Big E versus Little e

An brief examination of etymology and nomenclature in Electronic Sports


Earlier today in the office, we had a long discussion about E’s. It was like an episode of Sesame Street, or a teenage drugs counselling session. In case you’re unaware of who I am, I’m Josh Ling (tweet me), and I work in the marketing department at a company called Multiplay. Recently we launched our dedicated esports brand Multiplay Esports, and in doing so had to make a decision that on the surface seems simple but underneath is much less clear cut.

Multiplay Esports. It’s Esports, at Multiplay. I literally can’t explain this any better…

We opted to use a big E. Capitalised. Bold, 72 point sans serif font. We chose this usage as spearheaded by myself and our Esports team for a few reasons; firstly, any word or phrase that includes an unconditionally lowercase 1st letter followed by an unconditionally uppercase 2nd letter is a copywriter’s worst nightmare. It doesn’t fit anywhere, it looks ridiculous, it breaks up the visual flow. In terms of social media, it makes things like hashtags look and read ridiculously. Secondly, we started to reconsider why we called esports “eSports” in the first place; I did some preliminary searching to check on what other organisations and companies were doing, and the results were mixed and highly interesting, to me at least. As such, I decided to do a little extra credit research and put together this brief overview on the usage and etymology of “Esports” versus “eSports” in the modern competitive gaming scene, from a mostly commercial standpoint. Enjoy or, alternatively, alt+f4 and go play Hearthstone like the dirty little Rogue you are.


ETYMOLOGY

The etymology of the word Esports is ridiculously simple; it stems from a contraction of Electronic Sports, as in sports… that are… electronic. Can you keep up with all this? Should I go slower? The first recorded instance of the word “eSports” stems from a 1999 press release and subsequent interview announcing the OGA, an organisation founded by Eurogamer to regulate professional gaming. The article itself has some great quotes and ideas and, like a lot of similar Esports Organisations, failed miserably. My favourite quote from the article:

“Is it such a leap of imagination to think that a few years down the line the man on the street will wear a ClanX scarf and watch the International Quake 4 Finals with his mates in the pub?”

They dreamt big, even back then.

A bunch of Space Invaders players play at invading each other’s space. I’m proud of that one…

According to Wikipedia, “the earliest known video game competition took place on October 19, 1972, at Stanford University for the game Spacewar, where students were invited to an ‘Intergalactic spacewar olympics’”. When I read this earlier I briefly tried to convince our Esports team to rebrand Multiplay Esports as the “Intergalactic Multiplay E-lympics”, but they weren't having any of it. c’Est la vie.

Esports has a history much longer that a 1999 Eurogamer press release, rooted in 1980's arcade culture, online digitalisation, and the growth of the experience economy. Before then “e-Sports” was a colloquial term used by the few and specific. “Electronic Sports” became “e-Sports”, which became “eSports”, just like “e-Mail” and “eMail” became “e-mail”, to later become just “email”. Words are essentially basic language constructs with shared meanings, either prescient / derived or obvious. They mean what we all think they mean.

WHAT THE OTHER KIDS ARE UP TO

In deciding our brand communication guidelines moving forward, I thought it best to first check on what all the other boys and girls in the industry were doing. Results were mixed and moderately surprising, as detailed below. Note: I’m aware I skipped a couple obvious titles, because their naming conventions should be obvious based on where they came from.

Counter Strike: Global Offensive

Valve’s official pages for CS:GO shy away from any real usage as you’ll experience again later, but there’s one specific instance of use via an in-game item. Last year Valve released two CS:GO cases which players could purchase to fund prize pools for tournaments. Both cases included the usage “eSports”, with the latest case launched last December being called the “2013 eSports Winter Case”.

Esports, eSports and esports, oh my!

Interestingly, the copy for the official announcement page for this item includes two instances of usage that go against this, an “esports” and an “Esports”. Oxymoronically they even used both in the same sentence (pictured above); it’s my belief that copy-wise Valve prefer “esport”, but the item was named externally and inconsistently.

SMITE / Hi-Rez Studios

Hi-Rez’s website for SMITE uses “Esports” liberally. They’re a newer game, not necessarily restricted by tradition, and thus opted consciously or otherwise to join team big E. Understandable.

Red Bull

Red Bull’s esports brands and content are massively inconsistent with each other in terms of usage. Their main Twitter feed uses an interesting allcaps variant of “redbullESPORTS”, a strong statement of shift-key fuelled intent. We imagine they ran into the same Twitter-based problem we did, in that any word followed by “eSports” reads in a problematic way. “Red Bully Sports” sounds like a cross between Nascar and the concept of manifest destiny.

