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The Rise of eSports

On March 8, 1971, “The Fight of the Century” took place at the Madison Square Garden indoor arena in New York City. Twenty-some thousand people in the arena and millions across the country tuned to witness the largest and most important boxing match of the century between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier.

Forty-five years later, sports competitions continue to draw widespread attention, but new platforms have created a new industry. Today, millions watch a multiplayer online battle arena computer game called League of Legends (LoL) created by Riot Games. The game draws teams for the Americas, Asia, and Europe to compete in a tournament for prize pools totaling five million dollars. The main objective of the 5-against-5 game is to destroy the enemy’s base. Games like these and the competitions they produce are part of the emerging “eSports,” or electronic sports, industry.

Even though it all boils down to teams behind computers trying to win a game for prize money and for the title of best team , the growth of eSports as an industry can be attributed to the same passion and support that fuels the traditional professional sport industry. Fans rush to buy jerseys, accessories, and other merchandise of their favorite gaming teams and create heated rivalries that increase overall viewership for the game. Streams showing the matches have casters whose intense commentaries make viewers more hyped and willing to watch.

Entertainment is key. eSports have proven to be something that people want and look forward to watching. For example, League’s 2015 World Championship Finals had 36 million viewers compared to the 2015 NBA Finals 20 million viewership. One reason why viewership was so high is because these games are played globally, and the world championships have had a pretty diverse turnout in team origins. As a result of the inclusiveness of these games, investors have chosen eSports as their target industry.

Last year in October 2015, Noah Whinston, a Northwestern University student, dropped out of school to pitch the idea of an eSports organization to a group of venture capitalists. He pitched the idea so well that he is now the CEO of Immortals, an eSports franchise that has one of the best LoL teams in North America.

Whinston is not the only person that has found eSports to be a potential investment that would bring a good return. Former NBA champion Rick Fox has invested time and money to create Echo Fox, a professional eSports organization.

He told Rift Herald, a LoL community based news site, that he sees “[LoL] on track in the coming years to sit comfortably at the table with the major four sports in the U.S.”

His decision and enthusiasm towards the investment has gained a lot of attention. ESPN, for example, became so interested in this growing industry that they now write articles and conduct interviews with eSport players.

What direction is this industry expected to head in the future? eSports are relatively new, and the industry is expected to have a value of one billion dollars by 2019, according to Newzoo, a market intelligence firm. This target might be reached even faster because of eSports’ rising popularity. Every month, there is news about another major investor who sees eSports as profitable. This past September, the Philadelphia 76ers and their CEO Scott O’Neil became the first professional sports organization to branch out from traditional athletic sports and own an eSports franchise.

Other companies like Redbull, Samsung, and HTC even sponsor teams in order to advertise. The future of eSports is promising; perhaps it could be something we see on our TV screens or regularly visit at a local stadium someday.

(Image courtesy of Getty)

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