Electronic Sports

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A crowd watches the Starcraft II finals at the 2012 Major League Gaming Columbus event.
Electronic sports also known as eSports is the competitive play of video games. It is referred to as competitive gaming, professional gaming, or cybersports. It is commonly associated with first-person shooter, real-time strategy, fighting, sports, racing, and massively-multiplayer online games. Commonly conducted in leagues and tournaments, in a similar way to more traditional sports, eSports allows players to compete on an amateur, semi-professional, or professional level for cash prizes.[1] Some of the most popular events are hosted by Major League Gaming, Global Starcraft II League, World Cyber Games, Dreamhack, and Intel Extreme Masters. Most competitions provide live-streams of the events, and cash prizes to the winners.

Because of the raised stakes, many ethical concerns and controversies have sprung from the elevation of these games from past-time to profession.


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Multiplayer video games have been played competitively on a multitude of platforms. From the first arcade cabinets to current generation console systems such as Microsoft's Xbox 360 or Sony's Playstation 3, national and international tournaments have been hosted to showcase the best players as far back as 1980.[2]

The eSports community as a whole is represented by a variety of organizations, players and personalities dedicated to single or multiple eSports titles. In the arcade days, there was even a U.S. National Video Game Team comprised of the best arcade game players.[3] Modern organizations often have salaried players, much like actual sports teams, with several teams owning houses dedicated to player training and development. This is the most common in South Korea, often considered the mecca of eSports with the immense popularity of Starcraft: Brood War and Starcraft II. For some time, South Korea has had multiple gaming channels on normal cable for normal households to turn to. These channels included Diablo II and streams of Starcraft I battles. However, it is becoming more common with organizations in North America and Europe with the growing popularity of League of Legends.[4][5]

Both teams and major events also draw corporate sponsors looking to sell and market their product to target audiences. Major companies such as Intel, Coca-Cola, and Valve have sponsored both monetary and product prizes in recent events.[6][7] Such prizes have often amounted to millions of dollars per year, with the single largest prize to date totaling $2 million USD with the conclusion of the League of Legends Season 2 World Championship.[8]


The following are a partial list of games (sorted by genre) previously or currently being played as major eSport titles in events, tournaments and leagues around the world.

First-person shooters

Real-time strategy

Multiplayer online battle arena


  • Street Fighter (series)
  • Mortal Kombat (series)
  • Tekken (series)
  • Marvel vs. Capcom (series)
  • Super Smash Bros (series)
  • Various Japanese 2D fighters (Blazblue, King of Fighters series, Persona4Arena)



  • Trackmania (series)


Events and leagues

There are several international large-scale annual events showcasing multiple eSport titles, including Major League Gaming, Intel Extreme Masters, Dreamhack LAN, Evolution Championship Series, the Electronic Sports World Cup, and World Cyber Games. The chosen titles often vary on an annual basis, and are either at the discretion of the organizers or voted on by the public.[9][10]

eSports also contains numerous online competitive leagues and ladders dedicated to eSport titles. These range from amateur leagues to semi-professional leagues and online qualifiers for places in live events.

A panorama of the crowd at the 2012 Intel Extreme Masters event in Cologne, Germany.

Media Coverage

eSports is primarily covered via the internet, where multiple online news outlets and communities report on the latest results, events, games and teams. There have also been appearances of eSports on major networks, with several countries also have television shows dedicated to eSports. Online viewership comes primarily from online streaming websites. Viewership has risen dramatically in recent years, with a recent Major League Gaming event drawing in 4.7 million viewers.[11]

Madden Nation

Madden Nation is a TV show that debuted in 2005 and aired for four seasons on ESPN based on the competitive playing of the popular EA Sports video game Madden. The show was updated each year so that the contestants were playing the latest version of the game. The show is designed to be a reality show and participants must compete for the $100,000 grand prize. The season finales for each season were played at Times Square, in New York City, on one of the big screens that normally displays large advertisements.[12] These were also televised nationally.

