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The Rise of Competitive Video Games

By Edited Apr 10, 2016 1 4
Dota 2
Credit: Newbee Dota2 Team

You know that nerd in high school, they one that got picked on everyday, the one that carried his Game Boy and World of Warcraft magazine everywhere.  You would hear him or her talking with their friends in the corner of the lunchroom about video games, Magic the Gathering and Physics as they pushed their glasses up.  Don’t make fun any more; they could be making more than you playing video games. 

Video games have grown since Pong debuted in 1972.  I am sure that Atari would have never thought that the growth of video games in the past 40 years would be so significant.  During that time we have seen the rise and fall of the arcades, the start of console wars, the Internet boom and now multimillion-dollar tournaments.  Remember when you walked to the local arcade with your friends, if you had any, dropped in a quarter and played until you didn’t have any more quarters? I know I’ve wasted a lot of money at the arcade knowing I would never reach the leaderboard. After arcades was the start of consoles wars and whoever had the latest cartridge on the block was the coolest kid. Now we have the Internet, thanks Bob Dole, which has brought gaming to a whole new level.  We now are seeing multimillion-dollar tournaments with teenagers making tens of thousands of dollars all the way up to millions.  That’s right people, millions of dollars to play video games. 


The Big Players

How Big Are Video Games

Dota 2 Stats

DotA 2 tournaments have paid out over $21 million since the game came out in 2013.  You heard correctly I said over $21 million dollars for video game tournaments!  The biggest tournament for DotA is The International that Valve started back in 2011 for the original DotA game.  At the time the prize pool was $1.6 million dollars with the winners taking home $1,000,000.  That prize pool has grown every year since.  The tournament that just ended in July had a prize pool close to  $11,000,000 with the winning team taking home over $6 million dollars.  Valve was selling a in-game item for DotA 2 where about half of the money paid went towards the prize pool.  The game is so hugely popular throughout the world that the gaming community funded the prize pool buy purchasing a virtual item.  The 2014 Players Championship golf tournament had a prize purse of $10,000,000, which is one of the highest purses in all of pro golf; teenager gamers where able to take home more money than professional golfer.  

LoL Esports Stats

League of Legends debuted in 2009 due to the popularity of the original DotA game.  Riot Games figured that a game engine specifically designed for this genre of games with a focus on tournaments would be a success.  Boy where they right!  To date they give out over $13,000,000 in tournament prizes and wages for professional players.  Currently they are the only company giving wages to professional gamers.  The top-level players are getting a wage of $25,000 a year to cover living and travel expenses.  Understand that these top-level players are getting endorsements, sponsors and have merchandise stores.  One gamer from South America reports that he makes close to a million dollars a year just playing video games.  This comes from his tournament wins, sponsors and merchandise he sells.  Professional Lacrosse players will make anywhere from $10,000-$25,000 a year. I bet those high school jocks never knew that you could make more money playing video games then playing sports.

StarCraft 2 stats

Starcraft was the first game that really took off as a high level tournament video game.  In 2010 Blizzard released the second installment of StarCraft.  To date the game has been hosted for more tournaments than the other 2 big games.  StarCraft in South Korea is the national past time and the players are the rock stars. There is a story that during the 2010 World Cup the South Korean team was visited by the StarCraft 2 champs to give advice on competition and how to focus under pressure. The World Cup team wanted to have their pictures taken with the StarCraft players and get signatures.  

Random facts

Riot Games, the creators of League of Legends, noticed a problem with getting gamers from around the world into the United States for tournaments.  These are top-level players making 6-7 figures from playing video games coming into the USA.  Working with the Federal government, we all know how that is, they finally got the government to recognize professional gaming as a professional sport. Now these pro gamers can easily get visas under that qualifier to take part in tournaments. 

Starting this fall semester Robert Morris University will be offering athletic scholarships to top League of Legends players.   Some of these scholarships will renew annually and worth up to $19,000 a year.  The video below is an interview with the Associate Athletic Director from the university.


The video game scene has grown from beating your friends at Mario Cart to seeing multimillion-dollar tournaments.  Now we are seeing it being recognized has a professional sport not only by the federal government but also colleges are starting to.  I believe that they will surpass some major league sports and in specific countries will even be the national pastime (some countries they already are.  Right now video games are huge throughout the world; the amount of people who watched the 2014 DotA 2 International tournament surpassed that of the 2013 World Series. There was over 20 million people who tuned in for the Dota 2 finals tournament while the World Series so just over 14 million viewers. We will continue to see the growth of Esports and with that growth maybe the cool kids will start to become the nerds.  One can only hope.



Aug 28, 2014 9:54pm
I read something like this a couple of weeks ago while doing research for something; can't remember. The only gaming tournaments that I was familiar with growing up involved: Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Madden.

I'm a fan of video games and take interest in the past time since it helps me calm down. Still wouldn't mind participating in a tournament myself and wouldn't mind seeing my school partake in the scholarship thing. Thanks for sharing this piece and thanks for the trip down memory lane with Pong and Atari.
Aug 28, 2014 10:31pm
I remember playing Pokemon with friends; such great times where had.

These games aren't the only tournaments out there for video games. If you like trading card games there is Hearthstone which has tournaments running all the time. They will be holding a tournament for $250,000 for the best players in the world soon.

Talk to the powers to be at your school. Show them the case study of Roberts Morris College and that League of Legends is USA sanctioned sport. You never know what the will say and the worse they could say is no.
Sep 5, 2014 5:42pm
absolutely incredible stuff. This is a great article.

I have a 14yr old whose a real terrific athlete. But he is limited by his genetics. At 5'2", there is limited potential becuase he isn't a freak of nature, yet like a book, he is judged by his cover.

Well I'll tell you something. No limits on genetics with video games is there? You get judged by your skill set and that is that. I haven't given my son the green light to switch gears into gaming yet, but I won't stop my boy from putting tons of time into video gaming. Right now he's playing a lot of mine craft. Its a bizarre game to me. the graffics are out of the 70's. but he and his sister love the game. He is also into watching Twitch and is interested in starting his own channel. We'll see what path he chooses or what path his genes choose for him. Football / basketball or PC/XBOX..

Great article.

Sep 5, 2014 7:22pm
There really is no genetic limits with video games outside of quick thinking. Some of them require math and really fantastic management skills: timer cool downs, item management and teamwork. The one limiting factor in competitive games is actually age. Once you hit mid 20's your reaction time has decreased quite a bit. Usually at this point knowledge compensates for the loss of reaction time . Think of the an older football player, ex: Ray Lewis, that is able to continue playing not only because of skill but also an immense knowledge of the game.

Minecraft is essentially video game legos. You can build structures with building blocks in the same way as legos. It's really a fun game that allows for a lot of creativity.
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