Entertainment - Ben Silverman

Olympics 2: Esports Boogaloo

         Esports are the greatest sports you’ve never heard of. From Pacman to Donkey Kong and GTA to League of Legends, the Electronic Sports era has slowly arrived. Bigger than ever, with titans like Twitch, Steam and Epic Games (the makers of Fortnite) recently breaking world records, Esports is… Epic. Literally. Epic Games broke world records in July, when they gave away $30 million dollars over 3 days during the Fortnite World Cup. That’s right. $30 million. And the winner of it all? A 16 year old from Pennsylvania. A 13 year old brought home $500,000. The prize pools have turned astronomical (the champion, Bugha, won $3 million in 3 days), attendance and viewership is higher than ever, and the sponsors just keep rolling in - Esports is bigger and better than ever.

         One of the most popular Esports, Rocket League, is about to get a whole lot bigger. Rocket League is basically soccer - but with cars, and rockets strapped to the backs of those cars. It’s a fast-paced, highly mechanical, competitive game. And the skill ceiling is ridiculously high. I don’t even mean professional players. I mean above that - Olympic. It was recently announced that both Street Fighter V and Rocket League would share the Olympic stage with the traditional Olympic Games. Yes, you read that right. Rocket League and Street Fighter are going to be at the Olympics, fully regulated by the International Olympic Committee. There’s going to be an online qualifier, a live qualifier, and then the main event, two days before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. 

This is huge, not only for Rocket League as an Esport, but also for competitive gaming as a whole. To have two top tier Esports recognized at the highest level, and especially on an international stage, is absolutely fantastic. This opens the entire scene up to huge opportunities: more sponsors, possibly official international teams, maybe even a franchised league. Some Esports already have that, such as the Overwatch league, but to most it is a far cry from what they’ve seen so far. 

         Big tournaments, also referred to as LANs, are very common in Esports. Any game (League of Legends, Rainbow 6: Siege, Rocket League, Hearthstone, fighting games, etc) that has a pro league, will have multiple LANs per year. For Rocket League, there’s about 5 or 6 LANs per year. The RLCS, a league, is played through qualifiers, league play, and eventually the live finals. Dreamhack is another type of LAN, put on by a company called Dreamhack, that has Rocket League LANs, but they have about 30 tournaments (in different types of games) per event, open and closed qualifiers, and does not quite have the “stadium” quality of a World Championship LAN, as seen below at the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS), Season 7 World Championship. Held at the New Jersey Devils stadium, attendance was the highest for a LAN Rocket League event, topping at just under 19,000. That record is predicted to soon be broken once again, at the RLCS Season 8 LAN in Madrid 

         Traditional sports speaks to a larger audience, with a farther reach and are also generally seen as the better and more traditional path. Competitive gaming is generally frowned upon, seen more as a hobby or as “nerd culture” rather than an actual career path and sport. Having both of these things seen as the same, without any shaming or “elitism,” is a fantastic thing to see. It’s one thing for more sponsors to come and to have prize pool increases; it’s completely another to be seen in the same eyes as the NBA or the NFL.

         For those wondering about the actual Olympic games themselves, well it’s a bit far off. Wait for summer to hear more, there’s not a lot of actual info out right now and there are still a lot of questions looming. The main question that we have though, is a huge one: will these competitors follow the same rule set as traditional Olympians? What about organization ties? Character judges? Is it an open signup qualifier, invite only or closed qualifier? Will Psyonix have any say in this? There’s a lot unknown right now, and seeing as though this is the first time that Esports is being recognized at this scale, there’s bound to be a lot of uncertainty surrounding this. 

This is a huge step for competitive gaming in the steps to getting seen as a viable career opportunity, instead of a “nerd culture hobby.” That has already begun to happen, but it’s a slow moving process - professional gaming used to be seen as a laughingstock, something to mock. But I can’t think of a better journey - starting as a weird, nerdy hobby… and now the Olympics.