It goes without saying that gaming as a field has a laundry list of stereotypes associated with it. News networks often label violent criminals as "video game addicts". The WHO recently classified video game addiction as a mental disorder (despite a very weak scientific basis). Professional gaming is also ostracized as not being a real career.
These are all easily disproven by doing some basic research. If that's the case...you might wonder why are these harmful narratives still out there, even with little truth value? The short answer: it is easier for someone to latch onto a simple concept (in this case, a concept of good vs evil), rather than accept that there is nuance to this topic. Also, I think we as a community have failed at curbing these accusations.
I was a Philosophy undergrad at K-State, so I have created a plethora of long-form essays on topics such as echo chambers and bias that I can draw from to analyze this situation. For the sake of everyone's sanity and time, I will instead just break down common myths.
Key things I will do in this post:
Push back against some of the key narratives that I believe contribute to a negative outlook on esports
Introduce research to support replies
Advocate for more human connections and positivity in our industry
#1 - all esports communities are toxic
This is a pretty common one, let's go ahead and spell out what it means.
The word "toxic" is a term that connotates someone who is extremely unpleasant or destructive to those near them. It's a buzzword we often use when describing bad romantic relationships.
The argument about toxicity follows:
1) The internet is a completely anonymous space, where there is usually little social repercussion for otherwise unacceptable behavior
2) People on these online games are shielded by anonymity, and thus feel more emboldened to be "toxic"
3) While gaming is meant to be a fun activity, competitive gamers take it to another level
4) Esports communities are built upon numerous anonymous figures that spread toxic or hateful rhetoric
Conclusion: Esports communities are toxic.
This is a pretty dangerous argument if left untouched. If it's the case that all esports communities are toxic, then i'm sure many parents would be very unwilling to allow their kids to play online multiplayer games. Like most stereotypes, however, we cannot let the part define the whole. Stereotypes are the result of unchecked biases, and in this case it is neither fair nor accurate to define a whole community as toxic. I will obviously agree that the anonymity of the internet enables toxic behavior, but you will find more often that there are numerous people within each gaming community who are respectable people.
My recommendation for people, within and outside the community, is that we need to create more human connections. Live events in esports are a great way to connect with people on a real level. The rise of LinkedIn for esports is another positive force in highlighting the amazing people in our industry and networking. I firmly believe that creating a more positive discourse in our industry has the power to overcome any hateful characters relying on anonymity.
My door is always open when it comes to creating more professional conduct in esports. You can connect with me on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sam-smith-145b16146/
#2 - There are no long-term careers in esports
I see this pretty commonly with parents. The fear that they have about their kids pursuing esports is two fold:
1) that esports careers are riddled with uncertainty and not economically sustainable
2) that they may not acquire unique skills within esports to transition to other sorts of careers
I want to start by saying that I am an advocate of going to college and getting an education, as my education was quite helpful in setting me up for success. In my business, I also advocate acquiring a unique subset of skills that can be functionally transferred to other industries. However, college is not the end-all-be-all. Many high-level executives and geniuses did not either need or utilize a college ddegree. College is useful if you have a strong affirmation about what you will do with an education and a degree.
Anyways, onto the argument -- if you gave me this argument in 2013 or 2014, I would be more compelled to agree. Now that we are in 2023, this statement could not be further from the truth. Here are some of my major replies:
This is a graph from Hitmarker, which is one of the greatest recruitment sites that advertises jobs in esports. From 2018 to 2019, overall number of jobs on Hitmarker increased by 87%. Paid job opportunities rose by 10%. There is an explosive demand in our industry at some of these huge companies like Twitch and Riot Games. Many of these jobs are in the STEM industry, which is a field that esports folks highly comprise. The sectors that increased the most in demand were Software Engineering, Marketing, Design, Operations and Sales.
A qualification that I would like to make is that you can't simply play video games to open these specific doors. Esports is usually a conduit for you to get involved in either professional play or other facets of competition like management, coaching, etc. It would be very wise to supplement your passion of competition with some core skills that you can use when you are ready to exit competition.
