Emma Witkowski, Brett Hutchins, Marcus Carter and Lalor McMahon
At a recent Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), Emmett Shear, CEO of Twitch.tv, the leading live video platform for streaming games, claimed that in a decade e-sports will be bigger than athletic sports. While his statement was both hyperbolic and speculative, the particulars were not: e-sports tournaments have spectator numbers in the millions, recent franchise games have logged over a billion hours of gameplay, while experts and amateur e-sports enthusiasts alike regularly broadcast and share their competitive play online. The growing passion for mainstream e-sports is apparent, though there are also interesting, less visible happenings on the periphery of the e-sports media industry – notably, the acts of life and death that happen off the polished main stage. Smaller tournaments have been cut to make way for major e-sports franchises; games with a strong culture of dark play have attempted to encourage e-sport iterations, encountering conflict where bribery and espionage is interwoven with traditional sporting structures; and third party organizations have created new ways to watch, participate, celebrate, but also profit from one’s love of games. In these actions, we find some of the ways in which competitive games and gaming lifestyles are extended, but also often dissolved from the main stages of e-sports. At a broader level, these events allow us to witness the growth and sedimentation of this new socio-technical form. Simultaneously, we observe its erosion as the practices and form of e-sports are subject to the compromises demanded by processes of cultural and audience reception, and attempts to maximise cultural appeal and commercial success. It is in the interplay between this ceaseless growth and erosion that the significance of e-sport can be found.