I’m talking, of course, about the recent revelation about GomTV’s GSL becoming the first pay-per-view esports tournament. Not only is it the first, but it’s also a pretty hefty jump from zero to $20 USD ($30 for the VODs!). Granted, this is still a long, long way away from the ridiculous prices of, say, a premier league ticket, but it’s a slippery slope. Yes, boys and girls, the innocence of esports is coming to an end.
Personally, I always had my doubts about the clamouring for going mainstream. That might sound strange, coming from someone who’s paid to write about esports, but a quick look in a thesaurus explains my distaste. Synonyms for ‘mainstream:’ average, common, conventional, normal, standard etc. Esports should be – and currently is – something a bit special, a bit different.
I understand why the businesses involved in esports want more mainstream attention – it’s a sad but inevitable fact of the sponsor-based world we inhabit. The fact is that these organisations don’t want “enough to get by,” they want profit. Enjoyment of the sport isn’t even a factor.
And so we arrive here, at the dawn of pay-per-view esports. I suppose it was inevitable. Even after so many others tried and failed, it seems like Strarcraft II will simply be too alluring for some people to turn down. I’m sure the viewing figures will be nowhere near what they would be for a free stream and I’m certain that people will pirate the VODs. But in the long run it won’t matter. Pay-per-view will be in our consciousness, whereas it never really was in the past. It will quickly become the norm – taken for granted like HLTV is now, or like live-streaming in general, and esports’ soul will slowly be eroded, little by little.
If this all goes through (I still hold out some hope that they will change their minds at the last minute under fan protest), it will be the end of esports for fun. Don’t get me wrong, fans will still watch and cheer, play and have fun, but companies behind the scenes will grow bolder and bolder. They will exploit and extort, just like the Glazers and Gilette’s of the football world. Activision probably makes more money than both of them, in fact.
But that’s not even the worst of it. Remember CGS? Remember the ridiculous rules, the WWE style characterisations and obnoxious team names? It’s not that far-fetched (you could easily argue that the anime posing that Asian leagues have the players do is just the Eastern version of the WWE-like shit). At least SC teams are already well-established, so we’ll skip the Seoul Seagulls or whatever.
Still, I’ve been wrong before. Maybe I’m just being paranoid and this will be the dawn of a beautiful new era for esports. I just can't really see it.
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