Are eSports introducing a new lifestyle ?
eSports have already evolved... a lot
Sbenu, in Korea, is advertising shoes with both pop idols & eSports
Esports, a world which has truly exploded in the most recent years, was a passion shared by a small dedicated community just a decade ago. A passion developed within mostly hardcore gamers who truly enjoyed the artistic fashion in which some players transcended the skills of “pushing buttons on a mouse and a keyboard” to achieve victory. It was an elitist world, where truly only the best players and people with an immense knowledge were admitted, something you couldn't truly grasp if you hadn't watch a certain amount of legendary games of Quake, Starcraft BW, Warcraft or the early days of Smash Melee & Street Fighter.
At least, that's how I can perceive this “old” world as someone who isn't part of this generation. But truly, this is part of what reinforced even further my passion for competitive video games and my admiration for some legendary players. And damn, with maybe the exception of Korea, most of those players were losing money by doing all of this. When you hear Joe Miller says he's sneaked out of school to cast some Battlefield in Northern Europe while earning nothing, you can feel the passion which probably ignited the one of my generation.
Nevertheless, the eSports world is way different now, with millions of viewers for each big event, unimaginable cash-prizes and players who can be as famous as some traditional athletes. Gaming companies have invested a lot in eSports which became the bread and butter for selling gaming products : Razer is sponsoring up to 35 different teams, Asus & Intel are sponsoring huge offline events, Acer, Logitech, Alienware... They're all on it.
Moreover, eSports are no longer attracting only hardcore competitive gamers but even your average casual player who just enjoys watching others play their game at the highest level imaginable. It's probably safe to assume that the early eSports passionates are now the minority and I even know of some who got lost in this new explosive world because they couldn't recognize it anymore. I can imagine that seeing teenage girls cheering on pro-players in an arena might be a bit of a shock therapy for guys who used to go to tournaments in houses filled with hairy dudes in sleeping bags.
Esports are still an extremely messy universe at the moment, with people from all over the world and every culture, every socio-economical background, joining in and cheering for their favorite teams/players. It's kinda beautiful as, in the end, we just share one passion and can cast away all of our differences in order to just enjoy the game. God bless the Internet generation.
But with this new world, a new culture and a new unique lifestyle might be coming along : a culture of people extremely active on social media, very fond of everything Internet related, gaming, and some other fields like music, sports, cosplay, litterature, etc. Gaming events are starting to create a “model” kind of event with players playing in an arena midway between the sports stadium and the music stage, offering tons of alternative activities (LANs, cosplay contests, photography, new tech booths) and in the end, are also something between the sports event and the music festival.
A culture means new codes, new ways of speaking, new values and necessarily new models to impersonate every one of those. A culture also means a new vestimentary fashion, new tastes and new relative fields of interest. And this doesn't escape to the vision of several companies.
To this in just four years...
What level of a "culture" can eSports reach ?
Redbull, Razer, Riot Games, Blizzard, Sbenu, HBO and some other I'm surely forgetting have all something in common : they see eSports as an international group audience, having a somewhat unique “lifestyle”. Redbull develops eSports events alongside extreme sports events, Razer is sponsoring freerunners and martial artists alongside eSports teams, Blizzard and Riot Games are investing into music collaborations with the Imagine Dragons Warriors song and the Madeon invitational at the Heroes of the Storm launch event. Sbenu is a shoe selling company who invested massively in eSports in Korea building up pro-teams and becoming an official sponsor of OGN.
Despite only being in Korea for the moment, I believe Sbenu is the most interesting example here and I'm sure some shoe company in the West will get involved sooner or later. And you're starting to create this “lifestyle” I'm talking about by creating a line of shoes that should please the eSports fans, that they'll bring to events and tournaments because they enjoy the brand, or because their favorite players are wearing them. It would be the same as using the same mice or keyboard right ? From there on, you can imagine endless possibilities for creating new products and new experiences that would appeal to the eSport community.
Royston Wee, a martial artist sponsored by Razer
This is just one example among plenty others : Twitch creating some dedicated music channels, ESPN airing some eSports on one of its channels, etc. The fact is that multiple companies are investing the field and testing things out at the same time, offering a somewhat weird experience : it feels already complete and global but you know there's still some countless possibilities.
