In many ways, 2013 was the biggest year in eSports history. Record-breaking audiences watched tournaments with million-dollar prizes that dwarfed anything that had come before. More players than ever strove to compete in the biggest leagues of all time available live thanks to technology that didn’t exist just a few years ago.
There are many individuals fueling the growth of professional gaming: the trailblazers, journalists, players, executives, and game directors pushing the industry into new territory. Over the past 10 days, the Daily Dot has profiled the 10 most influential among them. Here's a look back at the people who mattered in eSports in 2013. For our full profile of each, just click the link on their names.
Screengrab via GamerHubTV/YouTube
As Riot Game’s vice president of eSports, Dustin Beck is the man in charge of the biggest eSport around: League of Legends. Beck controls the most professionally run and successful eSports competition of all time, the game's League Championship Series, which sees weekly matchups between top players.
Under Beck, the LCS has been the most-watched eSports event in the world for two years now. The LCS championship finals sold out Los Angeles’s Staples Center in minutes, and 32 million people watched the event all weekend. It also doesn’t hurt that LCS's website, lolesports.com, offers coverage that easily beats anything a competitor has ever done.
When HBO’s Real Sports covered the event in October, there was none of the usual snark or dismissiveness that generally accompanies mainstream coverage of eSports. Instead, there was a respect for the obvious success of something so new to most people.
As far as eSports goes, it’s Beck at the top of the food chain.
Screengrab via GamingLives/YouTube
Erik Johnson—a legend in the games industry who's worked on everything from Half-Life to Team Fortress—is now presiding over some of the most impressive innovations in eSports.
Johnson conceived and created Dota 2’s annual championship tournament, The International. This year's edition boasted the biggest prize pool in eSports history, despite the fact that Dota 2 is not as popular as League of Legends.
Johnson's ingenious trick was something called the Compendium, a virtual book costing $10 and sending $2.50 to the prize pool. It included collectible cards and fantasy prediction games. Zealous fans, buying these items up at rapid speeds, boosted the tournament’s prize pool by over $1 million to a grand total of more than $2.8 million, eclipsing League of Legends as well as Valve’s grandest expectations.
The huge success of Dota 2’s unique in-game items, tournament viewing tickets, and powerful workshop has boosted the economy of the game by millions of dollars, a number that Valve can credit in large part to Johnson and his team.
Screengrab via Evil Geniuses/YouTube
The year started somewhat poorly for Alex Garfield.
Evil Geniuses, the eSports team over which Garfield, 29, serves as CEO, had made StarCraft 2 its bread and butter.
As StarCraft 2 ceded its top place to League of Legends and then Dota 2, a so-called “Evil Geniuses curse” plagued their highly paid, highly visible players who seemed incapable of winning big events. To top it off, Greg “Idra” Fields, one of the most famous and divisive StarCraft players, was released from the team in May for poor conduct and, one assumes, poor results.
Another eSports executive might have faded away or at least taken time to regroup. Not Garfield.
Instead, doing his best George Steinbrenner impression, Garfield built a new all-star Swedish Dota 2 team that would quickly become the best team in the world. He added Johan "NaNiwa" Lucchesi, one of the best StarCraft players in the world, to his “other” blockbuster squad.
He bought a top League of Legends team and then made a great spectacle a week ago announcing that his Alliance brand would be coming to League of Legends.
The empire is expanding. Or, if you’re on the other side, it’s just another win for those damn Yankees.
Photo via Twitch
There’s an entire team of people directly behind the company’s rise to prominence, of course, but if we’re going to credit one person it probably ought to be Emmett Shear, the cofounder of JustinTV and then cofounder of Twitch.
Twitch had a great year in 2011 and another step forward in 2012. This year was the best so far.
Twitch repeatedly broke its own records this year, including reaching 4.5 million viewers in August. Most impressive of all is that the viewers watched over two hours total, making them some of the most dedicated audience members and sought after demographics in all of media.
Screengrab via GMT Studio/YouTube
Playing for South Korea’s storied SK Telecom T1 franchise, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok has been called the Lionel Messi and Michael Jordan of his game. A mere 17 years old, he’s the sort of player that fans worship and other professionals admire.
