Gaming and crypto have long shared a similar trajectory. Long may that continue, says the futurist Daniel Jeffries. This piece is part of CoinDesk’s Sports Week.
Video games are big business. In 2022, they had sales of $200 billion globally. Esports tournaments, with skilled pro gamers battling it out for big prizes, rocketed to $2 billion in total payouts.
Even watching games has become a booming business as Twitch said it racked up 770 billion minutes watched in 2022 alone with five months still to go before year’s end. All of that is a hell of a surprise to adult me. I’m old enough to remember when my cousin got an Atari 2600 with blocky little sprites bouncing back and forth on the screen. The only tournaments were my cousin and me throwing down on Tennis, which usually ended with me in a headlock whether I won or lost. Fast forward to college and the biggest tournaments were me and my roommates getting stoned and going to the local Kwik-E Mart to fight it out in notorious quarter-guzzlers like Street Fighter II or X-Men Children of the Atom.
In the early 1990s, Street Fighter II heralded the humble beginning of esports tournaments.
The 1980s was the golden age of arcades but by 1991 they were already in decline after home consoles invaded the scene. Who wanted to pay a quarter per game when you could buy a console and play all night after your parents went to bed? But Street Fighter II recharged the industry, driving kids back to the arcade to see who reigned supreme in the area. Those college and high school battles blossomed into something much bigger as the fighting game swiftly created a thriving competitive scene, with local contests. Towns across America and Japan knew their top players by heart. A console perfect port to Super-NES only energized the competition because now you could practice at home for free and then race to the arcade to earn eternal gladiatorial glory as you battered virtual foes to a chorus of cheering kids.
But back in the 1990s the biggest tournaments boasted a top prize of only a few hundred bucks. Fast forward to today and you’ve got consoles selling 100s of millions of units, mega-tournaments filling stadiums and professional gamers (with adoring groupies) making millions of dollars. The top-five pro players in DOTA 2 all earned more than $5 million in prize money over the course of their careers.
As a futurist I’ve spotted some big trends coming long before they ever happened, but I totally missed esports going mainstream.
. It was hard to imagine, back when the only prize was your friend buying drinks that night because you beat his punk ass with a perfectly timed upper cut. I missed it the same way I missed comic book movies becoming the biggest blockbusters of all time, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe commanding $26 billion. As a kid buying comics with my allowance I just couldn’t imagine any adult ever green-lighting those superhuman stories for the silver screen. I forgot that kids grow up and become the very adults who hold the purse strings. They end up making all the stuff they loved as kids into something bigger.
That’s the key to evolution of technologies and a window into how they might evolve in the future: Kids grow up.