Last June, Lebron James, arguably the best basketball player of all time, won his first NBA Championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Forty-four million people tuned in during the closing minutes of Game 7 on ABC, making it the most watched NBA Finals game in history.
Last October, 43 million people loaded up the streaming site Twitch to watch the world championship of a video game called "League of Legends," a team based game similar to capture the flag.
eSports, short for electronic sports, is an umbrella term for video game competitions, and it has grown in the past few years, rivaling viewership of the NBA. Much of the success is due to eSports becoming more organized, increasing in viewership and associating with traditional sports.
Riot Games, creator of "League of Legends," hosts video game leagues all over the world. Much like soccer, there are leagues in Europe, North America, Australia, Latin America and Malaysia. The leagues in China and Korea dominate "League of Legends," as video games seem more culturally acceptable in those countries.
Though single player video game competitions exist, team eSports are much more prevalent but harder to organize. Like traditional sports, "League of Legends" teams have owners, managers, coaches and even sports psychologists. Gone are the days when casual groups of friends competed in the top tournaments.
With the increase in organization comes an increase in viewership. As mentioned before, about the same number of people watched Game 7 of the NBA Finals and the finals of the world championship of “League of Legends.” Last October, I was at Madison Square Garden for the semifinals. Like the Knicks games I have attended, the sold-out crowd was loud and the atmosphere was lively.
eSports have gained exposure to the mainstream media, so much so that sports media outlets like ESPN and Bleacher Report have their own section for eSports subdivided into the different video games.
eSports have grown due to associations with traditional sports leagues. "League of Legends" in particular has close ties with the National Basketball Association. The Miami Heat and the Philadelphia 76ers have teams competing in Europe and North America respectively. Sacramento Kings co-owners Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov invested in a team that competed last spring season. Three-time NBA champion Rick Fox owns his own team named after himself called Echo Fox.
In Europe, German soccer team Schalke 04 created their own eSports team where the players don the same jerseys as the soccer players.
League of Legends tournaments have had an increase in revenue and investments. Last year’s World Championship had tournament prize winnings totaling to $7 million.
eSports are a new form of competition that has grown the last few years. As eSports become more organized, increase in viewership and gain more revenue, they will continue to expand. eSports will grow with the help of traditional sports leagues such as the NBA teams and figureheads associating themselves with "League of Legends" and eSports in general.
With enough popularity and participation, there could be eSports in the Olympics.