Video gaming hasn’t always been seen as a form of competitive sport. Instead, playing games was considered a way to relax and entertain yourself. Ten years ago, you’d never be able to watch a game of FIFA, instead of regular professional football, being streamed on mainstream television channels. Fast forward to 2019, and the first ePremier League was broadcasted on Sky Sports. To compensate for COVID-19 pandemic restricting professional football games, the ePremier League was a competitive gaming tournament. Instead of hitting the playing field, professional football players fought it out on the virtual field in FIFA 22.  

With more and more people turning to video games and the esports industry experiencing a huge boom in popularity and mainstream media coverage, can esports be considered a mainstream sport? Especially after it was announced that in August 2022 esports will be a part of the Commonwealth Games.  

We’ll be taking a closer look at what esports actually is, how the industry has grown sustainably during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how this growth resulted in esports being added to the 2022 Commonwealth Games.  

Esports Editorial feature

What is Esports?  

Esports, short for electronic sports, is classed as any video game that has a professional competitive league. These typically feature a large-scale organised multiplayer competition where different teams battle it out for a trophy and cash prize. These events can take place in arenas for you to go and watch, and are live-streamed online to platforms, such as Twitch or YouTube, meaning fans can watch their favourite players fight it out from the comfort of their own homes.  

League of Legends World Championship

There is a huge variety of different games that have a competitive league, meaning there is something out there for everyone to enjoy. No matter what type of games you like playing. Some of the most popular and renowned games in the esports industry include Overwatch, Valorant, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and League of Legends. All of which have dedicated professional leagues, players from around the globe, and an annual Championship game.  

How has Esports Grown? The Road to the Commonwealth Games 

The Beginning:  

Competition has always been a part of video gaming. The earliest competitive video game took place in October 1972 at Stanford University where a group of students battled against each other to be victorious in Spacewar. The prize for winning wasn’t a big cash prize but instead a year-long subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. As video gaming continued to grow and develop, the 1980 Space Invaders Championship had over 10,000 players take part and was even covered by the mainstream media.  

The rise and popularity boom along with arcade games and the release of Nintendo’s first generation of video game consoles made gaming more popular, kickstarting the concept of tracking high scores. Games such as Super Mario, StreetFighter 2, and The World Warrior were some of the first games released on these platforms, with consistent high-score tracking. They continue to be some of the most popular classic video games today.  

The introduction of cash prizes came with the advent of first-person shooters, such as the original Counter Strike, in 2001. The first championship had a huge 150,000 dollar prize up for grabs and a number of professional teams, such as NiP (Ninjas in Pyjamas), battled it out to earn this cash prize. Since this, more large-scaled events have become increasingly popular with more professional teams and leagues participating in these games. The growth of the internet and the continued popularity of video gaming have helped develop the esports industry that we know and love today.  

Esports Today:  

Today, there is a multitude of different popular games that feature their own professional esports league and Championship competitions.  

Platforms such as Twitch made esports more accessible than ever. It continues to be the leading number one platform for streaming gaming and esports.  

Thanks to Twitch, fans have a deeper connection by getting involved in the chat and cheering on their favourite teams and players from around the world. Many professional leagues and Championships, such as the Overwatch League, utilise Twitch to broadcast their events and competitions to fans. In 2021, the Overwatch League Grand Final between Shanghai Dragons and Atlanta Reign had 134,320 viewers

Overwatch League

Broadcasting these large-scale events means that fans can go back, rewatch, and not miss out on the action if they couldn’t catch it live. Everything is saved online for fans to come back and relive their favourite moments. Or, for new fans to experience for the first time and kickstart their interest in the world of esports and video gaming. In 2019 alone, the League of Legends World Championships was watched for a total of 190 million hours worldwide! 

The fact that many of these events are live-streamed online has played an important role in how the esports industry has developed, especially since the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Esports and the COVID-19 Pandemic:  

Whilst professional sporting events were cancelled, all the esports events were still live-streaming and enjoyed remotely from home. In some cases, esports even replaced traditional mainstream sporting events, like introducing the ePremier League in 2019 or the Mercedes-AMG Petronas esports team.

In fact, OcUK even partnered with Mercedes to help provide equipment for their state of the art esports training facility. Utilising an intelligent driving simulator, F1 drivers can experience driving a virtual model of the standard F1 racing car. They also even have a dedicated esports league where professional players battle it out on the race tracks in several Championship games.

As people began staying at home, they began looking at content online and getting into video gaming. Whilst we couldn’t meet up with friends and family, joining a call online and playing a few hours of a game was a way to bring people together remotely. Similar to how families invested in consoles like the Nintendo Switch, which was sold out in March of 2019, as a way to spend time together, reconnect, and escape from the harsh reality of the initial lockdown.  

