Es­ports growth con­tin­ues to­ward main­stream

♦ ESPN now in­cludes broad­casts as lo­cals get in on games too

The Standard Journal - - SPORTS - COMPETATIV­E VIDEO GAMES By Sean Wil­liams swilliams1­[email protected]­hoo.com

Sports fans who’ve tuned into ESPN only to wit­ness two video game char­ac­ters throw­ing balls of blue en­ergy at each other while shout­ing “Hadouken!” may have been con­fused, but they were on the right chan­nel.

Es­ports, or com­pet­i­tive video games, have reached lev­els of pop­u­lar­ity where tele­vi­sion gi­ants like Dis­ney, the par­ent com­pany of ESPN, now con­sider the likes of Street Fighter, Over­watch, Fort­nite, and other pop­u­lar ti­tles wor­thy of air­time along­side of­fer­ings

like Ma­jor League Base­ball, Col­lege Foot­ball and for spe­cial events like the Na­tional Spell­ing Bee.

While tra­di­tional sports are still the top dog in view­er­ship, there are grow­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the phys­i­cal sports world and the dig­i­tal one.

The spon­sor­ships, team salaries, tour­na­ment win­nings, and no­to­ri­ety of­fered by Es­ports are in­cen­tives for play­ers around the world -- in­clud­ing those in small towns just like the ones here in Polk County. They have the same kind of per­for­mance-based con­tracts in many cases that star ath­letes get when they are drafted by the big leagues in their sport.

Sums large enough in Es­ports to be­gin at­tract­ing young­sters who think they have the tal­ent to go pro out to na­tional-sized tour­na­ments.

Among those in past weeks were Noah Green and Bran­don Gra­ham once again ven­tured to Com­mu­nity Ef­fort Or­lando (CEO) to try their luck in the year’s VHFRQG ELJJHVW ¿JKWLQJ JDPH tour­na­ment.

True to the growth of the in­dus­try, CEO left its smaller Or­lando venue for the 200,000-square foot Day­tona Beach Ocean Cen­ter.

Those skilled enough to get a top 8 plac­ing in one or more of the 14 tour­na­ments earned the right to com­pete in an arena of cheer­ing fans.

While nei­ther Green nor Gra­ham com­peted for very long, the spec­ta­tor as­pect RI ¿JKWLQJ JDPHV ZDV MXVW as im­por­tant.

The chance to see a fa­vorite player soon to be de­feated and sent home can be just as nau­sea-in­duc­ing as hold­ing the con­troller your­self, but see­ing them WDNH ¿UVW SODFH FDQ PDNH a fan equally ec­static. The same way English fans felt in past weeks as well when they watched their team fall in the later rounds of the World Cup.

³+XQJU\ER[ LV GH¿QLWHO\ my fa­vorite melee (Smash Bros.) player,” Green said. “I was pretty sure he’d win, and it was just as hype as last year.”

Larger tour­na­ments also typ­i­cally dou­ble as con­ven­tions. ]

Over 7,000 peo­ple at­tended CEO from June 29 through July 1, and the ac­tiv­i­ties spanned far more than just com­pet­ing and watching.

The Artist Al­ley sported home­made mer­chan­dise for QHDUO\ HYHU\ ¿JKWLQJ JDPH imag­in­able, and the event served as an op­por­tu­nity for self-em­ployed artists to take home some ex­tra money. Old-school vet­er­ans who grew up with ar­cade cul­ture were no doubt pleased with ‘Je­bai­ley Land’ which of­fered new and vin­tage ti­tles in clas­sic ar­cade cab­i­nets.

No­table com­mu­nity mem­bers also hosted pan­els where ev­ery­thing from sponVRUVKL­SV WR ¿JKWLQJ JDPH anime be­came hot top­ics.

“Be­ing on the beach this year was a nice touch, but the venue kept us busy most of the time,” Gra­ham said.

When play­ers did ven­ture off, it was typ­i­cally to visit a lo­cal restau­rant or shop. Badge-wear­ing play­ers could be seen around Day­tona all week­end, and the event no doubt served as an eco­nomic boost to the city.

As the in­dus­try grows it wouldn’t be too un­ex­pected to see a few vir­tual ath­letes around Polk.

There’s big op­por­tu­nity out there in the grow­ing world of com­pet­i­tive video gam­ing.

In 2018, the Es­ports in­dus­try is pre­dicted to be worth $905 mil­lion, which is a 38 per­cent in­crease from 2017’s $655 mil­lion. Forbes sug­gests the in­dus­try will be worth over a bil­lion dol­lars by 2020, and view­er­ship for the most pop­u­lar games ri­vals or out­per­forms some of the big­gest en­ter­tain­ment in the world.

Tour­na­ment se­ries Fri­day Fort­nite pulled in over 8.8 mil­lion unique view­ers dur­ing its fourth week, which re­port­edly clashed with The Walk­ing Dead that main­tains an aver­age of about 7 mil­lion view­ers each week.

That just ac­counts for view­er­ship. Bil­lions are made an­nu­ally just from the sale of games, from the ad­ver­tis­ing built into the soft­ware and ad­di­tional ingame pur­chases that com­pa­nies sell to play­ers, so mar­ket­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for com­pa­nies who in­vest in gamers who stream their matches on plat­forms like Twitch and Youtube, and more. Add on the costs for hard­ware to run games that some­times come on a va­ri­ety of plat­forms, and the costs for play­ers can go up.

Also, don’t for­get about the reg­is­tra­tion fees. Just to com­pete in the CEO tour­na­ment cost $65, and that was only if gamers got their con­test en­try in be­fore May 31. Then prices went up to $75, and $100.

Spec­ta­tors alone paid $50 for a three-day badge.

)RU ¿JKWLQJ JDPHV (YR is like the Olympics.

Held in the Las Ve­gas Man­dalay Bay Arena, 11,472 en­trants will com­pete across 8 games later in Au­gust.

This num­ber is up 15 per­cent from last year’s 9707.

Those in­ter­ested in watching or vis­it­ing can visit http://evo.shoryuken. com/.

/ Sean Wil­liams

Play­ers used ar­cade cab­i­nets in ‘Je­bai­ley Land’ dur­ing the CEO event in Day­tona Beach in late June.

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