You step into a crowded arena. The stands are filled with cheering fans, wearing jerseys and holding drinks and snacks. Families roam just outside the actual arena, between the food stands and the merchandise booths. When you pause for a moment, you can hear the shouts of disappointment from the crowd when a crucial shot is missed.
But you’re not there to watch a basketball game, or a football game or a baseball game. There’s no movement before you, no figures sprinting back and forth reaching for a ball or a stick. Their hands are on keyboards and mice and headsets, eyes darting across pixelated screens.
They’re athletes in one of the fastest-growing ecosystems in the world: esports, or professional video gaming. Esports are quickly becoming the next biggest thing in sports, even as many people have never heard of them.
Esports are a relatively new phenomenon. Most of today’s most popular esports like League of Legends, Dota 2, Overwatch or Counter-Strike: Global Advantage Offensive came out in the last 10 to 15 years. Compared to sports like baseball or football, which often feel like they’ve been played forever, these games are still in their infancy. But esports have shown massive growth in their short history, which has helped to establish their positions as legitimate sports.
Today, as baseball viewers age and football players suffer brain damage, it seems logical that sports in which people don’t actually have to risk most of their physical body will continue to grow in popularity. While esports can lead to wrist injuries and carpal tunnel, brain damage or other severe physical damage are far less likely.
Esports are most popular among younger viewers; the majority of their viewership comes from the 15 to 34-year-old age range which means that esports are doing well to attract younger viewership. The biggest problem for esports is attracting older fans, many of whom are far less positive toward video games. This is not helped by the fact that most esports athletes fit into the same age range as the viewers, which means young viewers can relate more with the players than older viewers.
Financially, esports have grown massively in the last decade. In some esports, like Dota 2, teams and players make money primarily off of prize pools. The biggest Dota 2 tournament of the year, The International, is held once a year and generally boasts a prize pool of over $20 million, meaning the winning team takes home over $10 million. This is on top of a number of Majors a year, which boast million-dollar prize pools of their own.
In other esports, like League of Legends, player salaries are rapidly growing. The average salary is reportedly over $300,000 and some players like star botlaner Doublelift and toplaner Huni reportedly make seven figures a year.
Esports still have a long way to go to reach viewership levels that can compete with traditional sports, but they have made progress. The League of Legends World Championship peaked at 44 million viewers worldwide during it’s Final series last year, and over 100 million viewers total.
While esports still have a ways to go to reach the level of traditional sports, the impressive increase in the last few years shows a promising trend. As we learn more and more about the physical consequences of sports like football, it seems likely that esports will grow to fill those gaps and claim their place on the pedestal of sporting entertainment.
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Ashton Stansel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.