As with traditional sports, esports consists of many different games. But those games don’t necessarily mimic traditional sports. For example, in Aspen the game of choice is Counter-Strike, a first-person shooter in which you choose to be either a terrorist or a counter-terrorist. No, you can’t be Lionel Messi. But the most popular is League of Legends, a multi-player strategy game whose Wikipedia description sounds like it was written by the lovechild of JRR Tolkien and C-3PO. To the uninitiated, it sounds as impenetrable as cricket.
Big business – online & in arenas
But there are plenty of people who get esports, in all its forms. In 2014 there were 205m viewers, according to Newzoo, which conducts market research for the computer games industry. The 2013 League of Legends world championship attracted 32m online viewers, more than double baseball’s World Series and even trumping game seven of basketball’s NBA finals. The 2014 League of Legends world championship attracted 40,000 fans to Sangam Stadium in Seoul (image 3), which hosted a football World Cup semi-final in 2002.
But while South Korea is considered by many to be the cradle of esports, it is now doing enormous business in Europe and North America. In July 2014, 11,000 fans watched an esports event in a Seattle basketball arena. The event offered the highest esports prize pool so far – $10.9m, more than golf’s USPGA Championship – and was streamed by US broadcasting giant ESPN.