Man and Machine all set for Battle at eSports’ Biggest Tournament

IMAGE SOURCE: @DotaSLTV via Twitter

Whether you are a huge fan or yet to get immersed in it, there is simply no denying that the world of eSports is continuing to just grow and grow. Professional competitive gaming is on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream, with exciting new competitions like the Overwatch League emerging alongside more established competitions to bring top-quality action to the masses.

To say the industry is in rude health would be an understatement. According to research from Newzoo, the global eSports economy is expected to be worth $905.6 million this year, with much of this being driven by advertising and sponsorship as big brands continue to dip their toes into the hugely popular area.

Jewel in the crown

However, for all of the growth which has happened and is expected to continue into the future, one tournament is still arguably viewed as the jewel in the eSports crown – The International event for online battle arena title Dota 2.

Held annually and set to take place in August this year, The International is a tournament like no other – specifically due to the huge level of prize money which is on offer. Last year, the winning side Team Liquid took home an incredible $10 million share of the $24 million prize pool, which was raised for the event through a base contribution from organisers Valve and funds generated from the release of special content linked to the tournament.

With this year’s competition in Vancouver edging ever closer, the 2018 prize pool stands at more than $19 million and – as of July 4th – Betway had Team Liquid and Virtus Pro as joint-favourites with both sides having odds of 3/1 to win outright. Away from the main action though, a new subplot has also emerged in relation to this year’s event, which is sure to attract a lot of attention and interest when the competition gets underway.

Science fiction becomes reality

The idea of humans doing battle with machines sounds like something straight out of a science fiction film, but this year’s The International is set to see top gamers go head-to-head with artificial intelligence to see who will come out on top.

According to Variety, the research company OpenAI are behind a plan which will see five neural networks compete against a team of professional competitors in a match. The ‘team’ of AI players has apparently already beaten some amateur human sides and they are playing in the region of 180 years of matches between themselves in order to master the game. Ahead of The International, OpenAI is also hosting a game against human competitors at the end of July, which will be broadcast live on Twitch. Speaking to Variety, OpenAI added that it was “focused” on being prepared for The International and that its AI team had “a real shot”.

The next chapter

The match between humans and the AI players is sure to be a fascinating sight and it is just the latest example of occasions when people have pitted their wits against machines.

Probably the most famous was, of course, Garry Kasparov’s famous chess matches against the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue. Two six-game contests were held, with Kasparov winning the first in 1996 and Deep Blue taking the second in 1997. The latter was the first time a reigning world chess champion was beaten by a computer program.

AI’s relationship with chess was even back in the news at the end of last year, with the AlphaZero program created by Google’s Deep Mind beating the previous champion program Stockfish 8 in a 100-game match. Perhaps most remarkably, AlphaZero had actually taught itself to play chess in less than four hours – a clear sign of the increasing power and complexity of artificial intelligence.

An interesting side-plot

The International 2018 is a truly prestigious event and the major prize money on offer means that everyone who loves eSports will be watching closely to see the outcome. However, news of this planned meeting between an AI team and human players is an interesting side plot to an already intriguing event.

eSports continues to grow and the fact that the latest battle between humans and AI is taking place in competitive gaming is perhaps yet another sign that the industry is becoming more widely accepted and embraced across the world.

What Is Still Going to Happen in the Esports Industry in 2017?

We have completed half of the year 2017, and so far we have had many exciting developments in the esports sector. The International DOTA 2 tournament was one of the most striking organizations. The biggest prize in DOTA 2, which is the world’s largest e-sports tournament, was $ 20,770,000 this year. The winner of the tournament (Chinese Wings Gaming team) won a total of $ 9.140,000. In other words, every member of the team earned approximately $ 1.9 million. The sector grew by 41.3% compared to 2016. This is an incredible rate, and no other industry has experienced such growth. In the first six months of 2017, the size of the e-sports sector reached $ 300 million. Analysts expect total revenue will be close to $ 600 million before the end of the year. If the pace of growth continues, it will become a $ 1.5 billion industry in 2020.

This Is a Big Industry

This situation gained the attention of large companies too. One of the most profitable industries at the moment is the e-sports sector. Only the value of the media rights is 95 million dollars. (In 2020, it is expected to reach half a billion dollars.) In other words, global brands and intellectual properties are increasingly taking place in the esports industry. The figures are impressive: Every e-sports fan spends an average of $ 5.2. It is estimated that there are over 200 million fans worldwide. No other kind of sport has this mass of followers. (You can visit https://www.gg.bet for details.) The number of followers is expected to reach 286 million by 2020. This is a very high rate: The e-sports followers are growing almost 36% every year. 71% of the fans are male and between 21-35 years old. However, the interest of women in this sector is increasing too.

Upcoming Developments

So, what kind of developments do we expect until the end of 2017? According to estimates by industry professionals, we can list these developments as follows:

 

  •        Focus on Churners. Have you heard the phrase “churner” before? It is used for players who take a break after starting a game. These types of players play without interruption for a certain period of time and then stop playing for a few months. E-sports companies have been setting their strategies according to beginners and the professionals, until now. However, the research shows that 18% of the churners can be convinced to return to the game much sooner. In other words, it is possible to shorten the duration of the break. Since these types of players prefer to buy items to compensate for their lost time, they are one of the main income sources of developers. In 2017 and over the next few years, we will see new strategies and campaigns for churner players.

 

  •         More Intellectual Property. As we mentioned above, high-profit rates attract the attention of all companies. Surveys show that the players love games that include characters and heroes they are already familiar with. For example, Hearthstone gained popularity very quickly for this reason. (You can visit https://gg.bet/en/hearthstone for details.) For this reason, we will start to see well-known intellectual properties much more often in both current and newly developed games. We saw the latest example of this in “FormulaE” game. Played at the same time as the Formula 1 races, it became popular in a very short time. According to gossips, global brands such as Disney, Universal Studios, and Marvel are also preparing to enter the sector.

