In recent years, the eSports industry has gone truly mainstream. Whereas just a few decades ago playing video games was a niche hobby, here in 2024 competitive gaming events are now on par with traditional sports. They pull in audiences in their thousands, with the top eSports tournaments selling out arenas and broadcasting to fans across the world. From Suffolk to South Korea, the eSports train is in full swing so what’s in store for pro gaming in 2024? Let’s take a look!
What are eSports?
For those who aren’t in the know, the term eSports stands for “electronic sports” and refers to competitive video gaming at a professional level. The eSports ecosystem contains organised, multiplayer video game tournaments, often with cash prizes at the top levels; sponsorships and endorsement opportunities for players; outside investors; and, of course, a dedicated fan base. High-level professional events take place online or in arenas, attracting millions of global viewers.
In recent years, eSports has experienced significant growth and development. Major advancements in gaming tech, widespread internet access, and the rise of streaming platforms like Twitch have fueled the industry’s expansion. Pro gaming has evolved from niche competitions into a mainstream phenomenon, with players becoming household names and lucrative sponsorships pouring into the scene.
We’re now at the stage where once grassroots teams of gamers have now become eSports organisations in their own right, even collaborating with major brands and partners outside the pro gaming arena. FURIA, the Brazilian Counter-Strike specialists, added a new merchandise collaboration with online poker brand PokerStars to its portfolio in 2023, which built on already successful joint ventures with DC Comics and the luxe headwear brand New Era. This newest partnership may even indicate that the wider industry is embracing a diverse niche like online poker, which, despite having been classed as a mindsport for several years now, is yet to fully integrate with eSports.
Although there’s still some debate about whether eSports count as real sports, there’s no denying the fact that pro gaming is a competitive discipline that is comparable to more traditional sporting pursuits. Professional gamers undergo rigorous training regimens, participate in team-based competitions, and adhere to a code of conduct when competing. Leagues and tournaments follow structured formats, which in turn gives rise to a competitive ecosystem akin to other sports.
In terms of genres, the industry encompasses a wide range that reflects the diversity of the modern-day gaming industry. Major genres include First-Person Shooters (FPS) like Counter-Strike 2, Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBA) like League of Legends, Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games such as StarCraft II, and Sports Simulation titles like FIFA and NBA 2K.
2024 is certainly gearing up to be an exciting year for players and fans alike, as several major events and tournaments are already scheduled for the coming twelve months. Starting off the year with the first big Counter-Strike 2 event – following its release last autumn – is the IEM Katowice in Poland in February. G2 Esports, the defending IEM champions are currently heading up the list of eight qualified teams, which also includes FaZe Clan (a team that’s already got winning form in CS2) and Complexity Gaming.
The Rainbow Six Invitational event takes a leaf out of American Football’s book by crowning a new world champion earlier on in the year. By the end of February, the gaming community will have a new top team in this highly popular title. The teams set to be in attendance this year include 2023 champions G2 Esports, reigning Majors winners w7m esports and Virtus.pro.
The global eSports community will be descending on Birmingham come April for the ESL One tournament (Dota 2). It’s been two years since the event was held on British shores, so plenty of UK and European teams are expected to turn out for it. Defending champions Azure Ray are invited, despite three of their members now playing for Xtreme Gaming (who are also invited). Meanwhile, the likes of Team Liquid and Team Spirit are also expected to be in the mix.
eSports Trends in 2024
Right now, the gaming industry is in a new stage of evolution, what with the arrival of generative AI and the ever-increasing presence of the metaverse, extended reality and fully immersive gaming. We can expect to see these trends impact eSports too, although it might be some time before fully realised VR arenas come into play. Generative AI is set to be a major talking point in pro gaming, however, as the arrival of “intelligent” NPCs (non-playable characters) in video games could have implications on the competitive scene.
Aside from how tech developments could shift the scene, a trend that’s set to become more widespread in 2024 is that of community casting, which is when independent players stream live coverage of tournaments and events. The 2023 League of Legends World Championships proved the power of community casting when no less than 6.4 million viewers tuned in to live coverage on popular streamer channels. And, with gaming content creators essentially being experts in the discipline — many retired pro gamers have set up Twitch and YouTube channels — their relevance and appeal in the global gaming community is unlikely to diminish.