Situated on the western coast of Canada, Vancouver is the eighth-largest municipality in the country, with a population of over 2.5mn people. A bustling sea port in the south of British Columbia, Vancouver is the most Asian city outside of Asia, and actively works to foster continued economic relations with the East.
The city’s economy also maintains its deep ties to industry linked to natural resources. Over 800 mineral exploration companies are headquartered in Vancouver, including two of the world’s largest mining companies: Teck Resources Limited and Goldcorp Inc, according to the Vancouver Economic Commission. The (VEC) also pledges to pursue its goal of making Vancouver the most environmentally friendly city in the world by 2020, and the city was recently ranked third on a list of the world’s greenest municipalities by the Economist. The city also has a strong economic focus on the entertainment industry, with 26 TV shows being shot on location in Vancouver in October 2017 alone.
As of summer, 2018, however, Vancouver will cement its place among the world’s primary hubs for another industry: competitive gaming, or ‘eSports’.
The eSports industry is the fastest growing media/sporting market in the world. With the market’s net revenue worth an estimated $130mn in 2012, the sector has since exploded, reaching $650mn last year. The trend is predicted to continue, with projected eSports earnings expected to reach $1.65bn by 2012, according to Statista. This equates to an average of 40% year-on-year growth, the rapidity of which is further fuelling investment in the market.
Over 80% of eSports revenue is generated through advertising sales, both in the form of sponsorship deals with professional teams and events, and through streaming sites like Twitch that broadcast the games. Currently, some of the largest eSports events and organisations are regularly sponsored by brands like Coca-Cola, Comcast, Red Bull, T-Mobile, and Audi, who are paying larger and larger sums to be seen alongside pro gamers competing at League of Legends, Counter Strike, and Dota 2.
ESports viewership is steadily rising, along with the popularity of streamers. esportsmarketing.com reported this year that younger gamers worldwide spend an average of three and a half hours per week watching eSports and gaming streams, nearly an hour more than the same demographic reported spending watching traditional sports. With millennials representing the largest generation since baby boomers, the market for eSports is only predicted to grow further. As of now, the total time spent watching eSports and gaming streams on Twitch.tv totals almost 20,000 years.
Vancouver’s strategy to become a leading beneficiary of this growing industry is seen in its hosting of its biggest event: The Dota 2 International.
What is Dota?
Dota 2 is a five-a-side, multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, where teams of players compete in a contest of intense strategy, speed, and skill. The goal is to destroy the opposing team’s base (known as an Ancient – Dota stands for Defence of the Ancients) while preventing their own from falling. Games typically take between 20 and 40 minutes (although the record for a pro game is three-and-a-half hours), and most pro matchups are typically best-of-threes.
Dota is an incredibly complex game that can take thousands of hours to even be played proficiently. As such, the level of skill, and depth of understanding exhibited by professional players is a huge draw for fans. Add in a tight-knit community of casters and pundits, and prize pools in excess of $20mn for single events, and Dota 2 is easily the most impressive area of the eSports market.
Once a year, Seattle-based game developer, Valve (Portal, Portal 2, Half Life 2) hosts the largest Dota 2 tournament of the year, which has also been the world’s largest eSports tournament every year since 2011, in terms of prize pool. TI One was the first eSports tournament with a prize pool in excess of one million dollars. Last year, the total prize pool amounted to a total of over $24mn, the highest of any eSports event in history.
With the exception of the first International, which was held in Cologne, Germany, all subsequent events have been held in Valve’s hometown of Seattle. The gaming giant announced in March their plans to move the event north, to Seattle’s Canadian neighbour. The International 2018 will be held 20-25 August at the 18,600-capacity Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver. Attendees can expect to pay between $125 and $250 for entry.
The British Columbia eSports Association is working closely with Valve in order to ensure the tournament’s success, both as a physical and a broadcasting event. “The International is and has been since its inception, one of the biggest events in eSports every year,” said association member, Mani Davoudi.
Last year, over 10mn individuals tuned in to watch the broadcast of the grand finals from Seattle’s Key Arena on Twitch. This year, numbers are only predicted to rise, along with the tournament’s prize pool. "That makes it bigger than the Masters Tournament of golf or the Tour de France in terms of the prize packages," Richard Smith, Director of Digital Media at Simon Fraser University, told CBC news.
Davoudi told Business Vancouver that another large eSports tournament, this time for popular MOBA, League of Legends, was “a big part of The International coming here”. He added that a successful hosting of the International could finally cement Vancouver’s identity as an eSports hub.
TI is expected to be a generator of revenue and exposure for local tech and media firms. Brenda Bailey, DigiBC Director, revealed her company’s plan to use local studios to host the event, in an effort to highlight Vancouver’s talent pool. “It’s going to be an exciting time in Vancouver to learn about the incredible work being done in this sector.”
If the event is a success, other organisers may well flock to British Columbia, bringing a new source of revenue to the area through a market that is only getting bigger.