The Next Wave of Esports Is Old-School – OZY


As ESPN broadcast the Texas Bowl college football game late December, the contrast one channel over couldn’t have been starker. That same day, ESPN2 aired the Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC), which finished with 17-year-old American Joseph Saelee claiming his second straight title, taking down 42-year-old Japanese player Koji “Koryan” Nishio in the final at the Portland Expo Center.

Tetris has been around longer than the word esports. But classic video games that have survived on basic consoles and in underground arcades for decades are now making a serious play for the modern esports market that’s expected to touch $1.8 billion globally by 2022, up from $865 million in 2018. And that was before the coronavirus pandemic that’s expected to see esports gain even more mainstream traction than at present, with most physical sports not an option for the moment. These old games are witnessing their audience explode through a marriage of nostalgia with 21st century streaming platforms.

Film producer Vince Clemente founded the CTWC in 2010 to serve as the climax for his documentary on the best Tetris players in the world, Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters. The championship has since turned into a business opportunity thanks to a new toy: Twitch. In 2016, roughly 146,800 hours of Tetris were consumed on Twitch. In 2019, that number soared to 2.7 million hours. It is played on NES — the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

Classic fighting games are also demonstrating that they can win in this brave new world. Street Fighter first entered arcades in 1987. Mortal Kombat (1992) and Tekken (1994) were among two of the other big names to follow. The Evolution Championship Series (“Evo”), the premier summit of fighting game competitions that launched as Battle by the Bay in 1996, is now a wild success on Twitch, where the 2019 edition saw 4.9 million hours of consumption — though not all for classic titles.

The viewership that we’re having is just as strong as any of the big companies, like Hearthstone or League of Legends.

Vince Clemente, founder of the Classic Tetris World Championship

In 2014, developer Capcom took Street Fighter to the next competitive level, introducing the Capcom Pro Tour, a year-round circuit, culminating in the Capcom Cup, a championship tournament in Los Angeles every December. The 2019 season held 55 worldwide events on five continents. The 2019 Capcom Cup, which included a $250,000 base prize pool (along with year-end bonuses), recorded 1.76 million hours watched on Twitch, peaking at 141,688 viewers.

Meanwhile, the CTWC has seen a viewership boom too. The 2019 final eclipsed 1 million YouTube views in roughly one month. The live Twitch broadcast of the 2019 competition reached a peak of 17,727 concurrent viewers and roughly 300,000 total unique viewers. 

“To me,…



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