By Rick Henneman
The competitive side of video games, also known as eSports, has reached a new level of popularity in the United States. Major networks like ESPN and TBS are beginning to cover various eSports competitions through apps and live on-air events.
eSports are competitive online gaming tournaments made up of professional gamers playing for either their nation or their own team. Millions watch these tournaments from sold out arenas and live on online streaming video sites like YouTube Live and Twitch. Over a quarter of a billion dollars have been awarded to winning players and teams to date.
Darren Heitner, University of Florida sports law professor and Forbes magazine contributor, said 2016 is the tipping point for eSports popularity.
“The industry that covers competitive video gaming has a potential global audience of over 1.4 billion.” Heitner said. “In 2015, 36 million individuals streamed the League of Legends World Finals online. The ESL One tournament sold out the Theater at Madison Square in New York.”
Aaron Stiner, president of the Video Entertainment Gaming Association at Youngstown State University, said competitive gaming shouldn’t be considered a traditional sport like baseball or football.
“Honestly, I don’t think that it should be considered a regular sport,” he said. “I think it should be in its own category of eSport, because it requires a tremendous amount of skill [that’s different from traditional sports].”
Stiner explained that gaming has always been a highly social activity, but the opportunity of winning money through competitive gaming has made it even more popular.
“Most gamers grew up just playing casually with friends,” he said. “It was always fun to get a team together to play, but money has created a huge incentive to take things to the next level.”
In Stiner’s opinion, regular sports fans will have mixed emotions about eSport tournaments on major television networks.
“I would say it will be half and half,” he said. “Some sports fans will tune in because it is different and interesting. However, there will definitely be the diehards that will be upset because it isn’t a real sport in their mind.”
Recently, the Wizards, Warriors and 76ers of the NBA have purchased popular eSport teams. Stiner said that is great news for the future of eSports.
“It’s fantastic,” he said. “If major organizations continue to invest, it will expand the audience on a larger scale. When fans see their teams buying in, they will take eSports more seriously.”
Emily Tarantine, a sports broadcasting major, said competitive gaming should be considered a sport for a variety of reasons.
“I think that there are definitely different skill levels,” she said. “It takes a special kind of person to become great at it. Competitive gaming requires an elite level of hand eye coordination.”
Students who are interested in gaming or eSports can learn more information by attending the Video Entertainment Gaming Association meetings on Tuesdays 5-9 p.m. or watching the Vice documentary series “eSports,” which can be found on YouTube.