By Jonathan Bremer
The rise of E-Sports over the past several years has redefined the world of competition. Increasing interest in video games in general has allowed the video gaming industry to accumulate a large base of casual players, and this is the perfect environment to foster the growth of competitive gaming. These games range from single-player games like Hearthstone, Starcraft II, and Super Smash Brothers Melee, to cooperative games that involve teams of two to six players like League of Legends, Overwatch, and Heroes of the Storm. These large groups of casual players make games successful and allow for the emergence of competitive and professional players. But these casual players don’t stick around forever.
What happens to the professional scene when the casual audience disappears? As interest dies, the casual player pool dwindles, and the quality of competition depreciates at the same time. Eventually, the game begins to lose viability as a spectator sport, and the hard work that competitive players put into perfecting their mechanics is nullified. A professional player might wonder,
“Is this game going to be a passing trend, or will I be able to build a long-term career in E-Sports?”
This is something that athletes in traditional sports do not have to worry about, even though the disciplines are similar. Like traditional athletes, competitive gamers spend countless hours pursuing their game of choice. They immerse themselves in competitive environments and invest themselves entirely in their chosen platform. Perfecting their technique and in-game mechanics is of the utmost importance. Their career depends on that split-second reaction or game-shifting decision. In that sense, E-Sports and traditional sports are no different. They both require that level of focus, discipline, and intelligence that makes competitive individuals tick.
The fundamental difference, and the obstacle many E-Sport players face, is rooted in uncertainty. No competitive gamer can predict the lifespan of their game. It could last ten years, or it could last two. The longevity of these games begs the question posed above. Will E-Sports stick around, or will we soon see them fade away? When traditional athletes are dropped from their teams or lose their jobs, their talents are not rendered useless. The sport itself has not disappeared, only their role on a specific team or group, and they have the potential to take on other roles, like coaching or commentating. In other words, these athletes have other opportunities to make an impact in that sport, because it still exists. Professional gamers don’t have that luxury. When their game loses viability, or dies altogether, then they are done permanently. Their sport is deleted from existence and their livelihood is destroyed. It is a unique problem unlike any other in sports.
It is possible for competitive players to adapt to similar games if their game of expertise has died away or fallen from popular favor. When new consoles and gaming systems are released, updates and new versions of the same games are released to stay relevant and maintain user interest. Games like Super Smash Brothers have done this successfully, with few problems to speak of. But players of other games like League of Legends would be unable to make such a shift. The game-specific skills required of League players would not directly translate to any other game on the market. There is a lot of unique game-sense and knowledge that is only relevant to League of Legends. As a result, its competitive player base would have a hard time transitioning to another E-Sport. Problems of unique skill sets like those required of League players only increase the uncertainty many professional gamers face.
Are E-Sports trendy or timeless? Due to games’ lack of longevity and the limited interest of casual audiences, it is likely that many E-Sports will die sooner rather than later. The specific games that don’t fade away will have to offer incentives and unique and immersive experiences for their audience to keep their long-term interest. While the games themselves may not share the longevity that traditional sports have, professional gamers can still survive and make a living off gaming.
The rise of streaming services like Twitch and Youtube over the last decade has allowed for gamers and content creators alike to become monetized as they play games for a specific audience. Zach “Sneaky” Scuderi, who plays “AD Carry” for Cloud 9’s League of Legends team, is a perfect example. Having participated in the competitive gaming scene since 2012, “Sneaky” has built a massive following across the world, with his Twitch channel exceeding 1.3 million followers. He has played World of Warcraft competitively, while also playing games like Heroes of Newerth and DOTA on the side. Even when his “first team” career seemed in jeopardy after he was benched for a portion of this past season, he was able to pull through with the massive support of his fanbase.
While the concept of E-Sports may be timeless, the individual games could very well be passing trends. But there are still ways for competitive gamers to support themselves, even when their games or their expertise in that esport are no longer required. If gamers are versatile and adaptable, they can survive a in seemingly fragile industry and make a living for themselves while doing what they love.