Lee’s style is made for the spotlight. Aggressive, flashy, exciting, and fast, it’s the type of play that goes viral and keeps people talking for days after a match is through.
After most of the on-site analysts predicted a Chinese world championship in October 2013, Faker appropriately shed first blood in the finals and his Korean national championship team sprinted to a 3-0 victory over Chinese champions Royal Club, earning them the unquestioned title of world's best.
Lee has the potential to outthink anyone but his most distinctive quality is physical: speed. He can move faster, smarter, and with greater purpose than anyone on the other side of the game.
Photo via FingerCramp/YouTube
You can call him Chris Gonzalez. But, at this point, Chris Genius might be more fitting.
No gamer has won as many tournaments this year as Gonzalez, who has taken home over three dozen medals at big fighting game tournaments across multiple games. He plays about ten games at a world class level, a number that no one else comes close to.
Competitively, this has been an all-time great year for Gonzalez. In Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, he’s been close to unstoppable. His Twitter feed might be mistaken for a jewelry store for all the gold he posts after major tournaments.
Unlike some pro gamers, Gonzalez is not afraid to speak his mind. He regularly and loudly voices his discontent. One wonders, if Gonzalez was able to control his temper, would he be getting paid the salary he feels he deserves from a wealthier eSports organization?
But this isn’t a list about the most wonderful people in eSports. People find a lot to love and hate about the man they call Christ Geezus. But few find any reason to doubt that his reign is anything less than extraordinary.
Screengrab via ESL TV/YouTube
The best StarCraft players in the world are always South Koreans. Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn breaks the mold completely. She’s a 20-year-old Canadian transgendered female with a penchant for beating Koreans at their own game. Known as “The Queen of Blades,” she’s built up an enormous fanbase that rivals any StarCraft player.
Hostyn’s impressive StarCraft talent combined with her singular personal story as a pioneer make her one of the most important people in eSports today. And yet, just as Hostyn hit her stride, she announced last month that she may be quitting the game in 2014.
Photo via Cosmo Wright
Over 100,000 people follow Cosmo Wright’s Twitch channel, making him one of the most popular eSports streamers on the planet.
But there’s a catch. Wright’s competition for that crown are players in games like League of Legends and StarCraft 2, blockbuster titles with millions of dollars in game design, tournament prizes, salaries, marketing, and more, fueling their success as eSports.
On the other hand, Wright's signature game is Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a 1997 Nintendo 64 title that wasn’t exactly designed for competitive play. Cosmo speedruns it daily anyway, striving for world record after world record in front of his massive audiences. As an entertainer, Wright’s ability to not only perform well under pressure but to simultaneously communicate the subtlety of every move he makes is unmatched. It might be difficult for other players to gain a following when they’re beating the same single player game again and again. Cosmo has the ability to turn every run into a story that fans can’t turn away from.
Screengrab via Twitch
As the highest-earning eSports player of 2013, the Swedish Dota 2 star Gustav Magnusson is an obvious contender for this list. As the captain of the world championship team that won the biggest prize in eSports history—after competing in one of the greatest matches in eSports history—he's a lock.
The fact that he’s now at the center of one of the greatest rivalries in eSports is a nice plus as well.
Under Magnusson's guidance, the Swedish squad known as Alliance won an impressive eight tournaments from April to July, quickly establishing themselves as the best team in the world heading into The International, an event boasting $2.8 million in prizes.
The back-and-forth finals proved to be one of the greatest eSports series ever. The Swedes emerged triumphant, their bank accounts suddenly much bigger and their legacies immortalized.
Photo via Richard Stanway/Team Liquid
Although he’s been around competitive gaming for 15 years, Rod Breslau has willed himself into the position of top industry journalist in the past five years as eSports has exploded around the globe.
After leaving a notable gig at Major League Gaming in 2011, Breslau set out on a quiet quest to build a big, independent eSports website on par with the mainstream gaming media giants. Eventually, Breslau would serve as catalyst to the founding of an entirely new division within CBS Interactive, devoted exclusively to eSports: OnGamers, which launched officially in November. This year, amidst making a few powerful people very angry, Breslau helped forge a new CBS brand and continues to build toward ubiquity in eSports.
Illustration by Jason Reed