The New Age of Esports and Gaming

Nick Alves, Channels and Analytics Coordinator at ChooseATL, explores the gaming world

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A Shaky Start

When I was in middle school, a new space popped up called, "The Gaming Hub." It was a facility (within driving distance of my parents' house!) with wall-to-wall computers and gaming consoles where you could go play all types of video games- on console, PC, solo, in a group, tabletop, etc. They even had "lock-ins," where you could show up on certain weekends to stay up all night and play games with your middle school friends.My sixth grade mind was blown, and I remember being enamored as soon as I walked in, wide-eyed and ready for a place I could finally play video games with other people. It was somewhere that wasn't at one of our houses... or the mall. Our options at that age were basically the mall, the movies, or someone's house- and that all depended on if we had a ride (shout-out to all the parents of middle schoolers; we took your taxi services for granted).I played all types of different games with a couple of friends, and time flew by, with one of our parents coming by to pick us up. We left The Gaming Hub with dopey grins, ready to tell our friends at school and show up with new "The Gaming Hub!" branded stickers on our notebooks.The next part of the story doesn't have a happy ending. In under a year, The Gaming Hub went out of business, and the facility closed before most of the community even knew it had cropped up. Through the rest of my childhood all the way through to adulthood, there was nothing remotely similar- and nothing filled in that niche. This was in the early 2000s, and the story remained largely the same for similar organizations opening up in metro Atlanta. The mainstream wasn't there yet, and the recession certainly didn't help.

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Growing Up Gaming

As early as six, I remember following my mom around in the grocery store with my head down, playing my Game Boy Color, keeping pace behind her and barely looking up. Gaming has always been part of my identity, albeit more privately for fear of ridicule or being labeled one way or another. I'd always wanted gaming to become something more widely understood, so that I could bring forward that part of myself. I used to religiously wait to see new gameplay trailers during E3, Jump Festa, and Tokyo Game Show, always looking for the next Nintendo Direct to give me details on the next games. I remember consistently watching the Pokémon International Championship Finals (once they finally started to stream them) and wishing it was something I could engage more with. Geek culture started to become more mainstream (looking at you, Marvel) which helped overall, but gaming and esports still remained an underground community. Fast forward to the last few years, and the momentum finally shifted.

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YouTube Walked so Twitch could Run

At this point, YouTube needs no introduction. Founded in 2005 and purchased by Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion, the Internet video behemoth is expected to generate $30 billion in sales- in this year alone.For a while, YouTube was the only kid on the block when it came to online video platforms. It carved out a unique niche with its user-generated content and ease of use that was hard to compete with. Vimeo was out there doing its thing, but targeted businesses and corporations rather than individual users at a micro level. Media companies tried to create their own video platforms, but it became easier to just co-opt YouTube as the new go-to platform for housing and uploading videos on the Internet. That's still largely the case, but YouTube has been dealing with all sorts of issues - like copyright claim problems, complaints around censorship, online radicalization, and (another) "Adpocolypse."We all use YouTube to keep up with things we care about, whether it's makeup tutorials, celebrity interviews, or cooking videos. For me, over half of my YouTube consumption was (and still is) gaming-related content. Let's Plays, How-To's, and Game Reviews filled up my YouTube history, and became the primary thing I watched when I wasn't watching traditional TV, using a streaming service, listening to a podcast, or playing a game myself. Then came Twitch- and it turned video game videos to a new format: live-streaming. Twitch began in 2011, but it didn't really take off until 2014 when it exceeded 45 million unique viewers. By May of 2018, Twitch had 2.2 million broadcasters monthly and 15 million daily active users worldwide. Now owned by Amazon, Twitch has asserted itself as "the" place for gamers to livestream and watch their games. New competitors like Facebook Gaming, Microsoft's Mixer, and YouTube's hyper-focused YouTube Gaming are formidable opponents- but Twitch still leads the pack, with 72% of the video game streaming market.The growth of Twitch and platforms like it brought gaming and esports into a new light. By being able to comment in real-time with your favorite content creators, a sense of community started to grow. Twitch brought gamers and their respective gaming communities to the next level, connecting us in a way that wasn't previously possible. Mainstream media companies like Forbes and ESPN began to talk about Twitch and gaming in a way that I hadn't seen before. People that had never picked up a controller were starting to see the value in gaming- and what a major revenue source it could be.