Another concrete example, which probably gave me the idea for this article in the first place. Recently, as many of us did, I spotted the Heroes of the Storm launch with Madeon coming in for a live set and I'm saying to myself : “Another music collaboration that's pretty neat ! Seems like it's pretty valuable for eSports company to work on those kind of projects and this very cool for us, fans”. Then the next day, I'm going through the Razer website and see this awesome new concept of tech, the Switch Blade with a keyboard which can adapt its keys depending on the game you're playing. But what caught my attention is the actual design : it's like a mash-up tablet Madeon is using and what made him popular on the first place. So, if the keyboard can adapt to everygame, why couldn't it also be a mash-up tablet and you can sell this product to both communities ? Or a mixed community ?
Creating new lines of wearable products (clothes, accessories...) and taking inspiration in close communities (music, martial arts, extreme sports) will bring a coded “lifestyle” mixed from all that. The line between eSports and our “traditional lives” will get thinner. This suppose two things : we'll lose part of what make eSports what it is today with a huge melting-pot of cultures, socio-economical backgrounds, beliefs ; but we'll win countless new amazing experiences within the eSports industry.
Unikrn, an eSports betting company like a few others and Fantasy League website, have been multiplied recently. Same goes for live-news applications like theScore
Are fans and companies ready for those changes ?
To some extent, it's a bit scary. I met some “early adopters” of eSports, and they feel like they lost a part of their passion for this world as it exploded into something they didn't really recognize anymore. Can the same happen to my generation ? 25 years-old, part of the generation who witnessed the first consoles and the birth of Internet, I feel pretty arrogant compared to some older generations but the young generation will be different once again. I respect every pro-player but I would find it awkward and disturbing if some 14 year-old girl would worship some gamers like they worship Bieber. “I'm such an Xpekeliever, oh my god I have posters of him everywhere he's so hot”. That just sent chills down my spine as I was writing it.
Closing the gap between between eSports and a dedicated “lifestyle” means the birth of codes which are pretty much non-existent today. If you like gaming, and enjoy eSports, well then welcome to the community. Likewise, I wouldn't want to not feel part of the eSports world anymore because I'm not wearing whatever shirt/shoes, I wouldn't want to get thrown back at a world where people are judged based on external appearances.
We're today facing a bit of a tricky situation which we've probably never seen before with the creation of a whole new industry based on the creation of digital technologies and Internet. And with such a big boom, like it was for the first smartphones, we don't really know where we're going, both customers and companies. It's really easy to get excited about eSports, about the possibilities, and tons of people are throwing themselves into projects that won't work (or even in scams for the most evil-intended kind), we're getting excited as mixing the music world with the gaming one, we imagine travel companies making touristic tours around Dreamhacks, and so on. With the first smartphones, how many of us tried out apps so stupid that we're now almost ashamed of our actions ?
The eSports community is global, very active on social media and its answer will always be prompt and deadly. Companies are today walking down a very narrow path where people like me have extremely high expectations but don't really know what they want in the end. Do I want eSports to stay like they are ? Do I want them to evolve into something as huge as football ? Do I want something in between but with still some changes ? Won't I feel lost if eSports fans start to develop a proper dress-code and language ?
“Do you even TSM, danker ?” - Brokenshard's unofficial son, 2032
I'm asking myself those questions despite already knowing the answer : it doesn't really matter what I personally want, eSports will evolve no matter what. An industry stagnating is a dead one. Therefore, the responsibility is shared between us, who express our desires, and companies, to go in the right direction and not let the “lifestyle” overcome what made us passionated by eSports in the first place : gaming, competitiveness, the glorious feeling of being able to enjoy any eSports whatever you're doing in your life and wherever you come from.
Some things will necessarily change in the future and eSports will be once again a bit different, but we're all gamers here. We don't use the word change. We use the word : evolve. My feel is that companies know exactly how dangerous the road look like, and that they'll be as reactive as their community, adapting and evolving as quick as possible to the new needs and desires. The line between eSports and a dedicated “lifestyle” feels thinner and thinner, but that doesn't mean that the lifestyle will take over the “eSports spirit” : the two can evolve together and bring some awesome experiences along the way.