Esports industry set to break $1bn barrier

Up for grabs: $30m to be shared amongst the winners — the largest prize pool in esport history.

An addictive waste of time or a serious competitive sport? After a US teenager won $3m in the first-ever Fortnite World Cup on Sunday, the debate over the future of esports has exploded.

Kyle Giersdorf steps up onto the winner’s podium. He heaves the trophy above his head. At 16 years old, he triumphantly announces that “the grind has paid off”.

On the giant screens above, roughly 20,000 cheering fans, as well as thousands more watching live broadcasts, see his family embrace him. As of this moment, he is $3m richer. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer bellows, “Your Fortnite world champion!”

Esports, such as Fortnite, are coming of age.

This week is a turning point in the esports industry, which is small in absolute terms, but growing rapidly. The industry is expected to break the $1bn barrier by the end of this year, with its global audience growing by 70 million to 545 million.

Nevertheless, it has struggled to achieve mainstream prestige and acceptance, and its events often have a subterranean air.

The Fortnite World Cup was not subterranean. The entire grounds of the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York were turned into a Fortnite-themed wonderland designed to make fans feel at home.

More than 40 million players across the world had competed in the online qualifying rounds, from which around 175 were invited to New York City for what one commentator called “arguably, the biggest day of their entire lives”.

To these players, gaming is not just a hobby. Many teenagers train for over eight hours a day, managing social media accounts, and earning millions by competing in global tournaments.

Video games have been played competitively since the 1970s. But in 2018, at the height of the Fortnite craze, the World Health Organisation officially classed gaming addiction as a mental illness.

Last month, Fortnite’s makers were quizzed by British MPs on whether game developers did enough to verify the age of players or encourage users to take breaks.

Are they a serious sport or a waste of time?

Sporting chance?

Absolutely serious, goes one argument. Just consider how it works. Players compete in regional and international competitions, streamed live around the world. Professional commentators weigh in on the drama. The biggest teams live together, training for hours a day, hoping to improve their reflexes, strategy and mental agility. At the very top, players can perform up to 500 “actions” a minute, perfectly in sync with their teammates. It is utterly old-fashioned to deny that esports are not “real” sports.

How ridiculous, goes the opposing argument. Fornite may have millions of players around the world, but for how long? There are always new games being released. If your only skill is moving your thumbs quickly, you are certainly not athlete. The essence of great sport is that it requires greatest of mind, body and soul. Just the thought of comparing an esports champion to Mohammed Ali or Lionel Messi makes you laugh.

You Decide

  1. Should esports be treated like traditional sports?
  2. Is gaming addiction as dangerous as smoking?

Activities

  1. Imagine you want to be an esports professional and your parents are against it. Write a short letter to them explaining why you believe it would be a good career choice.
  2. There were no women finalists at the Fortnight World Cup. List the three top reasons why this might be so.

Some People Say...

“That game shouldn’t be allowed […]. It’s created to addict. An addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible.”

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Fortnite is a first-person shooter game that was released by Epic Games in 2017. It has more than 250 million registered users around the world. The most popular mode is Fortnite: Battle Royale, in which up to 100 players, either solo or in squads, are parachuted onto a large map. The players then search the area for weapons and resources, and attempt to survive to be the last person (or squad) remaining.
What do we not know?
Gaming trends come and go. Pokémon Go was hot for a single summer; Flappy Bird was cool for about a week. Can Fortnite achieve the longevity enjoyed by traditional sports like football? New online games are released everyday, and many other games have millions of online players.

Word Watch

Fortnite
One hundred players. A horde of weapons. A whole world to explore. One objective: be the last player standing.
Subterranean air
In this case, a rather underground, alternative reputation.
Gaming addiction
When enjoying playing a game turns into a dangerous addiction. Most consider it an addiction when players’ lives are so disrupted by the amount they play that it interferes with their everyday lives.

Subjects

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