Video games are becoming one of the fastest-growing competitive sports in the world. Known as “esports”, these competitions use retail versions of video games to pit players against each other.
In just about every other respect, they resemble more traditional competitions. Esports athletes are often split into teams, agree sponsorship deals, and have fans and supporters, just like a football player or golfer.
The esports industry started out very small, as little more than a way for amateurs to show off their gaming skills. However, over the last decade, it has boomed into a billion-dollar industry with a big portion of the growth taking place in Asia, including right here in the Philippines.
Esports in a Nutshell
As touched on earlier, esports are simply professional leagues and tournaments that use video games as the medium of competition. Instead of running around a field, track or court, players sit at a desk and try to score more points than their rivals.
Esports has both individual and team events, just like other disciplines. It also has large prize funds, with events like The International and the Fortnite World Cup dishing out tens of millions of dollars in prizes to competitors each year.
Fans of esports competitions watch games both in person and through online streaming platforms. Some general-purpose streaming sites include Twitch, YouTube, Facebook Gaming, Mixer, and Caffeine. However, there are also dedicated services for some sports. For example, those that enjoy watching poker competitions can do so through PokerStars TV on their smartphone, tablet, computer or smart TV.
In 2019, there were more than 443 million people that watched esports streams, nearly half of which were classed as “enthusiasts”. In 2020, this figure is believed to have surpassed 500 million.
Some other popular esports video games are Fortnite, Call of Duty, Dota 2, Hearthstone, CS: GO, PUBG, and Overwatch.
Esports in the Philippines
Esports growth in the Philippines has mirrored that of the rest of the world. In 2019, Philstar compared gaming to the rise of computing, starting out as something that was seen as “nerdy” before becoming “cool” and then just “the norm”.
According to Esports Earnings, the Philippines has more than 500 esports players than have won cash prizes from video game tournaments. At least 15 of these have earnings of more than $100,000, though none have yet broken past the $1 million mark.
The most successful is Djardel Jicko Mampusti, who goes by the screenname “DJ”. The 26-year-old is ranked #132 in the world and his game of choice is Dota 2, a popular fantasy “battle arena” title.
According to eSports Flag, DJ’s favourite game is the most popular in the Philippines by quite a wide margin, with significantly more individual players and teams competing with it than any other title.
Recognising Esports as a Sport
There is some debate on the internet over whether those that compete in esports should be classified as athletes, with those that argue against it saying that they aren’t tested physically. However, this is an oversimplification of what these competitors have to do.
Playing video games at a high level requires a lot of skill, something that many average consumer players simply don’t have. To develop this skill, esports athletes must spend hours each day training.
Additionally, they must perform well under pressure, in front of live audiences of tens or even hundreds of thousands of people, and millions more that watch online at home.
And ultimately, esports have already been recognised as a sport in the Asian Games. In 2018, the Asian Games, which were held in Indonesia, featured an esports demonstration event. While the Philippines didn’t take part in this, many other nations did, including China, India, Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea.
For the 2022 running of the competition in Hangzhou, China, the Asian Games will feature esports as a fully-fledged medal event just like track and field sports. With that being the case, it is believed that the Philippines will enter a team this time around.
With this in mind, the focus is beginning to shift among those in positions of influence. Instead of looking at video games as “just a hobby”, many now take a view that it needs to be considered in the same way as other Olympic sports.
This is why Filipino students are being offered scholarships to cover up to 100% of their college tuition fees if they can demonstrate “exceptional” talent and leadership. Educational institutions that are already taking part include the University of Santo Tomas, De La Salle University in Bacolod, and Ateneo de Manila University.
With more programmes like this, the Philippines could turn itself into a world leader of esports competitions.