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.