Blizzcon : Number one for ESports?

Blizzcon is one of the biggest gaming gatherings on the planet, dedicated to the games made by one of the true juggernauts of the industry, Blizzard Entertainment. The first Blizzcon was held in October 2005 and had 8,000 attendees, started up by request of the fanbase that grew huge in size following World of Warcraft’s release the previous year, and was held in the Anaheim Convention Center in California, USA, where it is still held to this day. Attendee counts have more than tripled since the event started, and its the fans that make it work, many of which have come to play and see games before they’re publicly available, take part in cosplay events, Q&A sessions and just soak up the atmosphere, or indeed, watch the worlds best players take each other on at some of the biggest tournaments in the world. Oh yes, ESports is massive at Blizzcon.

This year, four games had major tournaments being played, with the official world championship events for StarCraft 2, World of Warcraft Arena and Hearthstone, and an invitational for Heroes of the Storm, being played in front of packed live audiences on ludicrously well built stages with screens that transformed to mirror the virtual battleground of the moment and streamed online across the globe with slick behind the scenes production, breaking records for viewers for each game as they went. There was always something amazing happening, from the upset upon upset by zerg player Life on his way to the SC2 title, to the intense cerebral duelling of the Hearthstone, to the fast paced quickfire teamwork of World of Warcraft and Heroes of the Storm. Its no wonder some of the announcers and biggest voices of the show proclaimed it the biggest esports event in the world. The only thing is, supporters of other games might have a thing or two to say about that…

Thanks to the growth of ESports, there are many events across the year that have several games tournaments going on at once, and these games aren’t limited to those produced by Blizzard. There are also many World Championship events for games that draw in a bigger crowd than Blizzcon’s audiences, with bigger prize pools. The ESports giant that is League of Legends drew in 32 million viewers total for their 2013 world championships last year, with a massive 8.5 million peak concurrent viewers, and while the statsmen are still counting the numbers for this year, everything points to it being even more. This years Blizzcon is currently still totalling up the numbers in regards total viewers, but peak concurrent viewership looks to be just under 1 million, taking all main stage streams and different methods of viewing into account. In regards prize pool, nothing comes close to DotA 2. This year, the community funded prize pool for The International was just shy of 11 million dollars, over quadruple the 2 million for this years League of Legends, while the prize pools for Blizzcon were 1.6 million dollars for StarCraft 2, and 250 thousand each for Hearthstone and World of Warcraft. Blizzcon also has less attendees than some of the biggest LAN events and gaming festivals across Europe like Dreamhack and EGX.

This is without mentioning a whole host of other events and games that mean ESports is a constantly growing phenomenon : The continued rise of other games carving out their own niche, games that have been around for ages, like Counter Strike : Global Offensive, and those that have been released relatively recently but are doing well, like Smite. The continued presence of the ESL and their weekly tournaments across a huge number of games, and events like the Intel Extreme Masters at large gatherings with viewerships in the hundreds of thousands for each one. ESports is still surging on, and generally all the numbers, regardless of game or event, are going up. The increased variety of games available to watch and participate in means more people will get drawn in, and increased competition means companies will work that extra bit harder to get increased viewership from various places, which should result in a better experience for everyone.

So some of the louder voices might have been wrong, Blizzcon might not have the biggest numbers in ESports, but when we get down to it, does it really matter who has the biggest numbers? Gaming is different things to different people, and ESports is just one facet of that huge culture. For a lot of people, Blizzard’s games aren’t just about ESports anyway, just ask all of their World of Warcraft players who have forged stories and lives online, the StarCraft players who scour the arcade for interesting custom maps, or the Diablo players who have spent hours crushing the forces of the burning hells. Blizzcon is much bigger than ESports, and in a way, ESports is definitely much bigger than Blizzcon, but this is something to be celebrated, not bickered over.

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