When Harry Thomas decided to retire at the age of 28, life became a challenge. His awareness was declining, his reaction speed was decreasing, and he was losing his killer instinct. “It was extremely hard and upsetting for me to leave behind a 14 year legacy of doing what I love,” says Harry.
This was the reality for a veteran in the esports industry.
Esports, otherwise known as electronic sports, is the organisation of competitive video gaming, typically contested between professional players.
Harry loved playing video games when he was younger and he says he developed a competitive instinct from his father. This instinct helped aspire him to be the best player in Europe for Halo, his favourite video game genre. “I grinded for 12 to 18 hours solid a day,” he says. “I wanted to [compete] against people outside my area.” During his career, Harry won more than 20 events in Europe and he has represented the United Kingdom at the esports Olympics for Halo.
Events and tournaments in esports are either individual or team-based and are now a crucial factor in the growth of computer gaming thanks to its rising popularity.
In the last few years, esports has completely transformed into a profitable and valuable business. Celebrities like rapper Drake and former basketball player Michael Jordan have invested heavily in the industry whilst sports teams like Schalke 04 and the Golden State Warriors have created their own teams.
To put this growth into perspective, Statista, a German site for statistics, investigated that the industry will succeed a revenue of $1 billion in 2019, which is more than $900 million higher than the industry’s reported revenue in 2014.
After asking him about the state of esports today, Harry sounded cheerful when discussing its rise in attention. “There are hundreds of millions of viewers or people playing games and it’s just growing massively,” he says. “It’s incredible. The viewership is dramatically increasing. From what I’ve seen there’s no stopping it.”
This surge has also created some competition between esports competitions and other sports in terms of viewership. For example, the 2018 League of Legends World Championships nearly reached a higher viewership than the Super Bowl, falling short but approximately 3 million viewers.
Harry goes on to say that he does not think anyone, or anything, will be able to stop its growth.
Guilherme Arten-Meyer, director of the competitive esports wiki esportspedia, echoes these thoughts. “I can sense that [the] popularity and overall level of professionalism has increased a lot,” says Guilherme. “The overall influx of ‘big names’ in esports from individuals and organizations have helped the teams as a whole and attracted more fans and massive sponsors.”
“I think how everyone handles esports today is on a totally different level. The organization is much better and they in which they handle the games, staff, and players is really strong.”
With a lot of money being invested in the industry, the prize money for competitions has significantly increased too. For example, according to a website database called ‘esports earnings,’ the overall prize money in competitions has increased from approximately $7.3m in 2008 to $157.2m in 2018.
As Guilherme explains, the investments from both individuals and organizations have had a significant impact on the industry since teams now try to engage with their following base as much as possible. “I think the overall influx of ‘big names’ in esports from individuals and organizations have helped the teams as a whole and attracted more fans and massive sponsors,” he says.
However, despite the industry’s growing popularity, there are still problems that exist today -such as when it comes to equality. An investigation by Interpret, a market research firm that specialises in entertainment and media, discovered that while the number of women participating in esports, in some capacity, is rising, the industry is still dominated by men.
For example, the report discovered that approximately 35% of women have played a video game that is considered an e-sport. In addition, Interpret realised that the number of women watching esports events rose to approximately 30% at the end of 2018.
Marissa Roberto, host of Digital SportsCentre on TSN Sports and also Squadstate’s Unmuted and Esports in 30 shows, is optimistic that the industry will be equal for everyone in future. “There are gender issues that need to be addressed, but these issues can only be fixed with time,” she says. “More young girls are picking up game controllers; it’s no longer a hobby just for boys.”
Meanwhile, Guilherme believes “the esports mentality” needs to change as soon as possible in regards to equality so it can become a successful industry. “Even with pro players, women are first seen as a girl playing a game and not actually a pro player, like with the males, which is a big problem.”
Referring back to a previous point, while the overall prize money for competitions has increased, there is a significant difference in pay between male and female players. Marissa explains that this is because of the, “obvious skill gap between these gender-divided leagues.”
Despite this, Marissa hopes that there is more of a gender balance in esports during this stage of her life.
“The opportunities are there for women to shine in this space. It on us to prove ourselves and help pave the way for more to follow.”