Why eSports matter

Before the Daily Dot launched in August 2011, most major media treated the online world as a curiosity, a sideshow

Before the Daily Dot launched in August 2011, most major media treated the online world as a curiosity, a sideshow. But day after day, we’re reminded of just how real the Internet’s influence on lives is, as it affects everything from our personal privacy to international politics and security. Just ask Edward Snowden.

No group understands the power of the Internet as community builder better than the fans of competitive video games, otherwise known as eSports. It’s hardwired into their system.

Paul Graham, the Silicon Valley investor behind legendary startup incubator Y Combinator, saw something very special in Justin Kan and Emmet Shear. The pair of Yale grads had an ambitious plan to reinvent the notion of reality television in the Internet era: They’d strap a camera to Kan’s head, and stream his life over the Internet. Graham seeded the venture with $50,000 in funding, and in short order Kan was “lifestreaming” to the world. The idea was so novel that international viewers flooded his channel and Kan became something of a mini-celebrity. But as Justin.tv grew, it became very clear that their initial plan to create a kind of Internet network of lifestreamers was failing to catch on. People’s lives were kind of boring.

But there was one community on Justin.tv doing something quite unexpected, and growing quickly. Using special software, gamers were streaming their video game sessions. Video games, as generation after generation of kids can tell you, are very much not boring. Among the most popular were the eSports matches, where the world’s best players in games like Starcraft 2 would face off against one another. Seeing this rapid growth, Justin.tv committed fully to video game streaming in 2011, launching sister site Twitch. Nowadays, Twitch sees more than 40 million unique visitors a month and has more than 700,000 broadcasters, and it’s growing fast.

Twitch’s growth is just one minor anecdote from the online universe of competitive gaming. ESports fans, desperate to watch their favorite stars compete, had figured how to stream well before Twitch or even Justin.tv. It’s been part of a long-standing pattern: Where traditional media fails to step up, the eSports community turns to the Internet to fill in the void. TeamLiquid, a fan-run StarCraft forum, rose to become one of the most important news sources for StarCraft. On Redditforums for three of the biggest eSports boast a combined total of nearly 700,000 subscribers. Twitch, likewise, has come to supplant cable and television, who’ve never managed to quite figure out competitive gaming.

In November, 32 million people watched the final match of the annual tournament for the biggest eSport in the world, League of Legends. That’s more than watched the World Series final between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. With computers in more and more homes across the world, and consoles in one out of every two homes in the United States, there are more competitive gamers growing up than there are kids playing baseball, as HBO Real Sports reporter Soledad was shocked to observe in a recent profile on the industry.

As this fascinating ecosystem grows, it will only have a bigger effect on people’s lives. Gaming stars will become celebrities, with legions of followers and the type of cultural influence we’re used to seeing from pro football or baseball stars. Money, already pouring into eSports thanks to investors and advertisers like Coca Cola, will trickle down to every side of the industry, making new careers and changing lives. There will be corruption. There will be scandals. There will be transcendent stories. And that’s why eSports deserves serious journalism. Over the past few months, the Daily Dot has begun covering the eSports world, from the emergence of millionaire gamers to controversial projects to the explosion of the video game streaming business.

Today, we’re officially launching an eSports section on the Daily Dot homepage. We’ll report on the world of competitive gaming with the same type of independent, investigative journalism that’s defined our work over the past two years.

No favoritism. No allegiances. Just pure eSports coverage.  

Photo by ChrisYunker/Flickr