October 13, 2012 was a warm and sunny Thursday in Los Angeles, yet 8000 people packed themselves into the University of Southern California's sold-out basketball arena to watch two teams of PC gamers battle for supremacy in one of the world's most popular video games--a strategy/action PC game called League of Legends. More than 8.2 million people from around the world tuned in to video streaming sites like Twitch.tv that day to catch the action live.
The winner of the tournament, the Taipei Assassins, took home a massive trophy and a $1 million prize--a princely but not uncommon sum. Dozens of players make a good living playing games like League of Legends and Starcraft 2 competitively.
Sure, it's not the world's most stable job, but professional gaming can be quite lucrative for top players--especially in the Far East, where careers are on the rise. One of the world's best StarCraft 2 players, Jang "MC" Min Chul of South Korea, has made $365,000 playing in StarCraft 2 tournaments since the game's launch in 2010. That figure is on top of MC's income from sponsorships and a salary from his team, SK Gaming.
Playing PC games has become a bona fide career option, and right now business is booming. It's a great time to be a PC enthusiast, and it's a far cry from 2008, when professional PC gaming--eSports, by any other name--was thought to be on the verge of extinction.
The death of PC gaming was greatly exaggerated
In the late 2000s, the glory days of Doom, Quake, and StarCraft 1 were over, and the Xbox 360 home console was a roaring success. The PC had nothing that could compete with the likes of such console megahits as Halo 3, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and the soon-to-be-released Street Fighter 4. Each game sold millions of copies and incubated competitive gaming scenes of a size never before seen on consoles.
The eSports business had fallen on hard times, as two prominent gaming leagues (the Cyberathelete Professional League and the venture-backed Championship Gaming Series) had gone dormant, and even popular pro PC games were getting too long in the tooth to maintain large fanbases. In retrospect, it seems amazing that any pro gamers stood by the PC.
But stand by it they did, and PC pro gaming went from bankruptcy to basketball arenas in just four years. How did competitive PC gaming rise from its deathbed and enter a golden age in the space of a single presidential term? Why aren't the world's biggest spectator video games being played on a console?
A confluence of events occurred at just the right time in 2010 to reinvigorate the PC's strong legacy of hardcore competitive gaming. Most significantly, the PC's return as professional gaming's platform of choice is tied to the economic rise of Asia, along with huge missed opportunities by console game manufacturers.
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