This week’s ESI London event showed that there was little chance that esports would disappear, and it won’t be long before it becomes the biggest sport in the world.
The Evolution of Esports
In 1972, the first video game competition took place at Stanford University as students played a game called Spacewar, with five players competing in a free-for-all Grand Final.
In 1996, the Evolution Championship Series began with 40 contenders competing on Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 2.
In 2010, Nintendo hosted Wii Games Summer 2010, with 400,000 participants on games including Super Mario Bros. Wii and Mario Kart Wii.
In 2019, Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf, won $3million as he took home the Fortnite World Cup, a tournament which 40 million people entered, including me and one of my closest university friends.
In 2021, there are 1000s of esports cash tournaments every day, from ‘Smash’ to ‘Zleague’.
Since the first esports competition in 1972, especially in the last 25 years, esports has reached for the stars, and seems more and more likely to reach them.
The Return of ESI London
It had been 730 days since the last ESI London event in the Capital, and you could feel the electricity and excitement in the air.
The event brought together some of the biggest names in the world of esports for an unmissable conference of talks, ranging from diversity in esports to the impact it has had on student life. There was a common goal you could feel among everyone there- we need to maintain the momentum we have.
2020-21 has been a big year for many reasons. The impact of Covid-19 in the sporting world has been massive, with there being a clear risk to the future of many sports teams.
For the world of esports and gaming however, the growth was unlike the industry had ever seen.
Consoles across the world sold out as people delved back into their childhood passions with the extra time they had indoors. The latest Sony Playstation 5 was so sought after, I only got mine by staying up till 2.30 am every day for a month and constantly refreshing Argos’ website before I was allowed to buy it.
As the world of sport was stopped and held at a standstill, esports rose up and took on the world, with many celebrities, professional esports players, and casual gamers competing in competitions designed to fill the gap that sport had left.
Esports tournaments were common and perhaps the biggest progress we saw in a competitive tournament last year was the F1 Esports Series.
The F1 Esports series
The F1 esports series, played on the video game F1 2021 made by Codemasters, is the closest esport we have to real life sport, and this is likely why the numbers have kept going up and up since Covid-19 began.
Using a simulator, the competitors drive around all of the tracks from the F1 calendar. Having tested a Sim at ESI London, it is important that you truly give it a go before knocking it as something easy and not really a challenge.
Team Veloce, an F1 team that work with Mercedes, Alfa Romeo and McLaren in the F1 esports series, were manning the simulator at ESI.
They told me that the force with which the simulator works and the feedback you get from the wheel and the machine means that similar to real life, when you crash into a virtual wall, the risk of hurting yourself is still there.
The most important thing for the Series however was that F1 decided to completely back it when their own real racing series was put on hold.
They have not stopped since, noticing that they had a chance to tap into a market of fans who played the game but weren’t interested in the actual races.
This included running tournaments between celebrities, such as Thibaut Courtois, Real Madrid and Belgium goalkeeper, and F1 drivers in mini competitions.
Manager of Alpine F1 esports, Guillaume Vergnas, spoke to me about the importance that F1 played in esports last year, and how these tournaments are still working to engage with their new fan base:
“I think F1 have done very well, pushing the virtual grand prix, replacing the real event last year. I think it’s about bringing new agencies to Formula 1 and bringing this new generation into Formula One.
“It’s a generation that cares a lot about sustainability and the environment and the impact you have as well and I think F1 and F1 esports promote this.
“We’ve done a three-race event earlier this year with F1 where the esports driver would do the qualifying and then the celebrity would race and there would be a cash prize for the winning team’s charity.”
It is clear that F1 is conscious of the fact that esports is an area of the industry that continues to grow.
When speaking to Leeston Bryant, the Senior Manager at McLaren, he spoke passionately about how there are more viewers of this year’s competition than last year, despite the fact that we aren’t in a lockdown situation.
The Future of Esports
Esports isn’t something that is a flash in the pan and will disappear, and the last 50 years of progress since that supposed first game at Stanford shows this.
We now have the two major franchise leagues, the Overwatch League and the Call of Duty League, as well as the upcoming ePremier League, where gamers are given the chance to represent a Premier League club on FIFA 22.
The increase in celebrity engagement will only look to drive the numbers even higher, with most notably Lando Norris, F1 driver for McLaren, setting up Quadrant, a gaming and lifestyle brand over lockdown.
He uses the channel to promote his brand, but it is ultimately his passion for gaming that will push the industry further along.
He is not the only sports star to engage in esports as well, with Dele Alli partnered with EXCEL and England cricketer Ben Stokes setting up his own esports team, 4CAST.
The Camaraderie of ESI London
ESI London was my first major esports conference, and it won’t be my last. The passion and energy that the companies showed in developing an industry that is on its way up was breath-taking.
The takeaway from the event however was that everyone had to work together for esports to continue thriving. Everyone was there to help each other, from CEO’s of major teams to marketeers looking for new opportunities, to journalists like me.
A speaker at the talks had said that there had been two years of growth in two months during lockdown. Now the work needs to be done to maintain it.