Gaming’s biggest strength is its player agency. The ability for a player to interact with their entertainment is unmatched by other forms of media (and yes, I’m aware of Bandersnatch.) That said, players only enjoy this agency via in-game rewards. Rarely does one get to bring their in-game results to the real world. At least, that was the case until now, thanks to blockchain technology.
Though still in its infancy, blockchain technology provides a framework for gamers to pull tangible value from intangible digital rewards within a video game. Imagine a world where you could sell your CS:GO skins or World of Warcraft loot for your local currency. While you can sell them now, it’s illegal and isn’t easy to do so. Conversely, a blockchain-based game is player-centric by design, with features such as selling in-game assets for real game money serving as an integral part of the experience.
Trades are automated thanks to smart contracts - digitized if-then statements that are then stored on the blockchain for anyone to look back on. If there is an issue, say one player tries to scam another, the community comes in to solve any dispute. This isn’t a foolproof system, but it’s a damn secure one that’s growing as we speak. In fact, the rising interest in blockchain technology reminds me of another industry that’s growing faster than we ever could have imagined: esports.
According to a recent report from newzoo.com, the esports industry is poised to cross $1 billion in revenue for the first time ever in 2019. Peter Warman, CEO at Newzoo claims that "Esports’ impressive audience and viewership growth is a direct result of an engaging viewership experience untethered to traditional media.” Untethered to traditional media is what gets me going. Much like how gaming is the next step in engaging with entertainment, esports is when that entertainment displayed to the world.
Despite the numbers mentioned above, esports is still a pro-focused scene. Unlike in traditional sports, it’s hard for “regular” players to get involved. Local leagues are few and far between, and reliable payouts are even harder to come by. Hell, even in the pro scene, players suffer from breaches in contract or tournaments that refuse to pay out winnings. This is all due to a reliance on an intermediary that may or may not do what it says it will.
Instead of a controlling party like Blizzard or Valve creating and hosting events, a blockchain-based platform has players and third-party organizations creating esports tournaments, ladders, scrimmage matches, and more, all with the guarantee of a reward. While that sounds like it could be risky, the underlying technology prevents any fishy business such as running away with the funds or players cheating. Whenever a match begins, payments will lock into an immutable smart contract. Funds will not release until either team reaches a win-state. By putting the winnings in a trustless state of being, there is no chance of duplication or fraud. Should there be some sort of dispute, players will rely on the community to resolve it, ensuring disagreements are handled fairly.
Funds are based on cryptocurrency - digital assets that enable users to interact with the paired blockchain. Using cryptocurrency, gamers must front an entrance fee for any tournaments they enter, of course generating more money should they win. Thanks to the trustless nature of the underlying blockchain, users can be sure those funds are safe from theft or counterfeit versions. These policies also apply to viewers, who can bet on their favorite teams through the platform. Of course, these digital currencies can convert into one’s local currency, meaning you’re making real, legal money off of your esports betting.
Even more exciting are limited one-of-a-kind items. Sure, if you win a competition in say, Rocket League, you get exclusive titles, items, and skins. But what if you don’t care about these collectibles? Because you’re in control of your winnings and items, you can actually sell or trade them for something else in-game. This happens quickly and securely because each item is represented by a tradable token that's compatible with the network. No more heading to sketchy third-party sites to trade items.
Blockchain-based platforms don’t rely on centralized servers either. Instead, the network is powered by all the devices connected to it, also known as nodes. Because these nodes are distributed across the world - decentralized - there isn’t any one target for hackers to hit, so server reliability is at an all-time high. If there is some sort of disruption, such as a disconnect or some form of alleged cheating, the community governance system is in place to help resolve it.
Blockchain platforms are interoperable as well. Should the industry take off, you can take your Dota 2 winnings and buy some new skins in Overwatch, for example. The point is that you’re in control of your items, and there are no limitations.
While I’m not going to sit here and tell you blockchain will revolutionize esports beyond belief, there are real applications here that can do a lot of good. The automated nature of this technology makes it so anyone can organize and take part in tournaments. Average players would have a place to hone their skills and make some money while doing so. Items are no longer locked into one game, and you can be sure that decentralization and community governance mean you’re no longer losing to lag or unfair circumstances.
Both industries are still in their infancy, but each can push the other forward. There are already some projects working in blockchain esports, such as Firstblood.io, Unikrn, and DreamTeam. Each is targeting the industry in their own way, but all have the potential to improve on what’s already here. And isn’t that what we should strive for?