Times were, when someone used the term, real sports, they were simply trying to indicate the superiority of one athletic pursuit to another.
Now, they really are trying to differentiate between active, athletic pursuits and those that are, well, not.
E-gaming, where teams (or individual players) battle one another in the virtual worlds of popular video games, are on the rise, and event organizers are seeing explosive growth in the travel market to host their competitions.
According to ESPN, 27 million people tuned in to watch the 2014 finals of the League of Legends World Championship - meaning more than watched the final game of the World Series (23.5 million) or the NBA Finals (18 million). The global audience on Twitch.tv (a video streaming service) saw 16 billion minutes of live gaming streams watched per month last year on average, with the number growing rapidly month over month.
In fact, notes ESPN, it’s not just a virtual event; it’s a real event with economic impact. When Major League Gaming launched in the early 2000s, its tournaments played out in hotel ballrooms before – well, okay, dozens of fans. Today, e-sports' biggest tournaments rival practically any live sporting event. (You know, the kind of real sports with real athletes.)The League of Legends Championship sold out Staples Center in 2013, then sold out the 40,000-seat World Cup Stadium in Seoul a year later while drawing an online audience of 27 million -- more than the TV viewership for the final round of the Masters.
In December of 2014, San Jose’s SAP Center hosted the country’s biggest e-sports event, Intel Extreme Masters, according to an article in the San Jose Mercury News.
Organizers were expecting the Intel Extreme Masters tournament to bring sell-out crowds to cheer from the stands as teams play "League of Legends" and "StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm," in an 18,000-seat arena that's usually home to rock concerts and Sharks hockey games.
"This event marks a significant milestone in the stadium-ification of e-sports," said a representative for Twitch.tv.
A recent article in ESPN notes that some 205 million people watched or played e-sports in 2014, according to market research firm Newzoo -- meaning that if the e-Sports nation were actually a nation, it would be the fifth largest in the world.
And don’t look now, but high school students who are skilled in e-gaming can win athletic (yes, you read that correctly) scholarships to college. Robert Morris University in Illinois and Pikesville University in Kentucky are both handing out scholarships to kids whose athletic skills can be displayed using headphones, a computer screen and a joystick. Other schools, such as Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, feature team video gaming as an extra-curricular club, and there is a busy college circuit of video gaming competition.
Scholarships. Clubs. College-to-college competitions. Let’s just let that all sink in for a moment. Is it any wonder PHITAmerica has gone on a crusade against electronic addiction in kids? Right now, nearly one in four children (age five to six) think e-gaming is a form of exercise. That opinion is shared by 31% of the seven- and eight-year-olds.
Even at that age: yikes.
And the addiction feeds on itself. ESPN notes that as an overall category, gaming has more YouTube followers than news, movies and education combined.
You know, just in case you weren’t getting enough screen time by gaming directly.
In terms of attracting an audience, e-sports skews young. ESPN notes that NewZoo’s statistics indicate that just 28 percent of players are over 35 which, of course, is a selling point to advertisers looking to reach the next generation of consumers.
And it’s lucrative. An article in the Los Angeles Daily News points out that the top-earning e-sports athlete, Chen “Hao” Zhihao, 24, of China raked in more than $1.1 million in a combination of tournament winnings and endorsements playing “Dota 2,” a multiplayer online battle arena game developed by Valve Corporation, according to esportsearnings.com.