Esports, as they are most commonly called, are in an international gray area. Their enormous popularity—some events routinely draw more than a million concurrent viewers— make esport athletes attractive options for lucrative corporate sponsorships, but the fluidity of esports over international boundaries and lack of defined rules make them incredibly complex. This four-part article will seek to explain the global phenomenon of esports, provide a comprehensive view into their functionality and practicality, and outline why they ought to be considered an integral, albeit turbulent, part of our constantly changing internet culture. The article series will dive into the unique challenges everyone—players, governments, teams, franchises, corporate sponsors, and fans—face when engaging with esports. This part will introduce the reader to the general structures behind video gaming and esports.

Simply put, esports are video games that are played in a highly organized competitive environment. These games can range from popular, team-oriented multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs), to single player first person shooters, to survival battle royales, to virtual reconstructions of physical sports.

The rise in this genre of video games comes as the young adult demographic has started to create and control a host of new cultural trends. Specifically essential in this transformation is an evolution of young adults’ fundamental relationship with sports. Viewership of traditional sports is declining, while that of esports is skyrocketing. The boom is so significant that almost every major popular video game on the market currently has some type of pseudo-professional circuit (yes, even Farming Simulator 2019).

How did this transformation begin? The story begins in South Korea during the early 2000s. The South Korean government, in an attempt to soften a severe financial crisis, focused on developing their internet and telecommunications infrastructure. Soon a wildly popular type of social space arose: PC bangs. These were restaurants, bars, and other spaces that functioned as gaming clubs. These clubs became as ubiquitous as neighborhood basketball courts, places where gamers would gather together, show off their skills to one another, and bond over a shared love for video gaming. Soon these places began holding formal competitions.