eSports: Historical Review, Current State, and Future Challenges

eSports: Historical Review, Current State, and Future Challenges

Julien Bousquet, Myriam Ertz
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7300-6.ch001
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The eSports industry has experienced tremendous growth for a decade, despite the pandemic hitting the entire planet. While major sporting events have been canceled or postponed, eSports continues to grow strongly. While encouraging, this trend will also cause the young eSports industry to take up many challenges in the coming years. eSports will not compete directly with professional sport, but it seems on the verge of being integrated into major professional leagues worldwide, a trend that started a few years ago. Professional sport and eSports, combined, seem poised for a promising future. Given the rising interest in eSport, this chapter presents a historical review of the phenomenon before outlining its current state from an economic and market perspective. A final section will further outline the remaining challenges and avenues for the future of eSports.
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eSports, a contraction of the terms “electronic sports,” can be defined as “a form of sports where electronic systems facilitate the primary aspects of the sport; the input of players and teams, as well as the output of the eSport system, are mediated by human-computer interfaces” (Hamari & Sjöblom, 2017, p. 211). There remains a debate about whether eSports should be recognized as a sport (Holden et al., 2017). In fact, due to its virtual nature and lack of physical activity, eSport has therefore been criticized for not being an actual sport, and professional sport (i.e., real sport) remains, therefore, the reference point when thinking of sport (Ke & Wagner, 2020). Meanwhile, eSport has grown in importance and is currently gaining momentum due to the current COVID-19 crisis, leading to the digitalization of most cultural and sports activities. Yet, it is too early to assert the collapsology of professional sport, and the term “tremor” might be more appropriate for now. Still, the industry shows somewhat worrying signs of weakness, supported by the pandemic (Covid-19), which is not helping the situation. Although eSports seem to be a very recent phenomenon, it dates back almost half a century, with the first video game developed in 1967. Besides, it has become widely popular over the last ten years. This industry is structured around stakeholders that have evolved (i.e., publishers, infrastructure platforms suppliers, teams/players, competitions organizers, broadcasters, sponsors, and spectators). eSports operate according to the same logic as a traditional sport. Marketing approaches are similar to sports marketing and are appropriate for developing and implementing strategies related to organizations working in the eSports industry (Pizzo et al., 2018).

The eSports industry will face many challenges in the coming years, including a need for recognition. Even though July 2018 marks the 1st forum between the International Olympic Committee and the Global association of international sports federation, which seems to bring the traditional sports industry and eSport closer together, the road ahead still seems long and winding. Another critical point is the need to better organize / structure competitions. The 2018 World championship attracted nearly 100 million spectators, and thousands of contests are held each year worldwide. Some authors (i.e., Chikish, Carreras, Garcia, 2019) advocate for even more professional governance to legitimize this industry. Finally, eSports does not have a very positive image due to certain pejorative elements associated with addiction, social isolation, or even violence (Jonasson & Thiborg, 2010), and even psychological problems linked to gambling or sports betting (Peter et al., 2019). This is partly what is holding back the integration of eSports into the Olympics.

This industry has been evolving for over fifty years now and has undergone significant changes. The main objective of this chapter is to understand its origins and its historical evolution to its current place as an industry while presenting the challenges it will face in the coming years. This chapter is intended as a historical overview of the evolution of the eSports industry which will allow academics, students, and/or professionals to have an overview of this industry. Therefore, we will try to answer the three research questions that underlie our reflection: (1) Where did eSports come from? (2) What is the current state of the eSports industry and its market? And (3) What are the challenges and prospects for the eSports phenomenon?

This chapter, mainly based on an exhaustive review of the literature and the secondary factual data on which the authors will base their analysis, addresses this question of the advent of eSports and will be organized into three sections. The first will situate the place of this phenomenon, as well as its historical evolution. This first section emphasizes the historical change, decade after decade, to fully grasp the milestones that have brought the eSports industry to today in 2021. Then, the second section portrays the development, the distribution of revenues, the structuring, the audience and, player motives and typology that make up the eSports industry. Finally, the last section looks at the challenges that the eSports industry will face in the coming years through two themes such as eSports venues and the regulation of the industry to establish itself more sustainably.

Key Terms in this Chapter

MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena): A video game in which two teams of players compete against each other on a predefined battlefield.

FPS (First-Person Shooter): A type of video game whose gameplay involves shooting enemies and other targets and in which a player views the action as though through the eyes of the character they are controlling.

Battle Royal: A type of video game in which a fight is made up of numerous combatants confronting each other simultaneously and from which only one winner can emerge.

VR (Virtual Reality): A simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world.

Esports: A form of sports where electronic systems facilitate the primary aspects of the sport; the input of players and teams, as well as the output of the eSports system, are mediated by human-computer interfaces.

MR (Mixed Reality): Merging real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations, where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real-time.

Skin: A skin is defined as a cosmetic element that changes the look of an item (i.e., a gun or an armor) in a video game.

Collapsology: The study of the risks of imminent collapse.

LAN (Local Area Network): A term for a local computer network connecting computers in a limited area.

MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game): An online game with usually hundreds or thousands of players who are playing on the same server.

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