Watching the gamers
Gaming is fast becoming a valuable spectator sport. Gamer community Twitch TV was scooped up last year by Amazon for $97 million, while 32 million people watched the 2014 League of Legends World Championships. Recent news articles and TV programmes have documented the rise in e-sports, but what’s driving these burgeoning viewing figures? asks Sion Payne*.
Gaming, we had always thought, is all about immersion and active escapism – so what do dedicated gamers get out of putting their consoles or PCs to one side and watching others play? Well, they have an admiration for excellence, plus they like to see competition and to admire the performances, while the narrative can be pretty engaging.
First, the admiration angle. As any Sunday League football player admires Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo, so gamers want to see the best action. Ian ‘Crimsix’ Porter, a top Call of Duty player, or streamer, has his own avid fan base at tournaments and online. NiP (Ninjas in Pajamas), one of the top competitive counter strike teams, have a YouTube and Twitch channel where fans keep up to speed with their training and progress in tournaments.
And watching gaming provides the same level of excitement as watching any sporting match – it’s all about the competition. There’s tension, twists, turns and then, finally, only one winner. Teams and lone players are often selected on their nationality band consequently have an aligned fan base following them.
Games don’t just engage as a ‘sport’ though. They can also capture viewers’ involvement in narrative in a similar way to a great TV show or film. AAA titles such as FarCry, GTA or Outlast have complex plots, cinematic scenes and, in some cases, Hollywood actors. Viewers can watch streamers play through entire story modes, completing the game without the challenges or efforts of actually playing. Similar to TV series, these episodes are highly anticipated as viewers go on a journey with the player.
Finally, it’s not just game footage viewers are after, it’s the performance of the streamers themselves. The best put their own unique twist on the content, through video editing or commentary, or by adjusting their own play style in game. This adds an extra dimension that you don’t get from playing the game yourself. PewDiePie is known as one of the best entertainers, and has 34 millions subscribers (and counting) who love him for the amusing and slightly whacky spin he puts on his videos. KSIOlajidebt’s famous Race to Division 1 series in FIFA launched him into stardom and was renowned for its brilliant editing, often including quirky raps on the match and his opponents. This skill in performance has launched some streamers into the world of entertainment and TV - for example, Joe Weller, a FIFA YouTuber who’s made appearances on programmes like Soccer AM on Sky.
Essentially the exponential rise in video game viewing has stemmed from the convergence of video streaming culture with the ever-evolving phenomenon of gaming. The morphing of these two worlds has created a type of ‘virtual’ entertainment that allows anyone to adapt game footage into a unique and often captivating performance. We will possibly see the boundaries between the two become less and less defined as game viewing and the number of hopeful streamers worldwide continues to surge.
*Sion Payne is a researcher at Thinktank International Research