Legitimizing eSports

With the third NBA owner buying a stake in an eSports team, the entire gaming industry finds itself gaining legitimacy in the mainstream sports world.

History of eSports

Esports, also known as electronic sports, has become a platform for many technology companies. These online games have gained tremendous momentum and drawn millions of fans to the competitive gaming community. By coining the term eSports, this industry has developed a new sense of legitimacy, almost like an NBA or NFL team. The players are viewed similarly to professional athletes and have gained a newfound respect from the general public. Previously, playing computer games were seen as nerdy, but with the change in branding of the eSports industry, it has strengthened its revival into a hip and intense atmosphere filled with skill and competition.


League of Legends

Focusing on one game, League of Legends by Riot Games, it has become one of the world’s largest and most popular games. Going onto its 6th year since its release in 2009, League of Legends has skyrocketed in terms of popularity. Not only has this game become the pinnacle of online gaming in the United States, it has also spread worldwide. By July of 2012, LoL became the most played PC game in Europe and North America. By January of 2014, over 67 million people played League of Legends each month and 27 million per day. Now in 2016, Riot Games has projected there to be over 100 million active players each month. With constant new changes and revamps to the game, it can only see itself growing and expanding to an even larger audience.


With games like these, there are large competitions both domestically and internationally. And for the past 2 years, a team representing South Korea, namely SK Telecom Team 1, has won the World Championships. The gaming industry has grown so much that sponsors such as SKT and Samsung have taken over teams. Along with these tournaments, the players are highly revered in so many aspects. The eSports industry has taken a similar route to traditional sports with their incorporation of Fantasy. Throughout the tournaments, fans are able to join with friends and draft players and teams in order to predict the outcome of the series. Similar to NBA or NFL Fantasy leagues, fans accumulate points through the players doing well in the games.

In addition, eSports have really tackled the college scene. Understanding that this is where a lot of talent comes from, much like Division 1 athletes, online games have taken the initiative to hold college tournaments. In 2015, a new game called Heroes of the Storm was released to the general public by Blizzard. The first large marketing move by them was to hold a collegiate tournament throughout all of North America, called Heroes of the Dorm. This garnered a lot of attention as students were putting together teams with top talent from their schools. Boston College was actually able to come up with a team that ended up making it to the Championships! They ended up coming in 3rd place, obviously a huge feat.

NBA Teams Purchasing eSports Teams

Towards the end of this past September, the Philadelphia 76ers made a direct investment into the eSports teams Apex and Dignitas. The management has now decided to combine the two teams directly under the Team Dignitas banner. Knowing how huge this industry has become, it has become such an attractive business investment. Professional players like Jeremy Lin have taken the initiative to do similar acts. He has created his own team in DOTA 2 called Team VGJ.


Outlook: Olympics by 2020?

Speculation over the participation of esports in the Olympics as early as 2020 is perhaps the most obvious sign of eSports’ growing prominence. This past summer, the International e-Sports Federation, a South Korean organization committed to establishing the recognition of eSports as a legitimate sport, entered talks with the International Olympic Community to allow eSports to participate as an Olympic sport.

Furthermore, the International eGames Community, a non-profit organization backed by the government of the United Kingdom and working with the International Olympic Community, hosted its first showcase event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil alongside the Olympics this August. This event exhibited two games: Smite as a show match and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U as a competitive match. In all, eight teams participated in the Rio de Janeiro showcase, including the United States of America, Germany, and Trinidad & Tobago. The International eGames Community plans to host its first full games in South Korea during the 2018 Winter Olympics and Tokyo, Japan during the 2020 Summer Olympics.



All of this is exciting news for the eSports world, which has garnered a huge following over the past decade. As its reach continues to expand worldwide, eSports will undoubtedly gain more legitimacy, with wealthy investors looking to back the sport as a profitable venture.


  1. polmankevin · ·

    Interesting post! I think the e-sports industry is fascinating. I am a little skeptical about placing the legitimate ‘sport’ label on video games. I want to reserve that label for activities that require athleticism and physical competition. I also think that many people share this concern. However, I can’t deny the skill and focus required to be competitive in these tournaments. It’s obvious that to be the best in the world at such a competitive activity requires an amazing work ethic. It’s also impossible to deny the legitimization of e-sports. Financial backing from professional sports teams, global corporation, and professional athletes speaks volumes about the level of competition that exists in these markets. An olympic bid for e-sports would be revolutionary, changing the way that the world thinks about sports. I’m excited to see what happens.

  2. ikechukwu_28 · ·

    Cool post. E-sports is definitely here to stay, whether people like it or not. I read an interesting article not long ago that had some very interesting stats about this massive industry (http://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/13059210/esports-massive-industry-growing) that were pretty shocking to me. For example, there was a League of Legends tournament that sold out he 40,000-seat World Cup Stadium in Seoul while drawing an online audience of 27 million — more than the TV viewership for the final round of the Masters. It was second to only the Super Bowl as the most watched TV event that year. The industry is growing and evolving so quickly, and everybody better take notice.

  3. michaelahoff · ·

    Very cool. I recently read about the Celtics’ Jonas Jerebko purchasing a few eSports teams, and that with what Philly is doing could make eSports even mroe mainstream. Yet, as you detailed, eSports probably don’t need the NBA or regular jocks to be popular. The NBA may even need eSports.

  4. Interesting post. As someone who is looking in on the outside as e-sports, I think it’s a fascinating development to see how these have grown and the big name sponsors of teams that have developed so quickly. Something that would have been easily dismissalable a few years ago is even in talks to be in the Olympics. It’s also been interesting to see how this has made it’s way to major cable television channels such as TBS.

  5. mikeknoll98 · ·

    Nice post! Like Kevin said, it is hard for me to look at E-Sports in the same category as every other sport. Along with this, I really cannot see it being included in the Olympics anytime soon. Some of the beauty to the Olympics and other athletic sports, is the awe and beauty of people accomplishing physical things with their born athleticism and talents that the rest of us could not ever do. While I think E-Sports require a great amount of brain power and talent, I am not sold that the average human being could not make his or her way into the elite levels with plainly enough practice. There is beauty in admiring the natural ability people born with. Again awesome post and made me think real hard!

  6. cmackeenbc · ·

    Cool post! I had no idea eSports were in talks to become an Olympic sport. I kind of agree with @mikeknoll98, though, I would be surprised if they succeeded in doing so. I think it takes a lot of brain power and natural talent to be good at such games, but it feels to me like it might change the tradition of the Olympics if they were to allow for digital events. Also, chess has been prevented from becoming an Olympic sport as the International Olympic Committee has previously placed a ban on “mind games”, so a pull for eSports in the Olympics might necessitate a huge shift in IOC standards first. Needless to say, eSports are extremely lucrative and it is no wonder that they are attracting attention from notable investors. It will be exciting to see how eSports develop into cultural normalcy across the globe. Nice work, thanks for educating me on a new topic!

  7. Nice follow up to your presentation (I think this was you, sometimes usernames and real world IDs get me confused)

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