ESports industry: from a beer box to a million dollars

    Hello! My name is Nikita Bokarev, I am a creative producer of the gaming direction Mail.Ru Group. Today I’ll talk about the phenomenon of e-sports in colors. Of course, the topic is huge and it will not be covered in its entirety - there will not be enough textbooks, so I will talk about the most significant, from my point of view, events and phenomena from the inception of e-sports to the present day.

    In the world: Korea, Europe, the States and China

    The fate of e-sports in every part of the world has developed differently. It can be said that the main forces in the development of the industry were made by South Korea, which chose high tech as the main "national idea". To popularize it, certain symbols and directions were needed, so the Koreans made computer sports the most important in the country, the theme around which the population united. It happened in the 2000s, and even then they invested a lot of money in e-sports and brought it to a very high level. Those who participated in the competitions and won immediately received large fees and new opportunities. It was originally a state initiative, up to the point that the first tournaments were opened personally by the country's leadership, with great fanfare and pathos. In just a couple of years, South Korea became the main organizer of world competitions:

    European eSports has developed along the classical path (organizing offline tournaments) and along the online path. The fact is that even then the inhabitants of the West ping was an order of magnitude better than in other countries, and already in 1997 - 1998 the Scandinavians were in full swing at Quake and other games on the Internet. The Swedes and other Vikings were engaged in the development of all kinds of online leagues, online competitions, platforms, services, and all that that allowed players to fight precisely within certain communities. There were about five of them in Europe, and each of them decided which games fall in tournaments (and, accordingly, in e-sports) and which are not.

    By the way, a thing that is useful to immediately understand: in fact, there is no single concept of “e-sports”. He is not there. Each member of this circus organizes their own e-sports with blackjack and the rest. For example: I am South Korea and want to make a world championship. I say: it will be StarCraft, Counter-Strike, DOTA and LoL. So I created my eSports. There is no international classification, world-recognized disciplines, a register of games - this is not the Olympics for you.

    In the United States, the phenomenon of esports has generally developed in its own unique way. In America, appeared CPL - CyberSport Professional League, whose participants played on consoles in exactly 15 games. Of course, all this was done with great fanfare and scope: for example, for the first place the player received not just a bonus, but a ready-made Ferrari. Undoubtedly red.

    In the early 2000s, the Koreans powerfully poked their ears in the e-sports field by launching a major project World Cyber ​​Games. It was the first incredibly cool world championship with one important feature: qualifiers were held in 200 countries. If before that it was possible to come to the big championship in the same, for example, Korea by invitation (you were miraculously noticed by some Korean and called to compete), then with the advent of World Cyber ​​Games they began to organize qualifying tournaments inside different countries. Some competitions were held, the team was selected, which then went to the finals to defend the honor of the motherland.

    It was WCG that gave impetus to the unification of various ideas about e-sports in the world. Before that, everyone, as I already said, did what they wanted. Koreans used e-sports as a tool to work with their own population; Europeans developed the industry online; Americans did the show; Well, the Chinese used the phenomenon to unite the country and demonstrate their national achievements in a winning light. Only the champions of their countries, 200 teams from around the world, got to tournaments in China. It was very large-scale and spectacular.

    In the CIS countries

    As for us, in 1997 in the CIS countries a new type of business appeared, which everyone really liked and quickly developed. The essence of it is that you find a certain room, put the assembled computers into it - how many will fit in - and rent them out. This was called the "computer club." The first computer club was opened in 1997 at the Shabolovskaya metro station in Moscow and was called Orki, a memorable place for me because, in fact, I once started my activity there as a pro-gamer.

    This business model quickly became very popular. People realized that this was pretty easy money: we didn’t have much Internet at that time, and everyone really wanted to try it, the people walked on the rampart. Of course, it was enough to go to the club once to understand that this is a completely different level of the game and a very special buzz. So you sit at home in proud loneliness, and here you play the grid with twenty living people! Then no one played on the Internet, for the sake of "multiplayer" they dragged their entire computer to a friend for an apartment. And here was not only an opportunity, but also a choice: with whom to play, what to play, when to play. The theme exploded: clubs began to appear like mushrooms in the forest.

