In March, as spring still seemed very far away and snow slowly melted on the streets, teams from all over the world assembled in a former communist nation for one of the world’s biggest sporting tournaments. It was the day of the final. Thousands of people slowly filed in and filled up the massive Spodek arena on the Korfantego street. A massive cheer went up as the Polish and the Swedish teams competing for the title took up their positions. Their coaches were standing behind them to guide them through the game. Millions of people watched online with bated breath. Then the game began.
This is not a scene from the Winter Olympics in Sochi. It happened in the beautiful Southern Polish city of Katowice. The Polish team, being cheered by the home crowd, was called Virtus.Pro. And the Swedish team competing for the massive $250,000 crowd-funded prize money was called Ninjas in Pyjamas. They were playing a massively popular first-person shooter video game called Counter-Strike and their gear was powerful gaming computers with comfortable gaming chairs and headphones. Sponsored by Intel and ASUS, over the next two hours, both the teams posed as either terrorists or as an elite counter-terrorism team and killed each other in pitched battles even as the crowd watching the game on massive screens cheered at every kill, particularly when it came from Virtus.Pro. Over five very tense rounds, using tactics that would put the world’s biggest militaries to shame, the five-member Polish team playing as the counter-terror team prevailed and as the crowd jumped to its feet, lifted the massive trophy along with a quarter of a million dollars. Watching all of this six months later on YouTube feels weird. But for millions of people born in the new millennium this is sport. And this is entertainment. Welcome to the world of e-sports.
Be this four-day Electronic Sports League tournament that attracted more than 70,000 people, or the five-day The International, another e-sport tournament in Seattle which gave away massive prize money to the tune of $11 million, video games are slowly turning into major sporting events and even bigger business leaving the decades of underserved shame behind. This fact has been officially validated by Amazon when it spurned Google’s efforts and acquired Twitch for a whopping $970 million.
Twitch is like YouTube. But instead of watching cute cat videos and B-grade Bollywood celebrities dousing themselves with buckets of ice water presumably to bring awareness to the drought in Maharashtra, you can watch people play video games. Till now little known outside the gaming community, Twitch lets people stream their favourite video games. And the number of people watching other people playing video games is so massive that the website Vox reports that peak broadband traffic of Twitch is higher than even Facebook. Amazon itself had proclaimed in its press release that in July alone Twitch had more than 55 million unique visitors to watch 15-billion minutes of content broadcast by more than one million gamers.
It is not just Twitch. On YouTube recorded videos of e-sport tournaments like the Call of Duty Championship 2013 Final have notched up millions of views. As the New York Times reports, the combined audience for e-sports over both Internet and TV exceeds 70 million people. With brands like Coca-Cola pouring in millions of dollars in sponsorships fees, e-sports are also helping to change the image of a gamer as a teenager who plays video games in his parents’ basement into a professional who makes millions.
Matham is a tech geek.
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