South by Southwest brings something for everyone. For gamers, more than a dozen sessions on esports barely scratched the surface on the often misunderstood industry that is gaining notoriety.
For seven hours each day, South by Southwest hosted esports competitions, bringing professional gamers into battle with one another. Beginners’ eyes are opened up to this world for the first time, while veterans continue to play into the nuances of the blooming industry.
“There was somebody arguing with me… at an education convention,” Indiana high school teacher Don Wettrick said. He explained that the man challenged him with a simple phrase.
“‘You mean to tell me: people pay a ticket, sit on their butt, to watch someone play a game!?'” Wettrick recounted. Then the man realized what he described: most sporting events.
“That was that moment of realization the guy was like ‘maybe this isn’t so stupid,'” Wettrick said.
The worldwide esports market was valued at nearly $493 million in 2017. By 2020, esports is expected to generate upward of $1.5 billion.
“If we still kind of stick to that gun of like, ‘we’ve got to be authentic to esports,’ we’re not going to be able to change, we’re not going to be able to evolve as much as we want,” Christina Alejandre, vice president of esports for Turner and general manager of ELEAGUE. The cable company broadcasts video game competitions on some of its channels, working to bring esports out of the traditional gaming platforms and into the “mainstream.”
“All you know if you are new to esports is ‘oh he’s just good at video games,’ which to me is not really an interesting kind of connection into it,” she explained. “You have to really understand why what they did was epic. Why seeing a pixel, they are able to get that shot, whereas a normal human being would not be able to do what they do.”
“I think you’ll see more stuff from us coming out but kind of show why they’re good at esports,” Alejandre continued. She said esports has garnered TBS 10 million viewers.
Though critics argue that esports may be at the root of social problems down the line and contribute to poor health, Wettrick and others dispute those claims and say there is no scientific proof. In fact, Wettrick said young people who play video games are less likely to get into trouble.
“Having gaming tournaments will cut down on youth mischief,” Wettrick stated.
The esports industry has grown enough that the city of Arlington announced an investment this week that would transform its convention center into an esports stadium.
Wettrick hopes that projects like this turn the tides on the perception of esports.
“The stigma of ‘oh you’re just a gamer,’ that’s gone,” he said.