    Accordingly, tournaments in the CIS began to develop along with clubs. At first they were just at the expense of enthusiasts. For example: I play Counter-Strike, I like this game, I want to do more for it than just play it. I am gathering people, telling them that on such and such a date in such and such a place we gather and play, the contribution will be so much. Actually, the amount collected from the contributions was the prize fund. This is what the Russian e-sports looked like.

    Then no one had dreamed of any world tournaments yet - they thought that it was just such a fan, nobody seriously looked at it. The explosion occurred in 2001, when the first season of World Cyber ​​Games with the finals in Seoul was officially announced. What did it mean? In all countries, the opportunity arose not only to be the coolest guy in the city, but also to win the qualifiers, become the champion of the whole country and go to the finals in Korea.

    The main sponsor of World Cyber ​​Games was Samsung. This was the first time that such a large sponsor was involved in organizing a large event and when the company invested heavily in e-sports. Samsung had its interest in this venture. Then, in 2001, the company began to actively promote its mobile games for new phones with color screens. They themselves developed toys for their own platform and sold them, including through gamers. Thus, Samsung bent its own line: if World Cyber ​​Games were devoted to “client” games, then the Korean company tried to promote mobile. In fact, they even succeeded in something: at some point in the championship, separate competitions in mobile games appeared.

    Samsung was busy with the tournament and in addition to its mobile path: it helped organize qualifying competitions in countries with its representative offices, invested a lot of money, up to the fact that prize pools amounted to tens of thousands of dollars per team: first place - 50 thousand, second - 40 thousand, third - 30 thousand. For that time it was unrealistic amounts. As for the Russian representative office of Samsung, in 2001 it did a lot of useful things: it did a great job with the gaming community, monitored the qualifiers, and also did a very significant thing - covered the cities with a polygraph about choosing the country's champion. For the first time on outdoor advertising, such a thing unexpected for that time as gamers and e-sports appeared. The effect was amazing: it was very cool to feel part of a grand event, to know

    With the advent of World Cyber ​​Games, people have a new motivation to develop a promising direction. Everyone rushed to train and play, another 100500 clubs opened to accommodate everyone, the qualifying competitions in the cities began. So the first, still approximate structure of what later became the Russian e-sports, as we know it now, was born.

    The boom in Russia

    World Cyber ​​Games has announced competitions for three games: StarCraft, Counter-Strike and Quake. Actually, we basically played in them. Qualifiers were held in every major city, the city team came to the finals in Moscow, where the first mega-final took place, at which we learned who the best StarCraft player was, the best player in Quake and the five best guys in Counter-Strike. All of this had a certain media reach, which expanded incredibly after e-sports were talked about on TV. It was like this: at about that time, Leonid Parfyonov, a well-known person, I think, and his friend Sergei Loshak were in search of new topics for the program “The Other Day”. They wanted to find something interesting that no one had spoken about. Actually, they found World Cyber ​​Games and decided to shoot a story about how Russians are preparing for the tournament, fly to Korea and perform. It so happened that the Russians in that contest took two golds, according to Counter-Strike and Quake. The plot came out interesting: how simple St. Petersburg guys play, go to college, drink beer, how a simple Novogireevsky dude from Moscow also trains before the finals. When the guys returned, it was a real holiday: ours won! And here in addition came the program “The other day. ESports ”, which was shown on NTV several times.

    What did it give? A new era has come: people on TV were shown a guy from Novogireevo who won 20 thousand dollars by playing Quake. All. At that moment, roofs were torn down by everyone, because thousands of people understood: “It's me! Here I am, wait, I’m already coming! ”And everyone began to play with double inspiration, organize competitions, turn this into a matter of their life, collect leagues, open computer centers. A new process has begun, the formation of a new scene, such a mini-industry within the gaming industry. The publishers did not deal with this side of the issue at all, they were interested in selling boxes with new games, so the organization of sporting events was a heavy burden on the shoulders of enthusiasts. All this was formed thanks to the very difficult work with sponsors, who at that time, in 2002-2003, generally did not understand what it was and why it was needed.