My header is telling me “no”, but my body… my body is telling me yes!

The Red Bull website is an interesting one… at its core it uses “Esports”, but throughout various articles it often uses “eSports”. This is most likely due to Red Bull having a large mix of contributors and content writers each drawing on and writing from personal experiences with no clearly defined branding guideline on term usage. The core web template consistently uses “Esports” but it’s often juxtaposed against “eSports” usage and therefore completely up in the air as to what their official stance is. All we know is that their products are delicious, and definitely worth purchasing at your local convenience store. Get Blue Edition, get hyped.

Riot Games / League of Legends

Riot Games use “Esports” in official LoL communications, and as a core part of their esports brand LoLEsports. Not really much else to say; they chose, like us, to opt for this particular usage. It’d be interesting to know their personal reasoning.

Press

Press usage is a mixed bag. Most gaming press understandably use “eSports”. Mainstream press is a hilariously mixed bag with examples spanning the full range of potential lovecraftian combinations of uppercase and lowercase alphanumeric symbols, plus the odd hyphen or space. Interestingly PC Gamer gave away an award titled “E-Sport of the year” last year to Dota 2, which is actually the only usage of big-E big-S plus hyphen I’ve personally seen in anything official from anyone really. I don’t know what they were thinking; Maybe their original printer quit after they asked him to print a lowercase e in front of a big S.

I swear Valve are missing a trick here…

Dota 2

As far as I can tell, Valve almost entirely shy away from any usage in any form, which is interesting in of itself. Instead of referring to Dota as a “major esport” for instance, they just refer to it as a huge game in of itself. They rely on Dota propelling itself forward on name recognition alone, and in that sense their copy contains a sort of confidence. They know what they are, you know what they are, you can call them whatever you like. The only usage I could find comes from the description of the YouTube upload of their Dota 2 documentary Free to Play, which uses the phrase “E Sports”. A very interesting choice… I’ve also typed a few late night YouTube descriptions in my time.

MLG & Call of Duty

Both MLG and Call of Duty use “eSports”. It makes sense.

Competitors

Almost all our competitors in the UK market use “eSports”, although interestingly Heaven Media use “Esports” for their Esports Heaven brand.

Professional Gaming Organisations

Most of the pro-gaming organisations use “eSports”, but there are examples of both. Once again we believe this stems from a traditional point of view, as most teams that use “eSports” were founded 10+ years ago.

Hashtags

For practical consideration, I did a tally of usage in hashtags on Twitter, in order to give a helpful-if-boring overview of how comfortable people felt tweeting out their own personal usage. I discounted any fullcaps usage (“#ESPORTS”) because it was impossible to tell either way, and only counted one tweet per individual to avoid spam bias. It was a complicated longitudinal study that could only be accurately summarised in the complex graph pictured below.

No hyphens in hashtags son, #GetRekt

As you can see, it’s pretty close, although to be completely experimentally fair I’m sure a few of the #esports tallies were from individuals who use “eSports” regularly but chose not to be grammatically correct in the counted tweet. What this does tell us though is that plenty of people are happy using “esports” in public conversations; they don’t need that big S to remind them that they’re not talking about the catalanian word for “sports”, they can understand the word situationally from context alone. Just like with the word email.

WEAK CONCLUSIONS

As I summarised at the beginning of this, results are mixed. It’s about half-and-half; it seems the newer your title is, the more likely you are to gravitate towards “Esports” over “eSports”. Audience members are fairly happy with “eSports” as it stands, but the alternate usage doesn’t necessarily bother them… it’s just different, but equally understandable. Sponsors and press are mixed and essentially reflect the communities they represent.

At the end of the day, I don’t really think it matters that much. I personally believe that in time “Esports”, like “Email”, will become the dominantly accepted form, but it doesn’t really matter; all you have to do is pick one and stick with it. Competitive gaming, professional gaming, “eSports” “Esports” “esports” “e-sports” “E-sports” “e-Sports” “E sports” “E Sports” or even dSports, it doesn’t matter. As long as you’re producing great and satisfying work people aren’t that fussed. It’s personal preference, and I for one am glad that I’ll never have to press “e”, then hold shift and press S, potentially ever again. It’s a bRave nEw wOrld.

Disregard etymology, acquire nomenclature