The History and Future of Esports

Thorin (aka Duncan Shields) is an Esports historian who has been deeply involved in the Esports scene professionally since 2001, as well as a journalist and writer, winning Esports Journalist of the Year at the 2017 industry awards. Thorin joins Carol Roth to talk about the history and business of Esports, including what actually counts as an “Esport”, what the big industry challenge is, whether there is an investment bubble, if Esports will ever take the place of other sports and even advice on what to do to become a professional gamer.

Plus, a “Now You Know” segment on the history of Esports in South Korea and a bonus segment on the odd way Carol discovered the gamer “Ninja”.

Thorin is also known for appearing as an expert analyst on Counter-Strike broadcasts and hosting talk shows in games CS:GO and League of Legends.

You can connect with Thorin on Twitter @Thorin and YouTube here.

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There are 6 comments.

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  1. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller

    Ha! I was just discussing this in another Ricochet conversation. I look forward to hearing your interview. 

    • #1
  2. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller

    Truly excellent interview. Both the questions and the responses are top-notch. Thanks. 

    Realizing that neither guest nor host is likely to read this, I’ll open the “barbershop” discussion anyway. Three topics: Mixer, Rocket League team monetization, and designing for viewership. …

    • #2
  3. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller

    Mixer failed for many reasons, I’m sure — not least because Microsoft probably expected results too soon (or underestimated the investments necessary). But the main reason is that they failed to manifest the marketing pitch that would have distinguished Mixer from Twitch. 

    Unlike traditional television, Twitch typically involves some real-time interaction between broadcaster/host and viewers by way of text chat. Viewers can ask questions or make comments and a few get timely responses. When a channel is building an audience early on, the host might even recognize regular viewers, akin to a small business. In a stroke of genius, streaming platforms like YouTube highlight a viewer’s comments to make them more noticeable after a donation to the channel. 

    When Microsoft first pitched Mixer to gamers and integrated it into the Xbox dashboard, the selling point was bold new potentials for interactions between hosts and viewers. It wouldn’t just be chat anymore. Code would be included in some games to enable viewers to alter the host’s gameplay in real time.

    Imagine if golf fans could vote to change the course in particular ways or if American football fans could decide which three plays the quarterback would choose between for the next down. I’m not saying either of those possibilities would be advisable. The point is that viewers could adjust elements within the game while watching it, players would be challenged to respond and could talk to the viewers about those choices, and the game would become fundamentally interactive — a live partnership between players and fans. 

    Microsoft apparently underestimated the difficulty of both designing and coding for such games. In any case, very few games took advantage of that concept even to a limited extent. None caught on. 

    Microsoft didn’t even resurrect its popular 1-vs-100 game show, which would be ideal in the era of streaming. Oh well. 

    • #3
  4. EJHill Podcaster

    Aaron Miller: Truly excellent interview. Both the questions and the responses are top-notch. Thanks. 

    Realizing that neither guest nor host is likely to read this,

    Carol is very accessible. She loves to hear from her listeners.

    • #4
  5. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller

    This is Rocket League — basically 3-vs-3 indoor soccer with rocket cars. 

    As a long-time player (not trying to become an esport competitor), I’ve learned a few things about this game which hosts popular esports tournaments. 

    First, cash prizes and sponsored streaming on Twitch are not the only ways money is made. As you can see from the video, each player’s vehicle is customized via “cosmetics” either unlocked for free by playing or purchased as “micro-transactions” (small bits of content optionally purchased to augment core gameplay). Esports teams can design their own branded cosmetics and receive a share of the revenue from purchases. 

    Micro-transactions used to be associated more with “free-to-play” games which required no fee to play the game, thereby attracting more players and profiting from the small portion of a large playerbase willing to buy upgrades. Today, micro-transactions are commonly used by $60 AAA games to justify growing production costs. 

    But back to Rocket League. I currently play Competitive (as opposed to Casual) 3-v-3 games at Diamond rank. Months after I started playing the thrilling 5-minute matches, I thought the Silver tier was my ceiling. But one day I broke into Gold tier. And there I stayed… until months later I started playing at Platinum rank. Again, I thought that was my ceiling. But I moved up yet again. 

    The point is: I had no hope or intention of ever playing it professionally. I didn’t devote myself to practicing fundamentals or studying the pros. Simply by practice I improved, almost by accident, gradually learning strategy and skills. Like (Oaken)Shields said, parents should encourage kids to just have fun with these games and discover where it leads. 

    Lastly, the video above demonstrates a visual advantage of video game viewership. The “camera” follows my car and its angle can be adjusted by me, the player, during gameplay. The goal replay cameras are scripted by the game. 

    I’ve only watched a Rocket League tournament (with professional commentators) once. In that show, the producers constantly alternated between player perspectives to follow who was dribbling, shooting, or blocking. That’s not ideal, in my opinion. But it works. 

    In the future, game developers will work with esports broadcast producers to enable more nuanced and professional camera control. Already, it is normal for many games to offer players many camera angle options (close, far, over-the-shoulder, top-down, etc). When such control is shifted from players to non-player broadcasters, esports viewing could benefit. 


    • #5
  6. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller

    Onto general viewership. 

    First, video games can offer much more variety of competitions than real sports can (though, like Thorin, I enjoy real sports too and don’t think the “sport” label honestly applies to video games). The crucial elements are spectacle, skill, strategy, and players worth rooting for. One might add that the commentators and advertisers should not annoy audiences. 

    Some games simulate the strategy of war without any real harm and in an endless variety of real or imagined settings. Epic battles can make for great entertainment, like the cinematic siege of Helm’s Deep or like historical naval battles. A decade ago, I played a LOTR game that could have as many as seven armies in a single battle. A couple relatives loved to watch me play it. 

    There are also pseudo-sports (like Rocket League), simulations of real sports (like FIFA and Madden football), First-Person Shooters (Call of Duty, Battlefield), cinematic narrative games, action adventures, arcade-style games, and countless other possibilities constantly being explored. 

    The spectacle improves with each passing year. In 2020, we are approaching photorealism. In fact, photography of the real world and motion-capture of real actors is becoming a normal step in AAA game design. 

    I’m losing focus, but you get the idea. Video games are a nexus of art and technology. They can combine everything people love about sports with everything they love about Hollywood films, and add a dozen layers of entertainment on top of that. 

    Esports will always lack elements of real sports and that’s fine. It’s a better world when we can enjoy both.

    • #6
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