Lee 'Jaedong' Jae Dong hits number one for e-sport earnings; image via games.on.net.

Lee ‘Jaedong’ Jae Dong hits number one for e-sport earnings; image via games.on.net.

Recently Games.on.net, the video game site for ISPs iiNet and Internode, posted an article bringing to attention to the fact StarCraft 2 player Lee Jae Dong (aka Jaedong) has hit number one on the highest earnings list for e-sport players worldwide.

“According to eSports Earnings … Jaedong’s earnings now total $489, 384.”  (Article by Alex Walker)

It’s important to note that these earnings are winnings only. Professional gamers can also have endorsement deals, salaries, and fan donation support systems that make up a large majority of their yearly earnings.  However it wasn’t what was gained that interested me, but what was undoubtedly lacking.

Looking at the stars of our regular sporting events the difference in winnings is painfully obvious. For example, Roger Federer topped the tennis field by winning $6.5 million during the period of June 2012 and June 2013. That is over $6 million more in prize money than the highest earning e-sports player Jaedong, whose winnings were gathered over a lifetime. More incredibly, Poker champion Ryan Riess took out the No-Limit Hold’em main event at the 44th Annual World Series of Poker, the winnings for first place equalled $8, 361, 570!  The highest paying prize pool in e-sports for individual play was the CPL World Tour Finals in 2005, equally a mere $510, 000. While the highest paying prize pool for teams, The International 2013 for Dota 2, pulled in $2, 874, 407. These barely scrape Riess’ first place winnings and as prize pools, they are shared over many participants. It can’t be denied that E-sports have indeed grown over the last few years, the total prize money for a year in e-sports growing by almost $10 million in value between 2010 and 2013. However in the world of sports it is but pocket change.

The question is, will we see this change over the next decade? Surely e-sports will continue to grow in prizes but the real earnings for athletes come in the form of endorsements; companies who use them as living billboards for their brands and support the sporting events that showcase their prized star. Gamers do get sponsored, the highest ranking among them given salaries and endorsement deals, but as video gamers their ability to sell brands to the public are limited by society’s outlook of what they represent. Certainly we look to them for the latest gaming hardware, but would you look to them for fitness, diet, or clothing advice?

In May 2013, the US Government agreed to issue a P-1 visa to League of Legends gamer, Danny “Shiphtur” Le.  This caused a major ripple of excitement through the gaming community, and some disbelief from those outside of it, as P-1 visas are intended for “internationally recognised athletes”. The US Government, through the extensive lobbying of Riot Games (creators of League of Legends), had just given the recognition that video gamers could be now considered athletes and, in turn, the games they play a sport.  While this may shock those who are outside of the gaming community, for avid gamers and supporters of e-sports (Electronic Sports) it was something long overdue. The concept of video games as a competitive platform had been around as early as the 1970′s. So what is it about e-sports that is so appealing? So why start moving in a direction aimed at creating an industry more in line with major football leagues, and soccer championships?

There are two important elements that can assist in understanding this perspective. The first is community. With the Internet and technology at the point it is we can build networks with people all across the globe and people thrive in these environments, creating new ways to connect and share with each other. Gamers have built fan sites, guilds, teams, game modifications, guides, artwork, video clips, costumes, and even pornography to support their love of a favourite game. All of the actions and materials created by game fans generate attention, not only for themselves and their games but also for the gaming industry as a whole. Attention is a scared and valuable commodity because as the Internet and media constantly flood society with new information it can be difficult to get people to focus on any one thing for a long period of time, which brings us to the second element; spectators.

Spectators, or fans, are really the most important aspect of any sport as they support the industry culturally and financially. Competitive gaming is no different.  People want to watch the best, they want to learn from the best, have the same gear as the best, and, for many try, to be the best. The Internet has allowed players who are highly ranked and/or knowledgeable at their game to have a platform to be marketed to their fans through websites, social media, and importantly, live streaming. Sites such as Twitch.com allow anyone to live stream their gaming experience to the world creating the fan base and marketing opportunities more often seen through traditional media outlets. Major companies now sponsor competitive gamers and e-sport events to market their products, helping push the industry to new heights.

With the US Government’s decision on the P-1 visa presenting an example of the growing support for e-sports being generated from new areas of society; there is the expectation to see more changes in the near future seeking to bring e-sports into the lives of the general populace. Will television networks in Australia eventually broadcast the Dota 2 International? Will Starcraft celebrities find themselves swamped in all major cities as they do in South Korea? Will all countries start to see e-sport events as a strong source of tourism and revenue? We shall see. So join me as this blog reflects the ups and downs along the road to e-sport success and my personal journey in a world of games.