is trying to start a new league of city-based teams, salaried players, traditional seasons and conferences, according to Kuehl. “They’re really trying to take eSports to the next level with the Overwatch league,” said Kuehl.
Kuehl is a fan of traditional sports and said eSports have the same draw. “I like watching people who are really really good at something compete in a competitive environment,” he said.
Nick Horowitz, vice president of the Gaming @ Indiana University club and director of eSports, thinks eSports are mimicking conventional sports and are somewhat reactionary, but still bring a unique level to the game.
“Everything exciting that happens in League of Legends happens through visual cues,” Horowitz said. “There are a lot more explosions in League than there are in football.”
The Gaming @ IU club has been hosting Local Area Network events, called LAN War, since 1999, according to the club website. “350 people bring their computers and set up for a day,” said Horowitz. He says $10 to $15 thousand worth of prizes are given out for gaming tournaments throughout 24-hour-long event.
Ultimately, the community is what sets eSports apart, according to Horowitz. “It’s a bunch of people that didn’t really fit with the mentality of traditional sports,” he said. “They’re given the opportunity to build their own network and league.”
Find International Friends With Online Gaming
Online gaming has provided an outlet for sports-like competition and a way to socialize with friends, despite the distance. Ryan Zyskowski currently plays nine different online games, 12 hours a week, with friends in other countries about as far as 5,000 miles away. “I don’t play video games by myself,” he said. “It’s something I won’t do.”