In 1962, a space combat video game called Spacewar! was developed by Steve Russell to be installed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its installation spread to other institutions making it the first known video game to be played at multiple computer locations.
Ten years later at Stanford University, a selected list of the best Spacewar! players were invited to watch and participate in a video game competition.
The combination of the competitive elements of gaming with a fan base laid the groundwork for what has become one of the most popular activities watched and played around the world.
The 2019 Global Games Market report forecasts that 2.5 billion gamers across the world will spend $152.1 billion on games in 2019.
The competitive side of gaming known as esports is expected to have a total audience of 454 million viewers and revenues that will top $1 billion. Online streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube have served to launch esports into the stratosphere.
But is it really a sport?
Three things have to happen for a game to become a sport. There has to be competition, tournaments and spectators. The rise of esports has all that and more. Major spectator events in the form of streamed competitions with organized leagues, professional players that can be viewed anywhere, and live events in major offline sports venues.
Adding to the credibility of esports last month was the awarding of an ESPY for best esports moment. At the conclusion of the voting, which included 231,465 votes on Twitter alone, oLarry picked up the win over Ninja/Marshmello.
One esport player who was nominated in the best esports moment category was SonicFox aka Dominique McLean for winning EVO after switching sides.
SonicFox is a black, openly gay furry who also happens to be one of the best fighting game players in the world. He is a combination of some of the least represented demographics of players in the sport today. At 21 years of age, he has already won 52 tournaments.
Also taking note of the growing popularity of esports is the LGBT sports community. The Federation of Gay Games announced in June, the list of 36 sports that will be contested at Gay Games 11 Hong Kong in 2022.
For the first time in the history of the Gay Games, esports and dodgeball were among the sports to be included in the final sports list.
The host cities of the Gay Games follow a mandated list of core sports and can then add sports that are popular in their regions. Both esports and dodgeball are wildly popular in Hong Kong.
“The appetite for specific sports changes over time and we have to open up our minds as to what that means for the future,” says Les Johnson, vice president of external affairs for the Federation of Gay Games. “Both sports will go through a ‘Red Book’ process where we establish the rules for play, age groups and medal counts.”
Of note is that esports were a part of the sports list when D.C. made it to the final three cities of the 2022 Gay Games bid process.
Earlier this year in January, esports debuted at the Sin City Classic Sports Festival in Las Vegas. Sin City is the largest annual LGBT sporting event in the world and draws more than 7,000 athletes participating in 24 sports.
Stepping in on short notice to coordinate the addition of esports were Garrett Pattiani and Russ White. They are the co-founders/co-publishers of QLife Magazine,Federated Gaymers League, the International Drag Queen Database and UV Beach Club.
The competition was hosted at The Wall Gaming Lounge inside the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. Attendees from the other Sin City sports were invited to attend as spectators and experience virtual reality (VR) demonstrations.
One of Pattiani and White’s many side gigs is producing virtual reality festivals which includes egaming through VR.
“We brought along VR Oculus headsets for the gamers and spectators to experience in demo stations,” says Pattiani. “Most gamers haven’t experienced VR gaming and we believe that it will be the esport game of choice in the future.”
The tournament featured two traditional esport games – Fortnite and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. For the third game of the tournament, Pattiani and White added a VR element by introducing the competitors to Ping! (Pong).
“There has been a cost barrier for VR because game development is expensive,” Pattiani says. “As the cost comes down and more people gain access to the technology, gamers will diversify, and new spaces will be created.”
The attraction to esports for the LGBT community is that it creates a safe space where they can be themselves.
“You can be anybody you want to be – you can create avatars to mimic how you identify, you can change your name and change your hair color,” says Pattiani. “These esports communities create a space where you can be your true self and offers the gamer the ability to explore identities.”
Pattiani and White have a vision for the future that includes expanding esports at the Sin City Classic.
“We have the technology to create an LGBT community database of gamers worldwide. Leagues where they would be playing esports against each other, city against city,” says White. “With sponsorships and prize money, we could draw the best players to Vegas to compete in future Sin City Classics.”