I don’t watch a lot of sports. Actually to clarify, I don’t watch what most categorize as “conventional sports.” You know, football, basketball, baseball, the works. I didn’t grow up watching them, and I rarely follow them with the exception of big games such as the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Olympic Games.
But for the past several years a new medium has caught my eye, and I’ve found myself intensely drawn to the world of professional video games the same way basketball fans are drawn to their game. They follow their favorite teams on social media, regularly keep score and, in many cases, play the game casually. My belief is that currently, people may not consider eSports to be a “legitimate” sport, but with time eSports will closely resemble other professional sports, socially and financially.
I’ve quickly realized that I’m not alone in this fascination with the world of eSports. In 2013, over 30 million people tuned in to the League of Legends World Championship finals. By comparison, the NBA Finals garnered 15.5 million views, and the MLB World Series garnered 15.8 million views that year. Viewership alone has been a telling sign that eSports has established itself as a program that rivals large sports games. BBC, ESPN and Yahoo have all begun streaming professional games and their tournaments.
The world of professional gaming has also been a lucrative business for streamers and professional gamers. In 2014, Chinese Dota 2 team Newbee won a $10.9 million prize, the most ever at an eSports tournament to date. In 2014, Amazon announced it would purchase Twitch, a popular platform for streaming games, for $970 million.
Just this year, I attended the major Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament Genesis 5 in Oakland, CA, with nearly 3,000 players were in attendance. When the time came for grand finals, I watched in anticipation as two players reached game three (in a best of five). In one of the most exciting games of Melee I’d seen, the score was virtually even up the last few seconds of the game. And in a defining moment, the crowd erupted into cheers and applause. Since then, I’ve decided that long ago had eSports fulfilled its definition of “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Perhaps like most people, I just hadn’t warmed up to that idea. Yet.