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Inside Esports, the Fastest Growing Spectator Sport in the World

Since the invention of video games in mainstream culture in the 1970’s, video games have become so common that one in seven people play video games every day worldwide. Throughout the years video gaming has transitioned from a form of entertainment for dedicated gamers to a mass medium that millions of people engage in every day. The types of games have evolved over the years and as a result, so have the development of gaming’s competitive scene. Esports, a term used to describe the form of competition professional video game players engaged in, is now seeing headlines on popular sporting channels like ESPN, TSN and The Score. These typically ‘traditional sport’ sites like ESPN are writing about esports tournaments that have a twenty-million dollar prize pool. Does the entrance of video games into traditional sports news sites mean that video games are sport? If it does, how does esports compare to traditional sports like football?

What is a sport?

Many people are familiar with the concept of a sport and will recall familiar games like baseball, football, diving or hockey when they think of what a sport is. Colloquially, we think of ‘traditional’ sports such as football, soccer or baseball when we look to define what a “sport” is. Defining what constitutes as a sport can be difficult because sports are constantly involving. Merriam-Webster defines a sport as a “a physical activity engaged in for pleasure.” With this example, it’s easy to see why a traditional sport like football would fit this definition. Football demands a lot of physical activity whereas a video game like CS:GO might not. Video games do require physical activity and they arguably demand more mental fortitude. Once we acknowledge that while football or rugby may demand more physicality than CS:GO or League of Legends, both require physical activity. Once we can look past the stereotypical examples of what a sport is, we can see that video games can classify as a sport. This is one of the reasons countries around the world are granting sport visas to players to compete in local esports tournaments.

To play hard, you have to train hard

It’s easy to think that professional competitive players or esports players just get to sit down and play their favorite game day in and day out but the reality of what a professional player training looks like is far closer to that of NBA player than a causal gamer. Team Liquid is a gaming organization that has 13 teams under their logo with more than 70 professional esports players competing in a variety of games. Team Liquid is known for winning first place in the world’s biggest esports prize pool claiming their share of $10.8 million dollars of the $24 million dollar prize pool. Players who will be living in the Santa Monica training facility will be kept on a  structured regime. With access to a chef, nutritionist, physical trainers and a psychologist, players will be kept in top physical and mental shape to continue their pursuit of becoming world champions.

When you compare the support staff that Team Liquid has created for their players to the support staff of an NBA team, there’s little difference in how both organizations help keep their players healthy and happy. Both traditional sports and esports follow similar health, fitness and training routines to ensure players are able to perform at their very best. It’s easy to see how both types of sports are classified as a sport when they treat their players as athletes.

Growth means Opportunity

One of the biggest ways any industry can grow is through the fan base. Neither the sporting industry nor the esports industry would be where they are today without their loyal fan base. Growth calculations and industry values are calculated by calculating the viewers for matches, games and tournaments. Take the example of the NFL’s Super Bowl. The NFL is able to garner prominent sponsors and gain investments by demonstrating a continued growth in their viewers on important events like the Super Bowl.  Super Bowl LII’s number indicated that around 95.2 million viewers tuned in to watch this year’s game. Compare that to the almost 74 million viewers who watched the League of Legends World Championship 2017. For an esport title that’s only been hosting games for 6 years, those numbers are incredible. League of Legends is close to having as many viewers as those who watch the Super Bowl. Boasting high viewer numbers and having a support staff does indicate the similarities between traditional sports and esports but it doesn’t complete the picture.

League of Legends World Championship (photo courtesy of Riot Games)

Another way of calculating the growth of the esports industry, besides number of viewers, is by sponsorships and investments. Major sporting leagues like the MLB have sponsors such as Apple, T-Mobile, Chevrolet and Gatorade. What’s interesting about some of MLB’s sponsors is that there are similar, if not the same, sponsors who have invested in the esports industry. T-Mobile has sponsored two different esports organizations, TSM and Cloud9, as well as a fighting game tournament. Similarity, Intel, the processor manufacturer of Apple computers, has sponsored ESL since 2006. In recent years we’ve also seen NBA team owners buy into esports teams. Just last year the Philadelphia 76ers CEO bought controlling shares in both Team Dignities and Apex Gaming. With the gradual movement from investing in traditional sports to esports, we can see that investors see esports as a sport and are diversifying their investments portfolios.

Investments indicate the opportunity for business growth and profit. Defining esports, and by extension video games, as a sport makes sense when you evaluate esports in comparison to industry standards in traditional sports.

It’s all Sports at the end of the day

It’s hard to refute the similarities between traditional sports and esports, both have leagues of players training their bodies and minds to achieve greatness. Whether they are striving to win the Super Bowl or to win The International, both sets of athletes are using everything they have to win big. When you analyze the esports industry we find that there’s little difference between the esports industry and other major sporting industries like the MLB, NFL or NBA. The biggest difference is simply the size of the industries. It seems clear that esports, and by extension video gaming, is most definitely a sport. It may not fit the definition of a traditional sport but by all accounts, it functions, operates and looks like a sport. 

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