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Why do people watch competitive video games?

Fans watching a competitive gaming esports match  in a gaming arena

It’s a common question that comes up from outside of esports, why do people watch other people playing videogames? From inside the industry though it’s pretty simple. Just like any sport, it’s an entertainment product. Esports is people at the absolute pinnacle of their field, competing with high stakes, with awesome production value and great narratives to add the cherry on top.

High stakes

The new biggest prize pool in esports is $60 million at the Gamers8 event in Dubai 2023. That’s a lot to play for!

Let’s take League of legends as an example:

LoL Players Globally: 180 Million Monthly Active Users

(If they were a country they’d be the 8th biggest, above Bangladesh and Russia, Or for every 1 person living in Scotland, there are 32 people who play LoL monthly)

LoL worlds entrants: 22 Teams aka 110 players

(there are 127 teams or 635+ Players globally that compete for these spots)

Biggest LoL prize pool: $6.5 Million (12th biggest prize pool in esports history)

With high stakes like these it builds the tension and narrative of a life changing amount of money and glory on the line.

Learn from the pros

If you play the game, and you also watch the esports broadcasts for that game, you’ll see how the best of the best are approaching the competition. Their strategies, the way that interact as a team, the game environment, and game exploits or tricks like lining up the perfect spot to throw a grenade or knife through the air, how to use an ability in a way you never knew you could. The list goes on, but it’s an insight on how to be better yourself at the game and therefore get more satisfaction from beating your opponents with your new moves.

LEC League of Legends European Championship competitive gaming esports studio in berlin

LEC studio Berlin

Dopamine dopamine dopamine

Flashy lights and satisfying headshot sound effects make your brain super happy. This happens so much in watching games it can make it hard to go back to watching traditional sports. I watched the Superbowl this year and I was so bored! And it’s a sport I used to play and enjoy watching and playing madden. But compared to sensory franticness of an Overwatch match or tension in Valorant, traditional sports are just too slow and don’t release anywhere near the same rush as a spectator.

Mental Mirroring

When a fan of a sport or esports is watching the competition, their mind actually copies the chemical reactions that the players are having. So when a player has a massive moment in the competition and feels a rush of adrenaline followed by relief and joy when they play comes together how they wanted, the same chemical reactions releasing the adrenaline and everything else happens in the fans too. How mental is that! Add in the impact of crowd mentality and the escalated tension of it ‘only being live once’ as F1 likes to say… It’s pretty understandable why the brain enjoys watching these things so much.

Source: This is your brain on sports: the science of underdogs, the value of rivalry, and what we can learn from the t-shirt cannon

That could be me!

The accessibility of esports means that anyone who can dedicate enough time into playing could become a pro. As long as you have the right console or a decent PC, you’re effectively playing the exact same game as the pro’s are.

This is especially true in mobile gaming which is far more popular in the east overall than PC or console esports. Buying a half decent phone and competing in a game like mobile legends bang bang is much cheaper to get into than a high end pc with a low latency internet connection.

competetive gaming esports team team liquid winning the biggest gaming tournament in the world

Team Liquid winning DOTA2 Worlds 2017

On top of that, the players are pretty young. If you watch Tom brady, at least for me in my late 20’s, it’s unobtainable to imagine yourself in their shoes. Anecdotally, I went to the Razer store in London in April with my Partner (who isn’t a gamer) and there was a giant screen showing promos for their products. Some of the videos had content creators & players using the kit, one of which was none other than Faker. Now my partner had no clue who the glasses wearing South Korean was on the screen, but to me, that’s FAKER! the Michael Jordon or lol as some people coin him. And as a fellow nerd, I see he wears glasses, isn’t absolutely jacked, has a bit of acne, and although I’m blessed to be past my acne filled teenage days, I still relate more to him than I do someone like Lebron James or Ronaldo.

So hopefully next time someone asks the question ’WhY wUd YoU sPENd tiMe WaTChinG wHeN YoU CoulD bE PlAYiNg iT???’… you have a well stocked ammo full of facts to help them understand.

Ultimately esports isn’t for everyone: it can be quite hard to spectate a game you don’t play yourself, and just like with sports unless you understand the nuance of skill and the narratives of some of the players it’s less engaging. But for those that DO know these things, esports hits a high that sports struggles to match.


Dale R Murray

Owner & Creative Director | Croft

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