    Gradually, results began to appear. In particular, a series of Asus tournaments has started in Russia. The company gave money and launched tournaments with a frequency of once every three months: in the CIS countries qualifiers, the final in Moscow. That is, in addition to the World Championships, new stable competitions with decent prizes have appeared in the calendar of e-sportsmen. And that's not counting a couple of dozen small tournaments! People made their own schedules and prepared for the fight no worse than Rocky Balboa.

    More tournaments, good and different

    In other parts of the world, of course, they did not sleep either. So, in Europe launched the Electronic Sports League. She gathered all the adequate European enthusiasts who worked for the sake of the idea, and created a very large union of sensible people from almost all European countries. It was they who launched the ESL online service , which, by the way, still works. The first international online competition series has appeared on this platform.

    Of course, we took it very well. In addition to the fact that there were four major championships and about twenty small championships in the life of Russian pro-gamers during the year, they could now play online competitions for money or quotas. All this was unrealistically cool, and in addition gave a significant boost to the development of the e-sports audience. Most importantly, not only hardcore players, but also another audience began to come to it. Due to the launch of ESL, a sort of “packaging” of existing teams began in terms of their skill level.

    What does it mean? Let's say I play Counter-Strike, I love this game, I dream of becoming a champion. I came to the e-sports competition, played one match with the champion, he took me away 16-0, I ran away, cried and never touched the game again. This could be before the advent of ESL; subsequently, this service minimized the chances of such a scenario. Now I could play with an opponent with approximately the same win-to-loss ratios as mine. The matchmaking system based on rates was laid: ESL launched a gradation on the statistics of your victories and losses, which any modern game project uses. Of course, this lowered the bar for entering the sport, and a lot of players came to the industry who were quite comfortable competing. They didn’t make any far-reaching plans - these people just played for the rating,

    In America, meanwhile, the CyberSport Professional League rattled with all its might, Garena launched, and the Championship Gaming Series, a league that was made in the format of a TV show, appeared. It looked like this: a major American channel regularly released digests that talked about all the competitions in five CGS cyber disciplines played in a stunningly beautiful studio. The second season of the show was broadcast on a separate channel. Roughly speaking, with this launch, the States took a step along the path chosen by Korea, in which, for example, there are three channels entirely devoted to StarCraft. Yes, TV channels that play StarCraft around the clock. The Americans acted in a similar way, but still remained in the format of a television show.

    Meanwhile, in Russia, enthusiasts reached officials: by the forces of the Russian Computer Sports Federation, e-sports was added to the official register of sports in 2004. Earlier, in 2002, a landmark event took place in the capital: NetLand, the Samsung gaming center on the fourth floor of the Children's World, opened. It was a fantastically expensive and beautiful room with its own entrance, separate areas, a bunch of staff, the original layout (tables with computers were not along the walls, but an amphitheater, with the highest number intended for selected pro-gamers). This was a whole new level: NetLand showed that a computer club might not be a basement. A little later, somewhere in the beginning of 2006, another iconic gaming center was opened, Club4Game, to the creation of which your humble servant also had a hand.


    To summarize my story: what did we have at that time? In the world there were already a lot of various competitions for a variety of games. Enthusiasts moved projects that were of interest to them, so tournaments began to appear dedicated to generally anything, even Mario. The prize fund varied: I found the championships where we played for a box of beer, but at the same time other processes were going on. At the same time, the Electronic Sports World Cup was gaining momentum in Europe - a major tournament with decent prizes, which brought together the color of e-sports from around the world. The scene itself was popularized: people began to learn not only about the competitions themselves, but also about those who participated in them year after year. We started buying tickets for tournaments with these players, coming in, taking autographs, getting to know them on the street.

    At this cheerful moment, I will pause so as not to overload you with information. In the next post, read about the e-sports crisis, the wars of MOBA games, the appearance of broadcasts and other interesting events. If you have questions about what has already been said, ask in the comments.

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