As the eSport phenomenon breaks through into the mainstream and more traditional media outlets and sponsors embrace the elusive 18-35 demographic, the industry, in turn, can expect to receive larger viewership numbers and an influx of capital. The posturing for a seat at the table amongst large non-endemic sponsors is already well underway, each jostling to be the ‘early’ investors before eSports hits the front page of Forbes as ‘the next big thing’. The momentum is gathering pace, but let’s make one thing perfectly clear: we don’t need them, they need us.
eSport’s singularity is looming, the imminent moment at which the size and near exponential growth of this ‘not-so-little’ sub-culture forces itself into mainstream consciousness and, for better or for worse, is accepted to some degree as ‘normal’.
eSports has long had a problem with its own identity – understandably so. Continually berated and stigmatised by a wide range of mainstream publications, scrutinising the culture as an internet addiction, responsible for school shootings, labelling players as sweaty and fat nerds, or simply showing eSports entrepreneurs the cold hand of dismissal.
It has been long road for eSports to get to where it is today. After well over a decade of nothing but gaming periphery and the occasional energy drink company to fund a scene in desperate need of an influx of capital backing, the industry has not just survived, but thrived.
Sure, the owners of teams/organisations, managers and those with a vested economic interest in seeing eSports grow, crave more money being injected into the scene, but is this necessarily representative of the wider eSports community?
eSports needs to be centred on the competition – open or free tournament circuits where the best players can play on the best teams and compete in the best possible environments. Ideally, the competitors and teams get paid for their dedication to the craft, but the competitive aspect is, and always has been, the primary driving force behind everything in eSports. It’s the sole reason the scene has persevered from such humble beginnings to reach the heights of national television today.
When eSports reached the point that stadiums of fans were being filled out to watch competitions manifest on stage, and top players across a variety of titles started being paid at a competitive rate, this was the point – in my eyes, at least – that eSports became legitimised, when it could exist in a closed loop and sustain itself.
eSports doesn’t need to have a panel of experts on ESPN broadcasts, or a group of band-wagoning, high-fiving celebrities to legitimise the competitive scene. Everything past the point of becoming self-sustainable is icing on the cake.
Miami heat becomes a partner with Misfits? Great. Adidas sponsors Vitality? Awesome. Soccer clubs, venture capitalists, NBA stars, and traditional media outlets – they’re nice to have, but by no means a necessity. eSports will accept their money, but make no mistake about it, eSports does not need them, we have existed in our legitimised loop for years, they need us.
Do not consider big names entering the industry as eSports having ‘made it’ – the scene made it years ago, at least in the eyes of those that have watched it struggle to survive under the weight of its own expectations. We are now entering a new age with new money and new prospects. So while ‘The Wild West days’ of eSports might be coming to a close, this does not mean that eSports was nothing before this influx of new money.
There is a reason why they’re coming into the scene, rather than the scene coming to them. Do not interpret the Miami Heat logo slapped next to the Misfits logo as the penultimate goal of eSports – for sure it’s a good thing – but it’s not the be all and end all.
The pure competition of eSports should always be the main focus, not the economic side of things. Whilst it seems these new business ventures have the competitive element of eSports in their best interests, be cautiously optimistic at best. Big money has a habit of exploiting things that are pure in nature, and that is the last thing eSports need. So enjoy the idea of shoe companies potentially collaborating with eSports pros, and Shaq occasionally mentioning eSports in an off-handed sort of way, but remember where the scene came from and how it got here.