It wasn’t long ago that competitive video gaming was a relatively niche market with limited appeal. There wasn’t really an esports “industry” of any note, and the world at large was mostly oblivious to the fact that people actually played video games in formal contests.
Over the last few years, however, the popularity of esports has literally exploded. Competitive video gaming is now considered a legitimate sport, and professional gamers are recognized as athletes. Many of the top players are genuine celebrities with legions of fans all around the world.
These players have helped to create a thriving esports industry. They’re not the ONLY contributors though, as there are a lot of other important roles within esports, too. There are many companies, organizations and individuals that have played a part in establishing the professional esports scene. Their contribution should not be overlooked.
In this article, we’ve explained all about the key roles in the esports industry. We’ve also provided details of some of the companies and individuals that are fulfilling these roles. Please note that we haven’t discussed the players here. This is simply because we’ve dedicated a whole other page to them instead.
We’re starting with game developers and publishers for a good reason. Esports wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for them. The entire sport is (obviously) based on playing video games, so the companies that create and distribute these games clearly have an important role.
Of course, Not EVERY video game developer creates esports games. Although the rise of competitive video gaming has definitely had a significant impact on the gaming industry as a whole, only a few developers have truly embraced esports so far.
This is already starting to change. The long-term potential of esports is no longer in doubt, and more and more developers have recognized this in recent years. As it stands, however, there aren’t that many developers that could be considered MAJOR contributors to the esports industry.
Three companies that unquestionably deserve that label are Blizzard Entertainment, Riot Games and Valve Corporation. They’ve created some of the most important esports games currently played at a professional level.
Blizzard Entertainment has been making video games since 1991. Their strategy game StarCraft II was one of the very first games to be played professionally. They’ve released other esports games, too. These include Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch.
Formed in 2006, Riot Games is the company behind the incredibly successful League of Legends game. This multiplayer online game has over 100 million registered players, and is HUGE on the esports scene.
Valve Corporation has several successful titles to their name, and two in particular have made a big impression in competitive gaming. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2 are easily among the most popular esports games at this moment in time.
Other notable developers and publishers of esports games include the following:
The companies that organize and host professional leagues and tournaments are also vital to the esports industry. They’re the ones that provide the platform for the top teams and players to showcase their skills in competitive contests. It’s these contests that generate the interest in esports, with many of them attracting huge audiences from all over the world.
Some of the biggest esports contests are operated directly by the game developers. The League of Legends World Championship, for example, is organized by Riot Games. Valve Corporation runs several high-profile contests for Dota 2 and CS:GO, and Blizzard Entertainment hosts various events for all their esports games.
There are also many third-party companies that organize and host professional esports contests. Here’s a list of three particularly notable ones:
Major League Gaming
ESL was originally known as Electronic Sports League. Formed in 2000, it was one of the first companies to start organizing professional esports contests. It operates “ESL Pro Leagues” for several popular games, and also the “ESL One” series of tournaments.
Major League Gaming (MLG) was founded in 2002. It’s based in the United States, and organizes esports contests throughout North America. The MLG Pro Circuit is one of the longest-running esports leagues, featuring games such as StarCraft II and League of Legends.
Gfinity is based in the United Kingdom. The company organizes regular online tournaments for both professional and casual gamers, and hosts a number of live tournaments too. They also opened the world’s first dedicated esports arena back in 2015.
Sponsors & Investors
The esports industry would not be where it is today without the money that has been poured into it. Over the last few years, many companies and individuals have provided the funds that the industry has needed to develop. Most of this has been in the form of sponsorship or direct investment.
Sponsors undoubtedly have a very important role in esports. They sponsor contests to help make the prize pools more attractive, and they also provide sponsorship to teams and players, too. We couldn’t possibly list EVERY company that’s ever sponsored esports in some way, but here’s a list of some of the biggest contributors:
The direct investment that the esports industry receives is not always as visible as the sponsorship deals that are done. It’s no less important though, and it comes in many different forms. There’s venture capital, for example, or equity investment from private individuals and companies. There have even been cases of traditional sports teams investing in esports.