There were thirteen contestants selected from over 7,000 and each one was paired with an NFL player.[13] The contestants traveled across the country in the Madden bus, competing until the final two squared off in the championship on the show's finale.

CBS, MLG, and Twitch

This past spring, CBS Interactive partnered up with MLG and game streaming website Twitch. The partnership has provided CBS Interactive with ad sales from both entities as well as providing benefits to each such as broadcast lineups on CBS.[14] Twitch is one of the biggest online streaming websites for gamers and accrues total of 16 million viewers each month. The partnership with CBSi will allow CBS to place advertisements and promotions to the massive online TwitchTV community.

WCG Ultimate Gamer

Syfy aired 2 seasons of WCG Ultimate Gamer, a reality competition series featuring 12 gamers living together competing in both real life events and popular eSports titles for a cash prize [15]. The majority of the participants were popular gaming community personalities or professional eSports players themselves.

NBA, 2k Draft

In 2018, the National Basketball Association had it's first ever esports draft with the game NBA 2k sports. Viewers and followers of the NBA expressed that this step shows how serious NBA is about electronic sports.[16] This virtual league is the first ever e-sports league operated by a US professional sports organization. The league is comprised of 17 teams and each team is associated with a traditional NBA franchise. The gamers compete in 5 on 5 matches virtual for a five-month season. The player will practice and earn salaries much like professional NBA players. At the end of the season, they will compete for a virtual national championship. [17]

Controversy and Ethical Implications

Game modification

See: Cheating in Videogames

While not as prolific in eSports due to the increased prevalence of anti-cheating software and administrators at live events, game modification software continues to be popular at the amateur and semi-professional level in online leagues. Often these cheats are bought or downloaded online through a third party company, or loaded through a flash drive or similar storage device at live events. The type of cheating varies depending by genre, and can range from a simple wallhack in a first-person shooter to a maphack in real-time strategy games.

A notable professional player accused of using maphacks was former American Starcraft II player Brian "Spades" Francis, who gained notoriety after the popular TeamLiquid Starcraft community grew suspicious of several game replays posted on the forums. With his previous history of map hacking in Starcraft: Brood War, along with scrutiny by other professional players, Francis resigned from his professional organization soon after.[18]

Match and event fixing

Teams and players have in certain cases attempted to collude for prize money or received external funds for purposefully losing matches.

In perhaps the largest documented incidence of match fixing in eSports, several professional Starcraft: Brood War Korean players were found to have fixed Starcraft matches in return for financial compensation by betting websites. The 11 players found guilty, which included members across various teams as well as several highly-regarded individual players, were permanently banned from participating in professional Starcraft. Because such actions are also considered illegal under Korean law, all 11 players were fined severely and several were sentenced to gambling treatment programs and mandatory community service.[19]

During the 2012 MLG Summer Championships, two professional League of Legends teams were disqualified and stripped of their winnings when it was discovered that they had previously agreed to manipulate the brackets in their favor.[20]

Prize money and organizations

eSport organization banners in a DoTA 2 game, displaying corporate team sponsors alongside event sponsors shown via the spectator mode overlay.

Certain events and organizations have been criticized by professional eSport players as having failed to pay out winnings or salaries. There have been several documented instances in which a team has found itself without funds or winnings, and teams have sometimes dropped sponsors altogether as a result. Recent incidents include several teams not being able to fund travel to live events, turning to communities to raise money via donations or other means. This has been primarily attributed to the lack of a clear infrastructure in eSports and the relative youth of the eSports fanbase, as well as the corporate-dependent nature of eSports itself.

The prominence of AdverGaming has become a commonly-talked about issue in eSports, as developers and corporations seek ways to further advertise their products in-game. The Valve game DoTA 2 has become one of the first to embrace this marketing strategy, allowing organizations to create custom banners and icons to display sponsors in-game whenever their teams play.

