Last month, five gamers became instant millionaires after winning The International, a tournament in Seattle for the best Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2) players on the planet. The combined prize pool was $18.4 million.
That was the largest payout in the history of esports, which are competitive video games played by professional gamers for increasingly mind-blowing amounts of money.
The Gamers Have Arrived
Five years ago, only madmen and prophets tried to play video games professionally. At the time, there were very few tournaments, each with very small payouts, and very few options of which games you could play.
Nowadays, millions of people want to watch pros play seemingly every video game on the planet, and they’re willing to pay good money to help make it happen. Video game developers have gotten in on the action too, forming leagues, hosting tournaments, and outright paying salaries to professional gamers who want to help make their game a spectator sport.
Photo Credit: LoL esports flickr
Already this year, an estimated $45 million has been paid out to pro gamers in esports prize money over almost 3,000 tournaments— a 25% growth over 2014’s total prize money. That’s almost 10 tournaments happening every day, on average.
The money is here. The players are here. The audience is here. It shouldn’t surprise you that DraftKings is now leading the charge to bring fantasy games to esports.
Who’s Paying For It?
Like traditional sports, esports bring in funding from a lot of different sources. There are independent professional league organizations like the Electronic Sports League and Major League Gaming that pay out prize money directly, paid for by sponsors and event ticket sales.
For a long time, these independent leagues were the only for pro gamers to make money. In the past few years, though, some game development companies have started taking a much more hands-on approach to building, supporting, and controlling their own esports leagues.
There are teams, of course, just like in traditional sports. Very few pro gamers are independent. Most are hired by esports team organizations like Team Liquid, Evil Geniuses, and Cloud9. Teams typically bring all of their gamer employees under one roof, pay for their living and travel expenses on top of a salary, and hire coaches to train them, analysts to help them, and all the other things that sports teams need to succeed.
In return, the team organizations typically take a big cut of all income the players bring in from events, sponsorships, etc. A major source of income that’s unique to esports is livestreaming, where pros stream video of themselves playing games live on sites like Twitch for anyone to watch. The most popular pros get tens of thousands concurrent viewers watching them play for hours every day. Viewers can interact directly with the pro via chat room, while paying monthly, watching ads, or sending in donations for the privilege.
What Games are They Playing?
One of the most interesting things about esports is how quickly games rise and fall in popularity. We’re not dealing with a set-in-stone sport that humans have played for generations. These are video games, that only recently came into existence and that the creators are still actively updating, changing, and reevaluating on a weekly basis.
But some games have stood the test of time, and have been played competitively for years already. These are the biggest esports today. (Don’t worry, we’ll be diving into each of these more in future articles.)
League of Legends (LoL): A arena game where players fight over objectives on the map, level up their characters, and try to destroy each other’s bases.
Dota 2: Based off of the same game that LoL was (the original Dota), this hardcore take on the genre uses complex rules and harsher penalties for failure to create opportunities for individual players to shine.
Smite: Another arena game, based on the same Dota concept, but with a third-person camera perspective that completely changes the experience.
Photo Credit: Smite Gaming
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: A first-person tactical shooter, where terrorist and counter-terrorist squads try to complete objectives or eliminate the enemy team.
StarCraft II: A sci-fi strategy game with three asymmetrical factions, where players must build up bases, train armies, and try to wipe out the other player.
Hearthstone: A fantasy card game, where players build their own decks filled with creature and spell cards that they can use to fight the other player.
Street Fighter: A martial arts fighting game, where players use insanely fast reflexes and special attacks to KO their opponent.
Why Play Fantasy Esports?
We’re launching an esports section on DraftKings, where you can play fantasy esports and win big money, just like you do now with football, baseball, and all the other sports we cover.
And, damn it, you should be excited about it. Fantasy esports are incredibly fun to play, and there’s always a big tournament or league happening at any given moment. There are dozens of different games being played competitively, and the players, games, and tournaments are constantly changing. It’s a fantasy lover’s heaven, where there’s always something new to look into, watch, and make picks for.
Photo Credit: US Battle
One perk to the digital nature of esports is that pro gamers don’t run into the same sort of fatigue problems that football players do. esports tournaments can host 20+ matches in a single day, with teams playing back to back best-of-5 series all day long.
So if you’re looking for the next big fantasy sport to get into, you’ve got to give esports a try. And, don’t worry, esports teams have jerseys, posters, and all that same good stuff that you normally buy with your winnings. You can still celebrate your brilliant fantasy picks in style.The closest Josh Augustine ever got to going pro in esports was beating his older brother at Street Fighter. He works as a game designer at Daybreak Games. He’d love to talk with you on Twitter.