From the games to the technology, experts explain why the next generation of competitions are in flux.
The current temperature of eSports is sizzling.
These silicon-rich, stadium events feature the latest gaming rigs and highly competitive video games. But beneath all the electric festivities is a sneaking suspicion that no one knows what the future will bring.
“eSports are not going anywhere. They are only getting more popular,” said Michal Blicharz, the current czar of the Electronic Sports League and a central figure in the documentary.
According to George Woo, the event marketing manager who heads up the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship, the future of eSports is on the move.
“It’s growing,” he said. “In 2017, it’s supposed to swell to about 150 million viewers.”
One reason for the boom is newfound popularity in the West.
American audiences that have traditionally been tepid on eSports are starting to warm up to them. Never complacent, IEM is constantly looking for new locations across the globe.
Woo said that although Australia is a target market, its distance and travel costs prohibit many gamers from going down under. Latin America, Mexico and the Philippines, however, remain potential future eSports locations.
eSports’ brightest days truly seem ahead of them, as gamers are poised to venture forth with mouse and keyboard in hand. The future, however, might include some drastic transformations.
Blicharz, for one, anticipates the way eSports are consumed and played are destined to change.
Unlike time-tested sports like golf, rowing and baseball, eSports are merely 20 years old, give or take a few.
For comparison, while the sport of American football has made radical strides over its 100-plus-year history, it is still recognizable with two groups of players lining up on both sides of the ball.
As the name implies, “Electronic sports” are connected at the hip to the whims of technology. This means they could be pulled by the Ethernet cable into unforeseen directions.
It’s ridiculous, said Blicharz, to think that people will be playing the same turn-of-the-century computer games or using old-timey equipment 50 years from now.
“There are those people — the typical magazine cover CEOs of gaming companies — that tell you, ‘the future is bright, da, da, da, da,’ but they’re all full of baloney,” Blicharz said.
“We don’t know because we don’t know where the medium is going to go.”
Blicharz is in a good position to say so. He started out playing 1999’s Unreal Tournament in local internet cafes around Poland for $50 first-place prizes before helping shape the world of eSports into a massive enterprise.
One gray area is the games themselves.
With the exception of Counter-Strike, a rare game with staying power, the games typically don’t stick around for long.
“A basketball is a basketball, but eSports are really dependent on the game title,” said Woo. “I can’t tell you which game is going to be the game in the next five years.”
As a consequence, players often hop around from game to game within a genre. Yet this is only a slight adjustment when compared to a paradigm shift in technology itself.
With the continued influx of smartphone devices, for example, and cool tech like virtual and augmented reality on the horizon, organizers are conscious that eSports are heading toward a state of constant mutability.
“We don’t even know what kind of controller [the next major eSports title is] going to use,” Blicharz said. “Is it going to be motion sensor-ing, tracking your eyeballs or hand movements?”
After all, it’s easy to imagine the keyboard and mouse will eventually become relics of a lost time.
One place you can see the first inklings of this change starting to happen is with touchscreen gaming.
“We are still trying to crack the nut on mobile gaming,” said Woo, explaining how although mobile technology is now the mainstream, there are still very few players who use it competitively.
Some inroads are being made. Intel recently teamed up with the Chinese social media giant Tencent to host tournaments for Speed Up, a racing game for mobiles and tablets.
Also ripe for change is the way audiences view eSports.
Blicharz poses the thought experiment of a video game that is played in virtual reality.
Currently the audience sees the same screen as the player during a match, but what if the player is wearing a virtual reality helmet to play the game?
Does this mean that all the spectators in the audience as well as those of us watching at home need to put on virtual reality helmets too?
“Probably not,” he said, “[But] we don’t know. None of us know. That’s what makes it fascinating.”