The number of people enjoying playing games online increased. For example, between December 2019 and April 2020, the player base of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive jumped from 456,701 to 847,604, according to the Steamcharts for CS:GO. 

Steamcharts for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Watching esports has had a similar effect. People can talk in the chat, share interests, and cheer on their favourite team or player together. 

Andy Fahrey, the UK Esports Specialist Director at PwC has previously summarised perfectly how the video gaming popularity boom has had an impact on the esports industry.  

‘The rising popularity of esports fuelling gaming because esports fans want to emulate the global superstars they see playing video games in tournaments – much as the UK’s tennis courts are always full during Wimbledon’.  

The more people watch, play, and find games that they enjoy playing, the more they want to get involved with the competitive league and the esports industry.  

Esports and The British Commonwealth Games:  

Announced in May 2020, the Global esports Federation and the British Commonwealth Games revealed their partnership and that esports would be a part of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. 

Dame Louise Martin, the President of the Commonwealth Games Federation, has spoken about the decision to involve esports in the Commonwealth games. She had this to say: 

‘Esports is continuing to grow dramatically in terms of popularity and participation, particularly amongst young people, and we are continuing to look at ways to explore how it can align with the Commonwealth Sports Movement.’ 

Esports is an innovative sport that has a consistently growing audience base. The focus behind the decision to introduce esports into the Commonwealth Games is to shake the stigma surrounding esports and show how it can be a part of the mainstream sporting industry.  

Players on the Esports England team hope that the games ‘help people recognise that it can be competitive’ (Karen – DOTA 2 Women’s Team) and encourage more young people to consider taking part in esports in the future (Bell – DOTA 2 Team Captain for the Women’s Team).

Why Should Esports be a Part of the Commonwealth Games?  

The stigma surrounding esports and why it shouldn’t be classed as a mainstream sport is down to how we define what a sport actually is. Some define a sport as an activity that features some form of physical activity.  

However, Mark Weller, the chief gaming officer at Vexed Gaming and the manager of England’s esports team believes that ‘there is more to it than people realise’. Esports requires players to be dedicated to the sport, training, and make game altering decisions in seconds. It needs strategy, fast response times, and reflexes. Whilst it might not need great physical strength, esports requires a level of mental endurance to deal with the incredible speed at which these games can move, similar to chess or darts.  

Emily otherwise known as ‘Gimmick’ from the Esports England Women’s DOTA 2 team, believes that it’s only a matter of time before people start considering esports in line with traditional sports. The games put a great amount of ‘demand on your physicality, not to mention your cognitive strategic thinking’. When playing DOTA 2, ‘you’re doing hundreds of actions per minute, you have to have reaction times that are split seconds’, and it’s all about team coordination. In every team, each player has a specific role, just as you would in a traditional sport like football or hockey.

Emily / ‘Gimmick’ – Esport England DOTA 2 Women’s Team

As a field hockey player herself, Emily doesn’t see much of a difference between esports and playing a traditional sport. Both requiring the same dedication and demand on your body and mind.

The Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Katie Sadleir, hopes that introducing esports into the games will showcase the huge growth in the industry and how young people can achieve their true potential through playing this innovative sport.  

The Commonwealth Esports Championships:  

160 esports athletes from 28 other countries across the Commonwealth will be arriving in Birmingham between August 6th – 7th to take part in the Commonwealth Esports Championships.  

Players will be going head-to-head in three major competitive video games, DOTA 2, eFootball series, and Rocket League. In each of these competitions, there are bronze, silver, and gold medals for each country’s team to earn.  

In all of the games, there will be separate women’s tournaments, giving equal opportunities to incredible female esports players to get involved and win medals for their country! 

Overclockers UK is delighted to announce that we are working in partnership with ASUS to supply equipment to the Commonwealth Games. This includes laptops, monitors, gaming chairs, and much more.  

Emily / ‘Gimmick’ – Esports England Women’s DOTA 2 Team

Not only this, but we’ve joined up with Esports England

We’ve got an incredible giveaway where you can get your hands on a premium noblechairs that features stunning esports England branding printed on the back. To find out more about how you can enter and be in with the chance to win yourself a brand-new gaming chair, click the button down below! 

Meet the UK Team: Esports England 

The players representing England this year have proven their incredible gaming skills and have competed in other successful professional leagues in the past. These include Luminosity Gaming, Misfits Gaming, Ninjas in Pyjamas, and many more! 

Belle – Esports England Women’s DOTA 2 Team
‘Kash’ – Esport England Men’s Rocket League Team

Overclockers UK sat down with the Esports England team at bootcamp as they prepared for the Commonwealth Games. For the full video and interview, check it down below.

Do You Think Esports Should be at the Commonwealth Games? 

We’d love to hear if you think esports should be a part of the Commonwealth Games this year.  

What are your thoughts on how the industry has grown and its place in the future of competitive sports? Let us know below.  

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