The eSports industry has had a very fruitful year.
Growing viewership, the increasing availability of funds for events, and the introduction of new games to the industry have all greatly contributed to the rise of eSports’ popularity.
With this in mind, the question of when eSports will be considered a real sport is being asked more and more often.
eSports is becoming a real sport
Even today’s mainstream sports weren’t considered true sports right away. Take the NFL and NBA, for example. American football was invented in 1869, but it wasn’t until the NFL’s founding in 1920 that it was officially named a sport. Similarly, basketball was only named a real sport after the NBA came to life in 1946, despite the sport’s invention in 1891.
Despite eSports’ status as a successful emerging industry that attracts millions of interested parties, there is an ongoing debate about whether eSports should be included in the list of real sports.
Strong underlying factors drive market growth
The jump in player and viewer numbers to multi-millions, increasingly available funds, the emergence of new and expansion of established organizations, and even tapping the integrity aspects are only a couple of factors that drive the industry.
Additionally, research companies like SuperData and Newzoo offer statistics where they forecast an exponential growth of the eSports and eSports betting markets in the next few years.
Many traditional sports entities invest in eSports. Turner Broadcasting announced that TBS will air eSports in prime time. Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, invested in the eSports startup Unikrn, and the Kraft family (owners of the New England Patriots) alongside Marc Lasry (co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks) invested in the mobile eSports platform Skillz.
If this development continues, seeing eSports competitions at the same stage as premier sporting events like the Super Bowl is not far-fetched.
eSports falls in line with traditional sports
When it comes to popularity in numbers, eSports has a fan base that is comparable to many traditional sports leagues. Moreover, last year’s League of Legends Championship had a viewership that totaled 27 million, which is more than Game 5 of the NBA finals the same year, which peaked at 22 million.
The prize pools offered in professional eSports competitions are also competitive with the profits that traditional pro athletes earn. This year’s The International Dota 2 Championship paid out more than $18 million in prizes, an amount almost twice as much as the golfers in the 2015 PGA championship were competing for.
Additionally, some U.S. universities now treat eSports like traditional sports, awarding athletic scholarships to students based on their gaming skills.
The Robert Morris University in Chicago has provided thousands of dollars in eSports scholarships for students, and established the first varsity eSports facility in North America. The University of Pikeville offered twenty eSports scholarships for the current year as part of its inaugural program, and CNN recently reported that many universities are evaluating their own potential varsity eSports scholarships and programs.
Kind of important, but not really
Even though calling eSports a real sport would change things, the industry is doing very well already.
The debate about whether eSports will ever be considered a true sport will continue; in the meantime, the market will grow and continue its successful path as an emerging category.