By: Andrew Hendricks
Move over Major League Baseball, competitive video gaming is the next big American past-time, and it looks like it's here to stay.
With the recent $1 billion acquisition of Twitch.tv, Amazon has outbid Google at the last hour, in a move that has caused ripples in the gaming community. Known as the “YouTube of live-streaming gaming,” owned by Google, YouTube was in talks to buy Twitch.tv for the same billion dollar price tag back in May.
To a non-gamer, the success of Twitch.tv may to difficult to fully understand. For those not interested in video gaming, contemplating watching others game competitively may sound like a boring proposition. However for millions of Americans, watching professionals battle it out and performers play through games they can't afford or can't beat themselves, watching another person stream their video game session is no different than watching a television show in their eyes. In some ways, it's much more like watching a sport.
Highly competitive video game play has been a staple of South Korean culture for nearly the past two decades. Some of the first world-wide video game celebrities were Korean, with Starcraft, and later Starcraft II being the first games to really grow the competitive player and fan-base exponentially outside of Asia in both Europe and America. One person responsible for exposing Americans to Korean-style competitive gaming is famous YouTube caster HuskyStarcraft. He became a mini-YouTube celebrity in the gaming community after gaining a reputation for non-stop enthusiasm in his Soccer-style sports-casting of 1v1 competitive Starcraft II match-ups. He still churns out videos to this day, casting both professional e-sports matchups and “noob-friendly” videos. Combined, HuskyStarcraft's channel has 4,568,397,180 views and nearly 900,000 subscribers!
Unlike First Person Shooter games like Call of Duty, or RPGs like Zelda and Final Fantasy, Starcraft II is a game in which two opposing players (or two teams of players) each control a small base where resources can be gathered over time to build larger armies. Composition of your army (building aircraft vs. tanks, for example) and choosing when to attack are huge parts of the strategy for a game such as this. Without hundreds of mouse clicks and keystrokes needed at woodpecker-like speed, the movements of professionals at these types of games are often discussed in terms of Actions Per Minute, or APM. Simply watching the dexterity required to play at the upper echelons of these games, one can see how South Koreans view e-sports as legitimate sports—a sentiment that is catching on more and more in the USA.
Overtaking Starcraft II in America the past couple years has been the free-to-play League of Legends. While Starcraft II, a Blizzard Entertainment title costs between $40 to $60 up front for online play, League of Legends, a Riot Games production makes its money through in-game purchases. Unlike popular Facebook games like Castle Crashers and Farmville, which cashed in on users shelling out money to progress in the game, League of Legends ingenious difference was that although you can unlock extra playable characters with money, you can unlock everything needed to be equally competitive through game-play. The only content that you cannot “earn” without paying for in League of Legends are cosmetic “skins” which change the armor or outfits of different champions.
In 2012, League of Legends Season 2 Championships drew 8.2 million viewers. At the time, it was the most-watched e-sport event of all time.
Just last year, however, this record was more than tripled as Season championships drew 32 million viewers. To put this number into perspective, Game 1 of the World Series boasted headlines of its dominating TV ratings with 14.4 million viewers.
With new video games gaining niche communities everyday and popular games like League of Legends rising to the level of golf, soccer, and even baseball, it is easy to see why the big names in tech like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon would battle it out for YouTube of gaming.