It's not surprising to see the popularity of competitive gaming on the rise, but the scope at which esports has been growing is impressive. Global gaming tournaments have only been around for about 15 years, with #esports picking up in the last four years or so — but it's taking off like a rocket.
Traditional sports organizations like the NFL have been around for almost a century and the Super Bowl hit its 50th anniversary this year. Esports may not have as wide a scope or presence as traditional sports do, but the lines are blurring, with video game tournaments getting closer to being a market-viable form of spectator sporting competition.
Big Money Is Getting Involved In Esports
Esports is a business — and business is booming. While traditional sports may have the upper hand in overall revenue, equating to more than $60 billion each year, esports has also seen rapid growth in its short history. In 2015 alone, more than $65 million in prizes was awarded for such tournaments. Superdata valued esports revenue at $892.8 million in 2016 and expects it to reach $1.1 billion by 2018.
As revenue and visibility increases, corporate sponsors are also getting involved. Major brands like Coca-Cola and T-Mobile have taken notice, diving into partnerships and advertising. Coca-Cola partnered with Riot Games in 2014 to sponsor amateur League of Legends players in their quest to go professional, the first time such a major brand endorsed esports.
Technology companies like Intel and Nvidia have always been heavily involved in the competitive video gaming arena as sponsors, due to the synergy of players using the companies' hardware. Even energy drinks are stepping in, with Red Bull and Monster sponsoring not only esports teams, but individual streamers as well and tournaments, such as the Red Bull Battle Grounds events.
Esports Takes As Much Practice As Sports
When most people think of video games, they think of casual playtime. But for esports competitors, this is a job. They need to know the analytics, what counters to use, what plays to make. As with plays in football or basketball, there are plays in esports, and practice makes perfect.
Esports players will practice 12 hours a day to perfect their game. Teams will practice together all day, scrimmaging and discussing strategies. They watch footage of their games to discuss what they could do better or where they went wrong. And when they finally go home for the day, it doesn't end there. They'll log in for even more play, queuing up on their own.
Esports Is Super Popular
Esports viewership is growing massively and starting to edge out traditional sports. Nothing's going to beat the frenzy of the Super Bowl, where people will tune in just for the famed commercials, but traditional sports are relegated to cable television and channel packages, and restricted geographically. Younger generations often eschew cable TV entirely, opting for more accessible internet and streaming services. As a result, esports are widely available. Competitions are often streaming online through sites like #Twitch and anyone with an internet connection can easily access it.
In 2016, the League of Legends World Championship beat out the NBA finals in viewer numbers. The NBA finals attracted an average of 31 million viewers, an all-time high for the NBA, while the world championship match for #LeagueofLegends boasted 43 million unique viewers.
ESPN Is Interested In Esports
If ESPN doesn't grant legitimacy, I don't know what does. ESPN has dabbled in esports over the past few years, but what really brought esports into the mainstream was when Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm college competition was broadcast — the first time an esports tournament had been broadcast live on US TV. ESPN has since expanded its esports coverage, taking on dedicated editors specifically for the esports scene.
Professional Sports Players Also See The Value in Esports
When Heroes of the Dorm debuted on ESPN, the internet went crazy. Many traditional sports fans immediately poo-pooed the competition, relying on overused stereotypes and wondering where real athletic prowess had gone. Professional sports players, however, saw the similarities, so much so that traditional sporting teams and professionals are now investing in the industry.
Indeed, several former sports players now own esports teams, with the likes of basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal now heavily involved in esports, owning his own team and promoting a Twitch streaming event for healthcare.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, likened esports to traditional sports, telling Dallas News:
"There's going to be an opportunity for this first of a kind league to attract a group of gamers who might be playing some other game. Now, they can say, 'Maybe I couldn't play for the Knicks, because I didn't have the physical prowess to compete at that level. But I do have the mental and physical prowess to compete as an egamer for the eKnicks'."
Former NBA player Rick Fox, who also owns an esports team, has expressed admiration for all the training and practice the players put into the game. Even famed San Francisco Giant Hunter Pence has proven his faith in the growing popularity of esports, saying in the esports documentary A New Hero: The Rise of College Esports:
“It’s not going away. It’s only going to get bigger and better, and we’re going to get bigger and better at it.”
The growth of esports has been impressive so far and it's unlikely to stop. Perhaps one day it will be as ubiquitous and accepted as traditional sports.