The popularity of esports seems to keep increasing with each passing second. This year I went to PAX East for the first time, and as I played board games in the relatively sedate tabletop gaming area, the sound of cheering fans from the nearby Hearthstone pro tournament was at least as enthusiastic and raucous as any baseball game I’ve been to.
And esports aren’t just big at nerd conventions. Last summer, Turner Broadcasting launched Eleague. Even actual sports teams are getting into the video game, uh, game. It’s enough to make an esports virgin start wondering, hey, what’s this all about? I’ve put together some tips that might help smooth the pathway to fandom.
Believe it or not, you might already play something that’s an esport. Maybe you’re into Rocket League or Starcraft II. I personally went through a Hearthstone addiction that threatened to upend my social life (though fortunately never my bank account — it’s possible to earn enough good cards through regular play that you can casually enjoy the game without spending a cent). All these games are played by professionals, and if you’re already into them, you know everything you need to enjoy watching other people play, and maybe learn some new tricks in the process.
Just like in “real” sports (or so I’m told), it can be especially compelling to learn about the personalities behind the jerseys. (Yes, many esports pros wear jerseys.) This New Yorker piece on Scarlett, a Starcraft II superstar who happens to be trans, was what first got me interested in esports a few years ago. It’s a very well-written piece by someone who clearly had no idea what an esport was, but was curious and excited to learn, just like me.
Many esports, like League of Legends, are team-based. If you’re coming in fresh, that can make it harder to decipher what’s going on. Instead, try watching some 1v1 games — the video game equivalent of tennis. Magic Online or Hearthstone are great places to begin. Plus, they’re turn-based, so you can clearly see each tactic play out, and, in some cases, hear the players talk through their thoughts.
Okay, so you’ve picked your game, maybe there’s a player you’re curious about… the last thing you need to do is just start watching. Start with Twitch. There’s plenty of esports content on YouTube as well, but you can check that out later — Twitch has it organized in a very easy-to-understand way. Watch some old, archived content, see if it grabs you, and if it does, maybe you’ll be curious to look up future tournaments that you could watch live. Before you know it, you’re going to want to upgrade your own setup with a machine like the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop. Someday you just might be one of those screaming fans at PAX. I might as well. God help us all.
Are you an esports n00b? Maybe you’re a hardcore fan already. Either way, slide into the comments and let me know your tips and thoughts regarding getting into esports as a fan or a player. And gg!
Tony Carnevale is a senior writer for Studio@Gizmodo.