E-sport viewership has seen tremendous growth

Not only are video games not just for kids anymore, they’ve grown beyond the realm of home entertainment. With the incredible rise in the popularity of online multiplayer games in general, or more specifically, competitive e-sports, live streaming of major gaming events has been on the rise. Now, the numbers across the board aren’t yet comparable to say, the Super Bowl, FIFA World Cup or even the IPL, but it won’t be long before they’re similar.

The recently concluded Evolution Championship Series (fondly referred to as ‘Evo’) had record viewership numbers this year, with a growth of nearly 50 per cent over last year in unique viewers, putting it at 1.7 million viewers over its last weekend. The numbers might seem paltry when compared to other traditional sporting events, but you’ve got to remember that Evo is quite a niche event that features only core fighting games — they require a sound understanding of advanced gameplay techniques, which not all gamers possess. For a tournament whose audience is a subset of a larger subset of gamers to have such viewership is a tremendous achievement. This year’s edition featured traditional fighting staples such as Tekken (Tag Tournament 2), Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition, SoulCalibur V and Mortal Kombat (among other recent fighters) in addition to an old favourite, Super Smash Bros. Melee was voted on by players via online donations, the proceeds of which went to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Copyright holder Nintendo did not grant permission for a live-stream initially, but they’ll be glad they did — the game had a concurrent viewership of 1,34,000.

Talk about games in the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre, and we’re on the fringes of Super Bowl territory. Valve Corp’s recently (officially) released DOTA 2 saw the finals of its ‘International 2’ tournament reach half-a-million concurrent viewers, while the most-played game in the world, League of Legends, had 18-million unique viewers on the final day of its All-Star Game in Shanghai this May, shattering the previous record of nearly 9 million. What’s more, the next world championship will be held at the Staples Center, where teams will compete for a $2 million prize pot.

South Korea might have several television channels dedicated to broadcasting Starcraft and its sequel, Starcraft II, but there’s no doubt that the next evolution of the service can be found online. Platforms like Twitch (formerly Twitch.TV) offer dedicated gaming-related content, while enjoying a viewership of over 30 million every month. The rise of real-time viewing of live streams has grown leaps and bounds after Twitch entered the picture — it is currently partnered with several professional gaming leagues across the world, including Major League Gaming (MLG) and Electronic Sports League (ESL).

The next generation of gaming consoles are set to capitalise on this trend as well, with both Sony and Microsoft adding native support to share and stream videos — Sony’s PS4 will use San Francisco-based UStream, while Microsoft’s Xbox One will feature Twitch integration. The focus here isn’t (purely) on eSports, but on social gaming — players will be able to share and upload gameplay tutorials, show off to their friends or simply post random clips. Both game console giants are hoping that their customers indulge in incessant sharing; flooding social media in the process. But only time will tell if instant sharing will do more damage than good. Another challenge will be filtering relevant content from the irrelevant when it isn’t organised effectively the way it is currently on Twitch or UStream. But one thing’s for sure: you can expect millions of gamer video uploads by the end of this year.