E-sports' growth is extraordinary—but is that the pattern for the future? Is there a ceiling for how big it can get?
I can talk about what I've seen over the last couple of years. It's always been rises and falls. We went through the years of CPL in the early 2000s and they looked like noone could touch them. Then it fell apart, they lost a lot of contracts, their money didn't come in and they didn't pay people. Suddenly ESWC and WCG are the big things, and then they change their models and go more mobile and they fall off in e-sports terms. Then CGS comes along with $50m and it's all on live TV all over the world—Eurosport and Sky Sports—and we think okay, maybe we've arrived.
Then that falls apart and we're picking up the pieces again. For me it's always been peaks and troughs until the last three years. 2012, 2013 and 2014 have been always upward in almost every area. But specifically, more than anything else, the biggest change for me over the last fifteen years is the advent of Twitch. If we hadn't got Twitch when we did I'm absolutely certain that we would not be where we are today with the size and scope of e-sports.
To answer your question, it can get bigger—but I'm not sure that it can sustain quite the sharp rise that it's had in the last eighteen months. But we're getting the kind of viewership that NHL would be proud of in North America. We're way exceeding things like BMX biking at its peak. That's kind of how I look at e-sports as we've got bigger—how do we compare to other niche sports?
It also comes back to what we've been talking about for the last couple of years, which is the change in how we consume media. Most people watching Twitch don't even own a television, and if they do they link it up to the internet and watch Twitch on it. We just don't watch TV in the traditional way any more.
We always talk about the future of e-sports as a transition into other form of media—"maybe we'll see this on the TV some day!" Do we still want that?
No! CGS was that moment, it was 2007, we were doing live shows from the Playboy mansion. SXSW. We we're on Eurosport, ESPN, Sky Sports. "Hurrah, we've arrived!" But actually, we missed the point. We didn't need mainstream. The mainstream is now coming to us—they're looking at what Twitch is doing, what ESL have done. They're studying us, now. They're starting to understand that we're the forerunners. Gamers were the first ones to pick up social media. The first ones to do livestreaming. The first ones to do shoutcasting. The first ones to do internet radio. We're always the first to adopt new technology and do well with it. I guess we're starting to see our reward, now.
In that case, do we need to stop seeing television success as more 'legitimate' than online success?
In my mind, seeing e-sports clips on Sky Sports is still amazing. It would definitely add legitimacy to what we're doing. Do we need it to succeed, though? No. We don't. Five or six years ago we did, and that's what's changed.
Do you have any thoughts on why MOBAs particularly have picked up this head of steam? Pun not intended.
I think it's a coincidence that it's MOBAs in particular that have risen to the top. It's more the model that they're using—the free to play model. They were the first games to use it. There wasn't a FPS until Team Fortress 2, which wasn't a massive e-sports game in the first place. CS:GO will hopefully go free to play—I wonder how big that could get if it did. I wonder if we'd be seeing multi-million dollar prize pools for that game and I think we would. We've not had a free to play RTS game either, really.
But team games in particular have always gripped e-sports fans more. The success of Counter-Strike is proof of that. There's room for one-on-one games too, not just in RTS but in FPS. We've been waiting a long time for that—Quake Live tried but it didn't really work. Epic have just announced that they're going to bring Unreal Tournament back and that's going to be free-to-play. I'm interested to see what they'll do over the next twelve months.
But it's still the payment model more than the game that leads to this kind of success, which doesn't take away from the fact that MOBAs are terrifically fun to play!
Thanks for your time.
ESL One Frankfurt will run from Saturday the 28th of June to Sunday the 29th at the Commerzbank Arena. If you'd like to attend in person, tickets are available online .