For as long as there have been sports, there have been spectators. As the esports industry has continued to develop and establish itself, so has competitive gaming viewership. While there has been some televised broadcasting of various tournaments, one of the biggest and most viable ways for fans to watch their favorite players compete is through streaming. Seeing as how viewership directly correlates with revenue, it’s worth considering how and why streaming became one of the most integral parts of the esports industry.
In the early 2000s, as the rise of the internet was starting to resemble what we know today, television was the primary venue for watching esports. As gaming became more mainstream in East Asia, partly due to the effects of the fallout from the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, South Korea in particular established regular television coverage of Starcraft and Warcraft III competitions.
Elsewhere, televised esports tended to be more sporadic or event-focused, and channels meant to focus entirely on esports—like the German channel GIGA Television or the American G4—were short-lived, shutting down or pivoting to more general coverage.
When YouTube started in 2005, it marked the beginning of a shift that was only continued with the launch of Twitch in 2011 that made streaming an integral part of esports as we know it. In his article “Breaking Down the Major Streaming Platforms in Esports,” writer Brandon Brathwaite looks at how exactly streaming benefits esports as an industry. Generally speaking, live streaming allows for large audiences to experience live events, something previously only available to broadcasters in traditional media like radio or television. By accessing these audiences live, streamers were able to showcase what Brathwaite calls “the highest level of esports competition—” something that potential sponsors would be able to use to their advantage. These sponsors bring money into the equation, making the most out of the competitive spectacle of esports to put their brands in the minds of potential customers.
It’s of little surprise that as the flow of capital made streaming more and more lucrative, tech juggernauts such as Amazon got involved, buying Twitch for $970 million. In response to this growth, YouTube has launched a gaming specific branch of their services, Facebook is introducing Facebook Gaming, and various other sites, both American and Chinese, have considered streaming as synonymous with competitive gaming today.
Yet, it’s interesting to consider that, at its core, beyond merely broadcasting competition the same way that traditional sports are broadcast, streaming functions on another level. Live streaming in esports also allows viewers to connect with players in a very unique and personal way. Because a viewer watching a live stream is seeing the same screen as the player and the player is often speaking to their audience as they play, an intimate relationship is created between the player, the game, and the viewer that has never existed before. The fact that this unique relationship can be used to sell products and generate profit simply acts as a bonus, a bonus sure to guarantee the continued development of streaming as a part of esports’ future.