When people think of esports, they typically have action-packed MOBAs like League of Legends or high-octane FPS’ like CS:GO in mind, and this is not without good reason. After all, as the standard bearers for the wider industry, titles such as these shoulder the lion’s share of competitive gaming’s prestige and notoriety. As such, it may surprise you to realise just how elastic and all-encompassing the wider esports sector can be.
What is an ‘e’ sport anyway?
When we talk about esports, we typically use it to refer to dyed-in-the-wool video games like the titles mentioned above, but the actual concept of esports—a contraction of ‘electronic sports’—applies just as readily to a host of digitally optimised games and competitive pursuits.
Among these can be found the so-called ‘mind sports’, a catch-all moniker used to refer to high-level competitive games that emphasise mental abilities. Many of these, such as the ones we’ll cover below, have in recent years been swept along in the hype surrounding the esports boom, and consequently find themselves listed among the fastest-growing esports in the world today.
Let’s take a look at some surprising esports that have become quite popular and that you can stream and watch on platforms like Twitch.
Of all mind sports, it has to be poker that can lay the strongest claim to being a true esport. After all, poker, in its digital variants, has been entertaining players for decades on online platforms, with its foundations rooted in the ‘poker boom’ of the early 00s.
In effect, poker has served as the focal point of a competitive online community longer than many of the world’s best-established esports. Over the past few years, we’ve increasingly witnessed a growing acknowledgement of the many similarities and overlaps between online poker and esports. Nowhere is this more abundantly clear than on Twitch, the Amazon-owned streaming social network that has come to serve as the focal point for the esports community.
Increasingly, leading esports firms like Team Liquid have teamed up with leading industry figures such as PokerStars to further blur the lines between these two sectors, resulting in online poker falling ever more into the broader orbit of the esports industry.
In fact, in 2020, PokerStars’ Stadium Series awarded prize pools in excess of $50 million on Twitch, becoming the platform’s highest-paying esport. Since then, poker has become an increasingly popular focus for streamers on the site.
Now, many leading esports names, such as Elky (Bertrand Grospellier), who made a name for themselves as a StarCraft player, have increasingly made the jump over to pro poker competition.
Sceptics may well be able to accept that online poker, in 2023, is worthy of being considered an esport. However, many find the prospect that chess is also in the running harder to stomach. But such perspectives are outdated and are normally rooted in chess’—not entirely undeserved—reputation as a dense, cerebral, and drawn-out game.
But chess today is an altogether different beast. The game, which has entertained strategists and philosophers through the centuries, is enjoying an all-time high in popularity at present. This is believed to be the result of several converging factors.
It’s hard to talk about chess today without giving at least a cursory nod to Netflix and their show The Queen’s Gambit. The show came out in 2020 and became a global sensation, introducing the nuances of this enigmatic game to a new generation.
Elsewhere, the rise and rise of Norwegian chess and poker pro Magnus Carlsen is often cited as a major draw for new players. Carlsen’s irreverent and anarchic attitude, which has earned him the reputation as the rockstar of chess, has done much to blow away the cobwebs and stereotypes around this compelling game.
Now, Chess.com, the world’s leading chess platform, finds its servers struggling to meet demand—citing that there have been over 100 million new users signing up since 2020, a 238% increase in their player base. These numbers are extraordinary, and demonstrate that if chess is to be considered an esport, it would in fact be the fastest-growing esport in the world today.
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