The humble and frankly unrecognisable origins of esports make today’s spectacle seem all the more impressive. It wasn’t always ratings busting viewerships and eye-watering prize pools but a rather more demure occasion.
October 19, 1972, Stanford University and the first official video game tournament on record is held with the grand prize…a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine. Spacewar was the game of choice, an intergalactic combat game developed in the 60s. The technology required at the time to realise such an event demanded a venue like the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab in Los Altos, California to host it.
Fast forward 50 years and the landscape is very different. Currently 4 billion people have access to the internet and many of those have all the prerequisites to compete in online gaming competitions and the statistics back it up.
2020 saw 496 million esports viewers spread over hundreds of different games and tournaments. The biggest ever prize in esports history at 3 million US dollars was claimed by Kyle Giersdorf who won the Fortnite world cup. A career in esports is even considered a viable option, no different to elite athletes in other disciplines.
There are many parallels that can be drawn between the worlds of esports and that of modern casino games.
- Poker, especially, has undergone a similar trajectory. As much a spectator sport as it is a participation event, Poker tournaments attract commentated mainstream coverage the world over with enormous cash prizes and elite pro participants.
- Chris Moneymaker made history by winning the 2003 World Series of Poker main table after qualifying at an online site with only an 86 US dollar buy-in. Moneymaker won a cash prize of 2.5 million US dollars.
- And the growth of the Online Casino has only brought the two closer together. Experiencing snowballing online participation, online poker became the gateway for many entering the game and further still has become an accepted practice all of its own. The World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) is a poker tournament, sponsored by PokerStars that is dedicated solely to virtual tables.
- Twitch, the internet’s most popular live streaming platform is home to some of the most successful amateur video game enthusiasts and pro-esports players alike. Poker streamers also enjoy huge success on the site.
- The official PokerStars channel has amassed a total of over 450,000 hours of viewed footage. 37 year old professional Dutch poker player Lex Veldhuis, is the next most popular poker channel and has 275 thousand followers and 43 million views to date.
- And you’d be hard pressed to find a definition of esports which would exclude online poker.
Ultimately, when a game is played and prizes are available to the best players, then it can be considered an esport. There are no barriers of entry beyond this and online casino games are more than eligible for making that transition.
The main limitation of most casino games is that traditionally, players are playing against themselves or the house at the very least. Esports require players to pit themselves against one another to determine a winner.
There is, however, the opportunity to adapt successful one-player games into competitive, two-player models. Tetris, originally a game for soloists, now has a thriving esports community ever since incorporating a one versus one style set up, with whichever player achieving the highest score in the round, identified as the winner.
Another factor impeding other traditional casino games is the element of luck. Luck is not something pro gamers are fond of. While in many esports competitions, players will on occasion, inevitably be on the receiving end of lucky breaks, it would not be desirable to have luck designed intrinsically into the game, skill should be the deciding factor.
An exception to this rule are deck building games like Hearthstone (one of the top ten esports games worldwide) where the order players cards are presented to them come at random and it is how the players react to these random events which enable them to display their adeptness of the game.
What transpires is the success (or failure) of an esport is determined solely by the participation and support it receives from fans. If people want to play it and watch it, then this is what will extend its longevity.
Casinos have seen potential in esports for several years now with mainstream online casinos incorporating esports into their books. Luminosity Gaming, a professional esports organisation announced an online casino as their sponsor in 2019.
Moreover, even with increased participation among younger players there is still a glaring omission in casino patrons, and that is of course the under 18s. Esports is a perfect companion to help the casinos redress those numbers.
In 2017, MGM Resorts announced a partnership with UNIKRN, an esports media company to host esports events at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. And on the same strip HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas, a 30,00 square foot multi-level arena located at Luxor Hotel & Casino was completed the following year in 2018.
The line between esports and casinos evidently continues to blur and in some cases overlap. As the next generation of gamers, who grew up with esports as a normal part of their life, mature, there is set to be further developments and an evolution of both these worlds.