What’s the Deal With “eSports”?

eSports. It’s the new billion-dollar sports industry that’s picking up steam. With its large auditoriums of colored lights, big screens, and headset-wearing gamers, it’s quite the phenomenon. Grand prizes are getting larger by the year, the audience is growing rapidly and so are the number of teams. If you’re wondering what eSports is exactly, well it’s just what it sounds like– electronic sports. It’s competitive matches and leagues that play some universally popular video games like League of Legends, Overwatch and Fortnite. It may sound like a fun amateur activity, but the reality is that this is a real industry that beats out many sports in both audience and profits. Moreover, ESPN is starting to broadcast eSports, the Olympics are considering adding some eSports as events and there is a growing number of global tournaments across the world. So what is the deal with eSports?

Is It A Sport?

With eSports now a billion-dollar sport it is impossible to ignore, but many people raise a critical question– is it even a real sport? We’ve all played at least some version of a video game, whether it’s Candy Crush, Super Mario or something more involved like Call of Duty, everyone at least has a basic understanding of what a video game is. That also means we all know that video games aren’t an abundantly physical activity. So how are video games sports?

Something we have to acknowledge about sports is that physical effort is not the sole definition of a sport. Things like golf, chess, and even poker are all considered professional sports and are broadcast on ESPN. None of those activities involve rigorous physical exertion or strength. Golf is all about technique; chess is about brainpower and strategy, and poker is about mathematics and probability. So obviously sports aren’t all about brawn. Even so, not all competitive activities are automatically sports, so how did video games become a sport? Well, profit.

Video games like League of Legends, Overwatch and Fortnite have massive audiences and with YouTube and Twitch, players have been able to monetize their gameplay. These games also have been able to become globally competitive with tournaments hosting hundreds of players with dozens of teams playing. There’s sponsorship money, advertisement and the video game companies themselves benefit from their games being played at the tournaments. Which brings me to how eSports is completely different than anything we’ve ever seen in the sports world.

The New Sport

When we think of a sport like basketball or baseball, we all know that the rules are the same across the board with changes being very rare and irregular. Those sports are defined by their rules and a few pieces of equipment. If you have those and a few players, then anyone can play. No one owns basketball or baseball. Video games, however, are different. The game itself is a product owned by a software company that publishes it and runs the rules. This means there are no universal rules and the owner of the game can change the format with a simple update. This means players have to adapt and adjust their gameplay based on new updates and characters. Aside from owning the game and making a profit off of every play of the game, certain video game companies can double or triple their profits from eSports.

eSports teams can be made up of amateurs but more often than not, they are teams owned and managed by the video game company themselves. These companies find and hire the best players and create leagues that can compete at the highest level against other teams. A company like Epic, which owns Fortnite, can even host and own the tournament itself or the rights to any competition involving the game Fortnite. If we think about that, it’s as if the Lakers were to own the game of basketball, the team, and the NBA as well. This is exactly why eSports makes so much money and will keep growing at a breakneck pace. 

I imagine 10 years from now we could go to a sports bar and on one screen we would see a football game and on the other a tournament of League of Legends. Further into the future, we may even see some of these games approved by the IOC for the Olympic games, or alternatively a whole series of Olympics dedicated to just eSports. Either way, our sports world and the tech world have started to merge in quite an interesting way. The future of video games and the future of sports are both on a profitable path we all may want to watch. And hedge your bets right, you may even make some coin off of this meteoric rise of eSports.

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