While channel flipping, I stumbled upon ABC and came across a battle between two of the best teams in their respective league. They compete for a chance to show the fruits of their training, to show the effort and time they put into getting a victory and that they deserve respect across the league. The commentators make sure to exaggerate every astounding play while explaining the basic rules of the game for a potentially newer audience. There’s a pause in the action and the game is thrown to a commercial break featuring the likes of Coca Cola, Toyota and State Farm, all claiming to be the official sponsor of “such and such” league.
Hearing all this you’d most likely assume I had stumbled across a bout between professional NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL teams. However, what I was watching was a stage playoff game between two teams of six players all sitting at their monitors banging away on their keyboards in much the same way I am while banging out this story. This is the Overwatch League. This is the new world of eSports.
Major corporations are taking a gamble on eSports such as Overwatch and other pioneers of the industry such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends and Dota 2 by investing substantial amounts of money in promotions and sponsorships. Their gamble actually shows promising results when comparing viewership to the likes of some of the major sports leagues; especially for an industry which is just barely scratching the surface of network television.
The Overwatch League stage final on ABC raked in an average viewer rating of 367,000, according to Nielsen. In comparison to the average NFL regular season game of nearly 15 million people, these numbers are pathetic. However these numbers actually trump the average NHL game of 302,000 between 2017-18 and the average 277,000 viewers of a New York Yankees game, the most watched team in the MLB. Viewership of such games even breached the million mark these past two years during the CS:GO Majors, which capped the all-time video game ratings at over 1.1 million people.
Colleges and universities across the country are even beginning to promote their own varsity eSports leagues. A college eSports governing body equivalent to the NCAA has even been created to manage these scholarship driven programs. The National Association of Collegiate eSports, or the NACE, governs roughly 125 Division I, II and III programs across the country, which includes Boise State and Ohio State University.
These professional players aren’t just playing for the pride of being the best either. The prize pools for many of these major events and championships often reach well into the millions. For example, the largest prize pool ever accumulated for an eSports event was $25.5 million for the Dota 2 International in 2018. The winning team of the event brought home a grand total of $11.2 million.
As more companies buy into the growth of the eSports scene, it will be interesting to see how the popularity of these games compares to that of the big four professional sports. Maybe the day will even come when a parent no longer scolds their child for playing too many video games, and instead encourage them in hopes of their child ending up on ABC one day without the need for significant physical talents.
Jesse Turner is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org