This is Lee Sang-hyeok, more conventionally known as "Faker". He is one of the greatest esports athletes of all time. Faker is a South Korean League of Legends player, and one of the only players in the world to win the League of Legends World Championship three times. Faker is 26 right now, and has been competing since he was just 16 years old.
I will concede that many player careers do not come close to reaching 10 years. However, even 3 or 4 years is not abnormal at all relative to traditional sports. The average career length in the NFL is 3.3 years, yet you see absolutely nobody claiming that you cannot achieve a long-term career in football.
Here's the thing: Esport is relatively new, so it makes sense that there are not yet concrete establishments for career advancement. This is largely why my company is in business - to help the youth realize that there are very achievable ways of taking their passion for esports into playing in college and getting jobs in the future.
#3 - Esports is dying
I've unfortunately seen this narrative echoed by my peers in this space. I think it is pessimistic and alarmist, but I will start by slightly agreeing by listing some faults of our industry.
The esports industry is largely built off sponsorship revenue, because many market segments have not found a stable way to generate revenue. Traditional sports have consistent sources of revenue in things like media rights deals and exclusivity rights for TV streaming. Many non-endemic sponsors are pulling out because they are not receiving the return on investment that was promised to them by many companies. What we have seen is heavy investment for esports organizations and publishers with an expectation of some future profit. Esports largely is an unprofitable market at the moment.
Another thing i'll agree with is that there are some bad-faith actors in our industry. We have had owners of multi-million dollar companies investigated for bullying their workers. This is a terrible look for people's perception on getting involved. I think it's imperative we root out bad-faith actors that are only utilizing esports to fill their pockets.
Now, here is where I chiefly disagree:
Failure-rate and ROI is not reflective of an entire industry
Did you know that 90% of startups fail? That is a very shocking statistic, but it has merit. Think about why small businesses start -- they have an idea for a product or service that they think they can market and sell. Some people voluntarily give up on their idea, some people are not strategic about their market, or sometimes the market doesn't want or need what they are selling.
If you looked at this statistic and assumed that small businesses are economically infeasible and dying, you'd be very wrong. Small Businesses are a large portion of US GDP. The SBA reported in 2019 that Small Businesses generated 44% of US economic activity. I use this not to draw a 1:1 correlation, but to show that we need to unpack stats and create more accurate representations.
I agree that game publishers and current big organizations haven't landed the revenue model perfectly. That said, a company's failure at monetizing their product should not totally eliminate the idea that we can monetize and market esports successfully. Failure rate and loss of revenue are also both statistics that can lack broader context. I urge people in our industry to relax on the doom-saying and instead bring conversations about what the future generation should do to fix current problems.
Esports is categorically growing
ROI is an important metric, but let's not disregard some of the incredible statistics that shows overwhelmingly that people enjoy esports as a medium of entertainment and that the scene is seeing positive growth.
1) Viewership is growing
While live events halted during covid-19, esports did not. Esports has always been an industry that does not rely on in-person events to generate competition. Globally, esports saw a viewership of 435.9 million that is still growing to this day.
2) Revenue is growing
Esports major revenue streams are still seeing continued year-over-year growth. Notably, sponsorship revenue streams grew up to $641 million in 2021.
3) Global awareness is growing
Gaming by itself is a huge market. Esports used to me a niche market of gaming, but now global awareness of esports is hitting 1.8 billion and will only continue to rise.
Let's unpack the discourse of the "esports is dying" message, which is another big concern of mine. I am personally a young entrepreneur in the esports industry. Seeing more well-seasoned folks doom-say about esports is pretty scary, and I can only imagine how scarier it is for teenagers and parents. This is why I am against pessimistic discourse. It is demotivating and does not inherently encourage action. I am personally pushing for more positive stories that encourage involvement, so I see it as my responsibility to call out this kind of discourse.
Overall, you can see that esports still carries a bit of a stigma with a few different audiences. Instead of rolling over and doing nothing, I think it is crucial we have constructive discourse that helps enable future leaders in our industry to develop solutions. I want to show interested parties within and outside of esports that they should be excited and want to get involved now!