eSports, with a fanbase of around 190m ‘occasional’ fans attracts viewership numbers for key gaming events second only to the Super Bowl final in the U.S. Yet, for many people gaming is a niche, specialist hobby for teens hidden away in dark bedrooms.
The growth of eSports has (unsurprisingly) happened online, through dedicated channels for eSports events and the Youtube of gaming – Twitch – which was bought by Amazon in 2014 for $970m. With growth continuing, what’s interesting is just how much the future of eSports is developing into the conventional sports we follow on a Saturday afternoon. Here are four examples of why:
1. Teams and Franchise Ownership
Former sports stars and current sports clubs are buying up eSports franchises left right and centre. eSports franchise Team Liquid sold its controlling interest to a group of investors including NBA Hall-of-Famer Magic Johnson and co-owners of the Golden State Warriors and the Washington Wizards. The Philadelphia 76ers have also purchased two franchises and plan to use their considerable resources to bolster sponsorships, content development, social and digital media and player development for Team Dignitas.
2. Performance Enhancement
Amphetamines that enhance energy and alertness such as the prescription drug for ADHD, Adderall, have already been exposed as widely used within professional gaming leagues. In 2015, the Electronic Sports League (ESL) aligned its list of banned substances with the World Anti-Doping Agency list and has started conducting random drug tests at events.
3. Physical prowess
As gaming and VR technology continues to improve, technologies are beginning to challenge the physical prowess of gamers. Two examples, ‘active VR’ platform Virtuix Omni and The Void, put players in virtual worlds that are experienced through physical movement. They provide a peek into a future where eSports contest winners demonstrate the type of physical athleticism currently reserved for traditional sports athletes.
4. Mainstream broadcasting
Despite reluctance by eSports leagues to court traditional broadcasters, broadcasters themselves sense the size of the opportunity and the chance to attract totally new viewer demographic. ESPN covers eSports news online, but live broadcasts are sporadic. Turner Sports has already set up its own eSports league (ELeague) in the U.S, broadcasting it in a similar way to its NBA and PGA.com coverage.
The future, beyond the bedroom?
All this creates an uncertain future for eSports. Will current fans and players reject traditional sports management and coverage in favour of their alternative culture and values? Or will the money talk, with eSports gracing our Saturday afternoon screens and newspaper back pages in a couple of years’ time? The next few years of this influential sport’s development will hold the answers.
Header image credit: ESL