For most people, the term “sport” spurs ideas of athleticism or images of players competing on a field or court in an all out test of athletic skill. While these ideas and images are not wrong, the definition of “sport” is quickly changing to encompass new genres. As computers become more powerful and readily available, a new type of sport has begun to surface. Officially recognized by ESPN, esports, is on the rise. Short for “electronic sports”, this new category is redefining the existing values of the sporting industry by shedding light onto players with non-traditional skill sets.
Video game development companies as well as several independent companies have built arenas to showcase competitions of professional esport teams, generating a lot of buzz from the video game communities. With over 40 million players, Overwatch, a competitive, team-based game developed by Blizzard Entertainment, is one of the leading games with an esports league, among many others. During a tournament, the arena will be packed with an audience of enthusiastic gamers, watching gameplay of the competitors on screens that cover entire walls of the arena. As expected, the audience of these tournaments extends far beyond the arena. With commentators describing every action and play of the game, each tournament is broadcast worldwide through a live stream over the internet. The Overwatch League streams have peaked at over half a million viewers worldwide, proving the world’s interest in the genre.
Of course, just like any other sport, not all 40 million average players will be professionals. For example, the Overwatch League only has 12 professional teams. While there are more players on minor-league teams, there are less than 100 players on these professional teams. However, these players are the best of the best. Just like in traditional sports, esport competitors train a minimum of 50 hours per week and often much more. With less than 100 spots available and the intense hours spent staring at a screen, this elite group of players have become role models for the non-professional players of the game. Some large companies, including Coca-Cola and Red Bull have also begun to sponsor the players in attempts to capitalize on the growing fan base.
While esports is far from the typical idea of a “sport”, it is actively increasing in popularity. Hundreds of thousands have already recognized it as one of the next great sport genres, and the numbers continue to grow. Could esports become the next great American (and worldwide) pastime?