In 2013, one unexpected sporting event managed to get more viewers than the BCS National Title game, the NBA Finals and the World Series. That sporting event was the League of Legends World Championship Series.
League of Legends is a competitive computer game consisting of two teams trying to destroy the other’s base. The game is played competitively at an international level by professional gamers, and 32 million people tuned in online to watch its 2013 championship. The 2014 World Championships for the game dropped to 27 million.
Professional video gaming has always had a strong fan base. However, in recent years the gaming community as a whole has grown around the idea of electronic sports, also known as eSports.
Christopher Ly, a senior information systems major and the president and founder of UMBC’s eSports Online Gaming club, said eSports are, “Games that are played on a competitive level that measure a different kind of intellectual athleticism.” Ly also includes hand eye coordination, accuracy, strategic and tactical skills as necessary traits needs to partake in eSports.
Ly, who has been competing in eSports since 2008, differentiates eSports from regular video and computer games by describing how regular games tend to be more “static” and uncompetitive.
Streaming websites like Twitch seem to be a big part of the cause in the rise of eSports popularity. The streaming site is free to access and gathers an average of at least 35 million viewers every month. Twitch is also used by all of the major games to officially broadcast their championship matches and their regular season games.
Even acclaimed sports sites such as ESPN have begun posting features about eSports and posting video highlights from games, like they would any other sport.
It was also recently announced that the BBC would begin showing highlights of the LoL World Championships currently taking place. The next stage in the completion will be held at England’s prolific Wembley Stadium.
A frequent complaint that most players and fans have gotten “tired” of hearing is that eSports are not and should not be considered actual sporting events.
“Just because players aren’t sweating and moving quickly doesn’t take away from the fact that not everyone can do it on a professional level,” said Ly.
In July 2013, the United States Government officially recognized LoL’s Championship Series as being an official sport. This recognition now allows international players the ability to obtain work visas similar to the ones seen received by foreign NHL and NBA players.
Players are being paid as well. According to the website eSports Earnings, 10 of the players who compete in the game Defense of the Ancients earn over $1 million. While hundreds of other athletes competing in the world of eSports still manage to make six figure salaries.
Even though they have not gained widespread public recognition, gamers and fans are hopeful for the future of eSports.