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Rupees Galore

According to Forbes, the total gaming market in 2019 is expected to generate $152.1 billion- which is over three times the amount of global box office revenues in 2018 (which amounted to $41.1 billion) and a 5% increase from the total gaming market in 2018. Looking at those amounts side by side really puts it all into context, and shows the potential of the industry in the years to come. Even if the total gaming market shrank by 30 percent this year, it would still be worth over $100 billion- which is pretty insane to think about. That's a lot of Rupees.

And then from a player's perspective, there is a ton of potential. The prize pools in esports tournaments have grown to astronomical levels, with millions of dollars on the line. The best example is Fortnite's massive $100 million prize pool in 2019. Each of the 200 Fortnite players who qualified and competed walked away with at least $50,000, with the winner taking home $3 million. Teenagers are becoming millionaires- just for being good at video games.

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Companies in Atlanta are ahead of the curve, with massive investments into the local esports scene in the last five years, and a burgeoning hyper-local fanbase. Joint Atlanta Esports Ventures (a partnership between Cox Enterprises and Province, Inc.) owns two of Atlanta's three franchised city-based esports teams: the Atlanta Reign (Overwatch) and the Atlanta FaZe (Call of Duty). The Atlanta Hawks have recently launched their own esports team, Hawks Talon (NBA 2K), and will go all-in on both traditional sports and esports. I was lucky to attend Atlanta Reign's Homestand Weekend earlier this summer, surrounded by thousands of Atlanta's passionate fanbase, excited for what's on the horizon. The energy was electric- and the Atlanta Reign decided to host more Homestand Weekends in 2020. If you want a peek at the future of esports, look no further than Atlanta.

And then there's Axis Replay, the answer to my sixth grade prayers. Axis Replay positions itself as the "Top Golf of esports," and is a 12,000 square foot facility on the Beltline- an ideal location for Millennials and Gen-Z gamers. Axis Replay allows for daily gaming by the hour, coworking for tech-driven companies, and small to medium sized esports and high-tech conference events. They even have a monthly membership- which I just might take advantage of pretty soon. The company has been super intentional about inclusivity and youth engagement, piloting its first summer camp this year. The summer camp teaches kids about streaming best practices, optimizing their gaming talent, connecting them with esports professionals, and gives them insights into esports job opportunities. It's an amazing program and something I wish I had available as a kid.

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DreamHack and the Atlanta Esports Alliance

Last weekend, DreamHack took over downtown Atlanta, breaking attendance records with over 35,000 participants from around the globe. I had the pleasure of attending the conference for work, capturing photo and video content as my colleagues and I attended different events and saw the gaming and esports scene in action, in realtime. We watched the SMITE World Championship take place- seeing thousands cheer for a game developed in metro Atlanta, by local Hi-Rez Studios. We witnessed speedrunning competitions for charity by NoReset (with over $6,000 raised) and cheered along with hundreds of other viewers. We watched Halo championships, fighting game competitions, saw cosplay competitions in action, and even witnessed panels at Esports Summit, a B2B event focused on the growth of esports in Atlanta.Ahead of DreamHack, the Atlanta Sports Council made a major announcement: the creation of the Atlanta Esports Alliance. The Atlanta Esports Alliance is committed to bringing major esports and gaming events to metro Atlanta, and it will continue to drive new opportunities for teams, tournaments, venues, and esports service partners in Atlanta. This is an intentional and important effort to keep Atlanta as the "No. 1 city for gaming environment" and "No. 5 city for gamers" - while also leveraging the 150 gaming studios throughout the state of Georgia.

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The Future of Gaming is a Bright one — and it shines Brightest in Atlanta.

This is an important time in esports and gaming, and I'm ecstatic that Atlanta has taken the plunge. I'd long dreamed of a day that I can one day watch professionals play video games, and that future has finally arrived.

Credits: Story

About the Author, Nick J. Alves:

Born in Connecticut and raised in Kennesaw, ATL is where I call home. I’ve lived inside the perimeter since 2017, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in digital marketing from the University of Georgia (go dawgs!).

I’ve been with ChooseATL since my intern days, and I’m excited to work on our organization’s digital content and paid media strategies. Catch me riding MARTA or walking around Lenox Park – I’ll always say hello!

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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