Some have criticized how some eSports do not present a fair market to up-and-coming games and/or competing games in respective genres. An example of this exists in MOBA games including League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, and DoTA 2. League of Legends recently increased their partnership with European eSport organization Electronic Sports League (ESL). Forbes.com notes that both companies hope to further grow League of Legends as the biggest eSports game in the world as well as increasing the exposure to ESL.[21] Earlier this spring, League of Legends also announced that MLG would host the rest of their 2012 Season 2 Pro Circuit.[22] DoTA 2 Shoutcaster Toby "TobiWan" Dawson has publicly criticized Riot Games' direct intervention into the eSports world. Dawson has said that "The wonderful, wonderful competitive scene is being tainted by the way Riot market [their game]." Dawson argues that League of Legends is creating the competitive eSports industry around their game by creating partnerships and heavily funding eSports organizations instead of being judged on the merits of their game.[23]


"Smurfing" in gaming occurs when higher level or higher-skilled players abuse a ranking system in a game by competing in lower skill levels. This results in high-skilled players dominating, or "stomping" lower-skilled players. For example, for one to smurf in StarCraft, a player in the grand master league might de-rank his account (sabotage his Elo rating) into the bronze league, the lowest skill group in competitive StarCraft, in order to play significantly worse players. This type of smurfing doesn't typically present any benefits to the higher-level player, but it does allow them to destroy lower level players. Another form of smurfing is when a high-level player plays on someone else's account that is placed in a significantly lower skill level than the player's skill level. In some cases, the skilled player will do this for money.

There are several ethical issues with smurfing. First, smurfing makes the game much less enjoyable for newer players or low-skill players. When a much more skillful player repeatedly defeats less-skilled players, it severely detriments the enjoyment of the game because it detriments the development of steady progress. Second, smurfing harms the development of the game itself. The barriers to entry of a game are much higher when it is impossible for a player to succeed. As a result, the game will not develop a steady player influx, causing the game to decline. Third, smurfing can lead to a black market. Higher level players might try to make money by playing on lower level accounts and increasing their rating to gain extrinsic rewards such as unlockable game content and/or a prestigious rating. This was the case in Multiplayer Online Battle Area (MOBA) game League of Legends. Before the end of their second competitive season, Senior Game Designer Paul Sottosanti (known by the League of Legends community by the alias "Yegg) warned the game's community that participating in account smurfing is unacceptable behavior and warrants bans to infringing accounts.[24]

See Also


  1. Wikipedia "Electronic sports" [1]
  2. Langshaw, Mark "Gaming Like A Pro: An Overview Of The eSports Scene" [2]
  3. Good, Owen "There was Once a U.S. National Video Game Team, and This Guy Was Its Captain" [3]
  4. Korea Magazine, June 2012 "South Korea, the Mecca of e-Sports" [4]
  5. Gaudiosi, John "League Of Legends Developer Brandon Beck Talks Rise Of Gaming Houses And Future Of ESports"[5]
  6. ESWC Sponsors [6]
  7. ESL World Sponsors [7]
  8. League of Legends Season 2 World Championship [8]
  9. WCG Official Games [9]
  10. MLG Fall Championship Fighting Game Lineup [10]
  11. Tassi, Paul "MLG Demolishes Viewer Records at Spring Championship" [11]
  12. Video of the Madden Nation season 4 championship at Times Square [12]
  13. Madden Nation season three announced [13]
  14. CBSi partners up with TwitchTV and MLG[14]
  15. IMBD WCG Ultimate Gamer Website [15]
  16. Technology Masters ESPN Streaming Service [16]
  17. Meet 20 Year Old Managing Portland Trail Blazers New NBA 2K Esports Team[17]/
  18. Team Liquid "Spades hacking?" [18]
  19. BW Matchfixing Sentencing [19]
  20. An Important Message Regarding MLG Summer Championship League of Legends [20]
  21. Riot Games continues to bolster League of Legends with further integration into European eSports [21]
  22. League of Legends joins MLG 2012 Pro Circuit [22]
  23. Real Talk with TobiWan [23]
  24. League of Legends General Discussion "Ban issued for openly advertised Elo boosting" [24]

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