 

  •         Mobile Gamers Are Important. There is a generation that grew only by playing mobile games: They never played games on the computer or used the consoles. This generation prefers to play games only with mobile phones and tablet PCs. This generation of “mobile-only” players represents the future of the industry, as they can play anywhere and anytime. In other words, game developer companies are gradually beginning to focus on games that run on mobile platforms. By the end of 2017 and in the years to come, we will see a much larger number of mobile e-sports games.

 

  •         Ecosystem Integrations. Twitch is at the forefront of companies conducting the integration work. E-sports games are now being developed with the ability to support social media and live broadcast platforms. You do not have to use an external program. Twitch Prime is one of those cases. If you broadcast the game you play, you gain access to special levels, achievements and even new game modes. The goal is to create a complete ecosystem for players and provide all the features they’ll ever need without leaving the game. This also changes the process of developing games. We will soon begin to see e-sports games with features like “Twitch Exclusive”. As a matter of fact, Amazon Game Studios is working on similar systems too.

No Major Tournaments until the End of the Year

There are no other major tournaments to be organized by the end of 2017. Local events and competitions will continue, but we have come to the end of the organizations that award million dollar prizes. Likewise, there is no new AAA game we expect to be released by the end of the year. However, there are many games planned for publication in 2018.

Finally, let’s talk about an interesting report published in Newzoo.com: E-sports betting industry is much bigger than predicted. According to estimates, the betting sector is now more than half a billion dollars in size. In other words, the betting industry is bigger than e-sports sector itself. At present, most of the big companies do not enter this sector, so the exact figures are unknown. However, we can say that these large numbers will soon be of interest to them. In other words, the e-sports betting sector will grow rapidly in the coming years.

ESports – the multi million pound industry that shows no sign of slowing down

When some of Europe’s biggest soccer clubs become involved, it’s a sure sign that there is money to be made. Soccer’s voracious appetite for money is legendary and when it comes to exploiting market segments, few sporting organisations are better than soccer clubs.

Paris St Germain, Santos, Manchester City, West Ham United, Ajax, Besiktas and Schalke are just some of the clubs involved. When leagues begin partnerships, it’s a sign of more investment to come.

City signed their first eSports player others are ahead of that curve. For the clubs, it’s all about brand exposure. Tara Warren, executive director of communications at West Ham, explained that digital and tech are the club’s priorities as far as brand awareness is concerned. eSports and the professional game enjoy a symbiotic relationship.

So too do other sports and the burgeoning eSports, which is of little surprise when the market is estimated by some analysts to be worth $1bn in 2018. Global sport finance specialists, Deloitte, offers more caution, predicting significant – but smaller – growth, a point with which the Financial Times agrees.

It’s clear that some areas of eSports are more established than others. While the winners of the Interactive FIFA World Cup receive £20,000, the winning team at the International Dota 2 Championships get £6.7m. To put it into context, the winner of the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon 2017 will walk away with a cheque for £2.2m. According to the BBC, the total prize money won globally in 2016 was a staggering $93.3m.

Premier League involvement may see the FIFA money increase; 600m players worldwide mean that each year’s new version of the game pulls in more money than the previous edition.

And if you’re still not convinced eSports is the real deal, consider this. An ESL Gaming initiative, in co-operation with NADA and working toward WADA recognition, is to outlaw the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) which blight other sports. eSports has arrived.

Taking Advantage Of The Tools To Hand

All this from humble beginnings when groups of players met at conventions for multi-player tournaments. Now, most online bookmakers offer a full market on events, while Betway Sports made the headlines last year when they became lead sponsor of Ninjas in Pyjamas, one of the world’s most famous eSports teams.

Despite the money involved, there’s still a perception in the wider world, that eSports is a fad, a new toy whose novelty will soon wear off. Nothing could be further from the truth; eSports will evolve in the same way other professional sports did.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the UK bought into American football. Since then, it has grown through a path of two steps forward, one back. Now more popular than ever, the Super Bowl is becoming an ‘event’ in its own right in these green and pleasant lands.

eSports is unlikely to follow a similar trajectory. It’s very nature puts it front and centre of the technological world we live in today. Any advancements are likely to pull eSports along with them, giving it an immediate advantage on those which went before.

There’s little sign of the growth stalling. It may slow down in coming years but with studios producing games deliberately designed for the eSports, as well as the domestic markets, the signs are that there is much more to come.

Perhaps the biggest danger is the internal perception. With prize money commanding staggering sums, there is bound to be a schism at some point. Those who want the ‘purity’ of their eSports retained will reach a point where the mainstream popularity is too much for them. A bit like fans of a band who after years of working the club circuit make it big but some resent their ‘precious’ being popular.

The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Unlimited

That won’t matter much in the overall scheme of things. As eSports gains in popularity and the additions outweigh the churn of players, there is no problem. BI Intelligence reported that 300m people “tune in” to eSports today, with projects of 500m by 2020. With that kind of reach, the cliff edge seems some way off.

It’s important to remember that as an industry, professional eSports is less than a decade old. Amateur level occupies the same level as Comicon, where the participants are viewed as obsessives. Professionalism confers a different status and in a young industry, there are still plenty of revenue streams to exploit.

Indeed, there are more games to exploit. The genres may be well defined but the games themselves are limited by technology and human imagination. So long as the studios come up with original ideas, as well as iterations of games which capture the imagination of the players, there is a market for eSports.