Multiplayer video game competitions, or eSports, are huge. Starting with the Space Invaders Championship of 1980, which saw 10,000 gamers compete for glory and intergalactic domination, contests and tournaments have long been a component of the gaming environment.
The practice of eSports has evolved meteorically since the age of alien invasion. Major League Gaming, one of the largest eSports networks, was established 16 years ago. The popular eSports battle arena game Defense of the Ancients (Dota) was released a year later. The next iteration of this title, Dota 2, hit screens 10 years later, in 2013.
Today, eSports reigns supreme. According to one estimate, in 2017 alone, there were approximately 4,064 gaming tournaments, which provided around $113.6 million in prize money. And the industry continues to grow.
The rapid progression of the eSports landscape calls to mind another innovation currently captivating the world: blockchain and cryptocurrency technology. Although the industries are different in scope – one is solely related to video games, while the other involves digital currency and the underlying infrastructure of decentralized computer networks – the two have a lot in common. They may also complement one another.
Adil Wali, founder and CEO of the crypto company Merit Labs, certainly thinks so. He believes one major intersection is each industry's global presence.
"The interesting thing about eSports, and why I think it's such a good fit for crypto, is that it's inherently global," Wali told ETHNews. "There's a turnout from every country, and it's popular around the world. The reason that's particularly good for crypto is that these decentralized networks are also inherently global, and they're super fast around the world."
He ultimately sees the connection between the two spaces as a "thematic parallel." For example, one shared theme is community-building, especially across borders. To Wali, both eSports and the cryptospace act "as sort of a countermovement" to isolationism and allow people to be "global citizens."
Because of this practical overlap – the concern with both speed and globalization, as it were – he believes there is opportunity for blockchain and crypto tech to be integrated into the eSports environment. Like many other industries, competitive gaming has its share of issues. According to Wali, this is where the tech could potentially help. "[P]layers on pro teams – when they move from team to team – [that requires] some integrity around knowing who's been where and what teams they've played on." He explained further:
"What blockchain is really good at is having this decentralized, immutable data store that allows you to track an entity over time. If you think about where we are with eSports, there's actually quite a lot of data around the players and around stats. There's clearly a data case there."
Wali also discussed the example of supporting eSports teams. With conventional sports, an easy way to accomplish that is through television – fans can tune in to watch their favorite teams. With the global nature of eSports and its general lack of professional support, however, TV is not the most practical option for the industry.
Considering this, Wali believes that team-based cryptocurrencies and the ICO fundraising model could provide gamers with the support they need to go to tournaments and participate in the space. The funding opportunities available to the competitive gaming community now, especially through blockchain and crypto tech, starkly contrast those available during the industry's early days. He recalled that his eSports "team won the world championship in Halo," a multiplayer first-person shooter game, back in the year 2004. But getting there was not a cakewalk; many players, including Wali, had to pay to play.
Wali's optimism about competitive gaming led him and his company to partner with Team VGJ, an eSports organization comprised of two Dota 2 teams: Storm in North America and Thunder in China. The organization is owned by famous basketball player and competitive gamer Jeremy Lin. Wali was drawn to the partnership because he believes that Merit Labs' and Team VGJ's values align:
"I think that just as a person, Jeremy represents a lot of what we represent as an organization with our ethos. He's also a gamer. He's not just doing this. There are a lot of people who've done this eSports thing because it's kind of the hot thing to do, especially among professional, physical-sport athletes. Jeremy plays Dota. He's a gamer through and through. I think that's another big part of it – being true to the community and being true to the thing you're doing."
However, Wali could not reveal specific projects the two groups had in store. What he could say, though, was that he and his company were interested in Team VGJ's "global footprint."
"We're thinking a lot about how we think about global commerce as it touches eSports and as that touches crypto," said Wali. "That's some of the thematic thinking we're doing."
Besides Merit's partnership with Jeremy Lin's competitive gaming organization, Wali sees more for the continued integration of blockchain and crypto tech into the eSports landscape. He returned to the concept of value alignment:
"When you compare eSports to physical sports, [eSports are] still very much about the players. It's about this sense of individuality. It doesn't feel like there's this big corporate component to it, and I think that's very aligned with crypto, which is all about decentralization – all about individuals doing things for themselves without having to have somebody else run the show for them. If you think about how well those two things coincide, I think there's a really bright future."
From a broader perspective, the advancement of both eSports and crypto tech is in its infancy. Competitive gaming has only started to ramp up within the last two decades (recall that Major League Gaming was established in 2002). Further, crypto has only been around for the past several years, with Ethereum's debut as recent as 2015. We are all still babies in this tech space.
Because the eSports-crypto connection is near its genesis, Wali believes there are myriad possibilities for the future. "I have a sense that it's beginning now, but to be honest, I don't know where it ends," he said. "It can keep going in so many ways."