It’s Saturday night, the guys are coming round. You have your favorite team jersey on. The snacks are prepped, the beers are chilled, and it’s almost time for click-off. No – that’s not a typo. It’s eSport, and it’s the new kid on the sporting block.
But can it be considered a real sport? Can you compare a professional athlete with a professional gamer? As crazy as that might seem at first, the two aren’t as different as you might think. Here are seven striking similarities between traditional sports and eSports to help you make up your mind.
1. Gaming Is a Serious Spectator Sport
Esport tournaments are already held in huge sporting stadiums all over the globe. In 2015, the final battle in the League of Legends competition had 36 million unique viewers for the live stream – as well as a sold-out arena in Berlin.
Twitch, the live video streaming site for gaming, currently sees 100 million viewers a month for its coverage of various events. Major TV corporations and broadcasters are also starting to get in on the deal too, with ESPN2 airing live coverage of eSporting events on network television.
This backs up a recent market study by Technavio that predicts that spectator numbers will continue to soar. The study estimates that by the year 2019, spectatorship for eSports will not only match but surpass that of mainstream sport.
2. Sporting Stars Have Celebrity Status
With a growing audience, it’s not a huge shock that the professional eSports player receives the same amount of adoration from their fan base as more traditional sporting heroes. After tournaments, players are often swarmed by fans for photo opportunities and autographs. Pro players have started to get noticed and recognized as they go about their daily lives, and some, like Soren Bjerg of Team SoloMid, have even had to take out restraining orders against stalkers.
3. Tough Training Regimes
Even mainstream athletes can see the similarities between traditional sports and eSports. Basketball star Jeremy Lin, a gamer from a young age, guest starred on last years’ panel for the DOTA 2 World Championships and described how alike the two fields are.
Just like any other athlete, professional players often work as part of a team and have tough training regimes. As with any professional sport, in order to get to the top and stay there, pro gamers must be highly tactical, strategic and have lightning-quick reaction times.
4. Massive Salaries
Sporting salaries are among some of the highest paid in the world, and eSport is beginning to cash in too. Top players can earn up to $1 million a year through endorsements, sponsorship and promotions. Then there’s the rather substantial prize money to take into consideration. With some of the highest prize pots across the sporting world, pro gamers can take home double their yearly earnings with just one win.
5. Corporate Sponsorship and Endorsements
Coca-Cola, which has a long history of sponsoring sporting events, teamed up in 2014 with Riot Games to sponsor League of Legends. This was the first time a major brand had endorsed eSports, and more are set to follow.
According to a recent report on the eSports market by Newzoo, eSport revenue has experienced a 43% rise in just one year, taking it to a whopping $463 million. Much of this growth is reportedly due to the increase in investment and interest from media companies.
6. Even eSports Have Rules and Regulations
Just like we have the USSA (United States Soccer Association) and the Olympic Committee governing their respective fields, we now have the WESA, the World Esports Association, regulating eSports. Founded earlier this year, the association brings traditional sports rulings to what is still viewed by many as a non-traditional sport.
Esports is not just a bunch of kids getting together to play some video games. As we’ve already seen, it’s a serious multimillion dollar business. WESA’s aim is to legitimize and standardize the field, to help raise its reputation as a serious sport – and to crack down on the more shady dealings that plague almost every sporting area, which brings us to our last similarity.
7. Doping and Match Fixing
Like traditional sports, eSports also have a dark side. With fame and the fortune comes temptation, and as prize winnings rocket and betting pools raise their stakes, issues of doping and game fixing are becoming more commonplace in eSports.
The Electronic Sports League (ESL), one of the founders of the WESA, is now working with the World Anti-Doping Agency in conducting random drug screening to deter the use of performance enhancing drugs such as Beta-blockers and Adderall.
Gambling and sport have always gone hand in hand, and as eSport grows, so does the betting interest. However, that increases the opportunity for match fixing. Just a few months ago, two South Korean Starcraft 2 players were charged for match fixing. As with any serious sport, there are serious consequences when the fight is not fair.
Are eSports Ready to Be Taken Seriously?
Will we see eSport featured in future Olympic Games? We’re not so sure, but then it really wasn’t that long ago that snowboarding was facing the same fight for acceptance and its place on the podium.
One thing is certain, eSports are already a very strong contender. Watch this space.
Written by Ruby Morgan
Ruby Morgan is a teacher by day, and a writer by night and at heart. A film school graduate, screenwriting tutor and film-maker, Ruby can usually be spotted with a wineglass in one hand and a pen in the other. She’s also a regular contributor for the BigOnSports blog.