Recently, there’s been a number of wealthy celebrities investing in esports. Most of these celebrities have some kind of sports background, but that’s not always the case. Here’s a list of some of the well-known figures who have put money into the industry:
Rick Fox (retired basketball player turned professional actor)
Alex Rodriguez (baseball player)
Ashton Kutcher (actor)
Magic Johnson (retired basketball player)
Shaquille O’Neal (retired basketball player)
Alisher Usmanov (one of the richest men in Russia)
Steve Aoki (DJ/musician)
Mark Cuban (owner of Dallas Mavericks)
Traditional sports such as football, soccer and tennis all have official governing bodies that oversee the sport in one way or another. These organizations have various responsibilities, including the promotion and regulation of the relevant sport. Most sports have one (or more) governing body that operates on a global basis and then various other bodies that deal with the sport in specific regions.
Esports does not yet have an established governing body that is formally recognized as being “in charge” of the sport. There are, however, a number of organizations that could legitimately be classed as governing bodies. The most prominent are as follows:
International Esports Federation (IeSF)
World Esports Association (WESA)
IeSF was formed in 2008, when esports associations from nine different countries came together to form a global organization. Based in South Korea, it now has over 40 member nations. Initially, its stated aim was to help esports get recognized as a legitimate sport. Now that that has been achieved, the IeSF is working towards uniting the esports industry under a single jurisdiction.
WESA was formed a few years later in 2016. Contest organizers, ESL were behind the new association, along with several professional teams. It has focused primarily on regulating just one game (CS:GO) to start with, but its long term goal is to regulate esports in its entirety.
Streamers have played a huge role in growing the popularity of esports. What do they do? Well, in basic terms, they broadcast themselves playing video games. A lot of gaming fans LOVE to watch others play their favorite games, so these streamers can attract big audiences.
Some streamers are professional players, and some are just skilled amateur players. There are few popular streamers that don’t even play to a particularly high standard. The important thing to most fans is that a streamer is entertaining and/or able to explain what’s happening within the game.
The majority of streamers use Twitch for their broadcasts. Some use YouTube, and there are various other streaming platforms, too. Streamers will usually offer live broadcasts, often playing for hours at a time. They tend to offer pre-recorded videos, too.
Here’s a list of some of our favorite streamers right now. We’ve included the games they play, and links to their channels.
Adam Friberg. Plays CSGO and PUBS. Streams on Twitch.
Do you watch any traditional sports on television? If you do, you’ll know how much the commentators can affect your enjoyment of a match or event. Good commentators are knowledgeable and entertaining, and they can really add to the overall experience. Bad commentators, however, can make you want to switch it off.
The commentators in esports are typically referred to as shoutcasters, or simply casters. The same principle applies to them as it does in traditional sports. They can either enhance our viewing pleasure, or ruin it. The good casters are, therefore, invaluable to the esports industry, as they ensure that people want to keep watching.
Check out the following video for some great examples of shoutcasting being truly entertaining.
Managers, Coaches & Analysts
In the early years of esports, the best teams and players relied mostly on sheer talent to be successful. As long as they had the ability and put in plenty of practice, they could stay at the top of their game without any external help.
Esports is MUCH more competitive than it used to be though, so it’s harder to be among the best. There’s a lot more for today’s professional players to deal with, too. This has created a need for managers, coaches and analysts, and these roles are undoubtedly important to the esports industry as a whole.
What do these role entail?All kinds of different things!
The esports industry is still maturing, and the roles of managers, coaches and analysts are not yet fully defined. Generally speaking, however, they serve three primary purposes. The first is simply to help teams and players improve. The second is to support them in their professional lives. The third is to handle the business and administrative sides of things, such as dealing with sponsors and arranging entry into tournaments.
Last but by no means least are the casual gamers and the fans. These people may not have as much of a direct impact on the esports industry as those discussed above, but they’re extremely important nonetheless.
Most, if not all, professional esports players started out as casual gamers. It’s hard to imagine that any of them just randomly decided to become professional players without any previous interest in gaming. They’re likely to have played for fun at first, and then progressed to competitive gaming at some point.
So, if we didn’t have any casual gamers, where would the next crop of professional players come from? The industry NEEDS these people, as they’re ultimately its future. They’re also part of its present, as the esports fanbase is made up mostly of casual gamers.
The fact that esports even HAS a fanbase is a big part of why the industry has grown so fast. If no-one was actually interested in following the professional scene, there’d be very little point in there even being one. The fans are essentially the reason why the sponsors and investors have put their money in, and the reason why esports receives so much media coverage these days.
All this means is that if you’re a casual gamer or a fan yourself, then YOU are as much a part of the industry as anyone else. You’re doing your part just by playing the games and watching the contests. You may not get the fame and glory that the professional players get, but you should still be proud of your contribution!