eSports are one of the most significant phenomena of the 21st century. For game lovers, it provides a breathtaking show or a way to fulfil their ambitions and earn money and fame; for businesses, it's a vibrant industry with a massive target group. Some people are blown away by eSports. Others are astonished or turned off by the idea. But what really matters is that it creates jobs and opens doors of opportunity to those involved.
On June 7, 2016, eSports were officially recognized as a sport in Russia – and for a good reason: from an army of fans to world-famous celebrities to tournaments with seven-figure prizes, eSports bears every similarity to traditional athletic sports.
Currently, the most financially sound eSports event is the "DOTA 2" tournament called The International. In 2015, its prize purse exceeded $18 million. The winning team, Evil Geniuses, took home over a third of the bank: $6,634,000.
The prize money is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how eSports are developing along the lines of traditional athletic sports. For example, cyberathletes now have coaches, psychologists and assistants that make their travel arrangements. Moreover, journalists are now following the best players and writing about them on eSports-themed websites and blogs. eSports is not just a show or an amazing phenomenon; it's an industry.
The EPICENTER tournament in Moscow. Over 7,000 spectators spent between RUR 1,000 and RUR 8,000 for tickets.
Analytics at play
Just like the major athletic sports, there's a group of people that watch eSports more closely than anyone else: analysts. In fact, "eSports analyst" is one of the new careers of the 21st century. Analysts are not only in demand at all eSports events, they're mandatory at some (League of Legends and CS: GO).
Team analysts are the coach's right hand. It's not enough to simply review the number of wins or kills a player racks up or study the dry numbers recorded during a tournament. Every gamer has his or her own style, and every team reacts differently to various situations. There's plenty of fine detail to pour over.
Analysts watch player behavioral patterns like hawks and look for strengths and weaknesses. To do this, they don't even have to attend the event; watching replays of the virtual battles suffices. They then brief the coach, who adjusts the players' training according to the acquired data – pointing out the skills and tactics to be practiced and offering advice on how to handle dangerous situations.
The analyst saves everyone precious time. Instead of spending hours watching YouTube, coaches can concentrate on training. Meanwhile, cyberathletes, many of whom train 12-15 hours a day for weeks on end, can focus on honing their skills. Every minute counts, so saving time is essential.
Sport anchors at EPICENTER 2016. Today, eSports are no different than the major athletic sports.
Just like traditional athletic sports, people can bet on eSports. This activity provides a strong incentive to develop bookmaking analytics. Although this field is just beginning to evolve, there already are webpages devoted to the practice and people trying to put together winning rates for large events.
Unfortunately, no one is sufficiently skilled at doing this yet, and there's little demand for these services. Many eSports fans know more about what's going on, and often make bets to support their favorite team, not to score a jackpot.
Meanwhile, traditional sports bookmakers are keeping a close eye on eSports. They see the massive audience and smell the money, but so far, no one has been daring enough to take a serious stab at the market (a market that, frankly, baffles the older generation). The industry is waiting for someone bold enough to invest in an eSports bookmaking venture and smart enough to think the whole arrangement through.
The audience of the EPICENTER event in Moscow. During the final rounds, it was sold out, and 4 million people watched it online.
Significant investments are being made in eSports. One of the richest Russians, billionaire Alisher Usmanov, invested $100 million in Virtus.Pro, a Russian project that was soon renamed ESForce Group.
ESForce Group isn't just a collective of strong teams with a snarling bear on their logo; it's a video studio, an analytics team, a popular eSports portal in the CIS, an online store and a team of managers with considerable experience in arranging related events. With such notable financial support and true professionalism onboard, eSports in Russia are poised to explode – regardless of any crisis.
Perhaps the best example of the potential of eSports has come out of ESForce Group. It's been only six months since the investment was announced, and ESForce has already hosted EPICENTER, Russia's largest "DOTA 2" tournament, with the jaw-dropping prize fund of $500,000, in Moscow.
Over 7,000 eSports aficionados attended the event and more than four million people watched it online. Remarkably, tickets were priced the same as a respectable concert: RUR 1,000-8,000.
What greater proof is needed to show eSports in Russia have a bright future?
EPICENTER finals: Team Liquid takes the prize after defeating the legendary Chinese Newbee team.