The birth of esports streaming

In ye days of old, streaming was in a very different place from where it is today. Expectations, audio/video quality, schedules, and so on have taken massive leaps, so much so that while we may fondly reminisce on our favourite old streamers, it is hardly recognizable for what constitutes for a “large streamer” in this day and age.

Streaming in esports became a big deal and a miraculous happy accident right around the release of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. For a brief moment in-time, this was the biggest esport ever, particularly in the west where the term hardly had time to settle, let alone become somewhat mainstream.

Western audiences could watch games broadcasted on Justin.TV (now Twitch), and for the first time, could watch live Korean broadcasts on GomTV, with their premier tournament (still ongoing today), GSL.

A layout of the now defunct Own3D, the main competitor to Twitch

Complaints

Nowadays, we consume high-quality broadcasts with gigantic teams and budgets pushed to an audience at [email protected] with an impeccable bitrate, completely free of charge thanks to ads and sponsors (though, the sustainability of this method is still highly questionable).  Funnily enough, we still find things to complain about in spite of this.

Rewind about a decade and you have audiences paying a subscription to MLG upwards of $10-20 per event just to see the game at half the resolution and framerate ([email protected]). Still with said ads in place and typically more technical issues to boot.

You could also watch GSL on GOMTV for free, but the quality was 240p at best (and even that’s being generous) and you’d experience tons of hiccups.  If you got the pro version, you got the whopping “HQ” 480p quality!

Tasteless and Artosis

The “casting archon” of the GSL, Tasteless and Artosis

Evolution

Obviously, an industry is forced to evolve when you reach the peaks of global appeal, but it’s fun to remember how the service was worse, cost more, and was still groundbreaking over a decade ago. Before streaming, the best you were going to get in terms of something analogous to sports was either audio casting, in-game replays, or VODs which weren’t on YouTube, but instead were shared via torrent software peer-to-peer.

It goes without saying that personal streaming has evolved a lot as well. It’s worth mentioning that even in the early periods of stream development, when Twitch TV had actual competition (Own3D and Livestream.net, not Facebook and YouTube on the piles of many dead services that don’t come close to Twitch’s market share) that it wasn’t unheard of for multiple thousands of viewers to tune into streams. HotshotGG was a notable streamer who was regularly receiving 5,000 concurrent viewers as early as 2012.

Staying up to the trend

The “golden age” of being a Twitch star is long past though, in terms of effort to prosperity. You aren’t just able to throw on a shoddy stream with a webcam square and pray. Your competition is fully armed with mod teams, the best hardware and software, skits, IRL streams away from gaming streams, and is fielded either by gigantic influencers wielding huge audiences, or (generally) retired professional gamers with skin in the game and loads of notoriety.

A personal stream today on the high-end has more production value than entire events had in the past!

Nevertheless, if you enjoy streaming, this isn’t intended to make you feel it is out of your grasp; instead, it’s a realistic assessment of the increased standards and an intriguing look at the medium over the ages. This brings us into our closure—let’s wrap up where we currently stand and where things are headed in the future.

Decisions

Where streaming used to be an extra bit of budget for professional players, it is now the shining beacon of prosperity. There’s a very serious and taxing choice professionals have to make, and it’s if they prefer the glory and passion of competition, or the paycheque of streaming.  Nowadays, the financial decision is obvious, and it’s only going to get more obvious.

When you consider restrictions via COVID-19 and just the general trend of a younger audience to “vlog-ify” everything, it becomes hard to argue in favor of being a professional. When streaming personally, everything is in your control, and you don’t have to pray you get eyes on your jacket filled with sponsors to earn a living.

Future

As we approach “the future” of streaming, expect premium models to become a thing again for the sustainability of esports. Expect with certainty Meta-verse and other VR implications, where in place of live audiences, you experience things in a “VIP Online Twitch crowd”, so you’re closer to the action from the safety of your home.

And, as history repeats itself, expect it to become closer to the experience of television, just better. We’ll see more ads, but that’s the price to pay for sustainability. In addition, we’ll see more “reality TV” type content shifted to actual streams rather than YouTube channels.

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