Until sometime around the turn of the century, gaming was often seen as something of a socially unacceptable past time, its most ardent critics blaming it for all the ills of society and calling for the most violent of titles to outright banned.
In 2017 however, not only have such titles continued to enjoy mass popularity, but they’ve even gone on to form a whole new sports discipline: esports.
For spectators, and especially for participants, eSports (or Electronic Sports, if you prefer), gaming is no longer merely a pastime at all, but a thriving, multi-million dollar industry to rival the likes of the NFL, or England’s Premier League soccer.
Players are no longer merely enthusiasts, but fully fledged professional players, commanding salaries and building up fanbases, with the biggest stars in the industry serving as gaming’s answer to football’s Ronaldo or tennis’ Roger Federer.
Need proof? Look no further than the 12,000 fans who packed the LA Lakers’ home stadium at the Staples Centre to watch China and Korea go head to head in the League of Legends World Finals back in 2013.
Such impressive attendance records have even caused bookmakers to sit up and take note, adding credence to eSports status as a fully fledged, bona fide sporting event by taking bets on the biggest events.
At the time of writing, bookmakers were offering 1/4 odds on Team Splyce triumphing at the League of Legends – EU LCS Summer Split.
Using a betting calculator, even gamers not familiar with the traditional sports betting markets are able to place a wager on those big name competitions, adding a level of intensity to the viewing experience that you’d normally only find with a high-stakes horse race or football league final.
Nor is 12,000 people particularly uncommon, or even all that impressive when compared to other major eSports events.
In 2015, a mind-blowing 52,000 people flocked to Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt, Germany for the ESL One DOTA 2 event. What is even more impressive, is that in the eyes of the eSports faithful, that event merely serves as a forerunner to the even bigger DOTA Internationals.
The following year, ESL One 2016 not only clocked up attendances of 14,000 for each separate day of the competition, whilst a truly staggering 31.4 million households across the globe were said to have streamed the event live over the Internet.
Compare that to the recent Champions League final, which BT Sports made available for free on Youtube, despite paying almost £900 million for the exclusive broadcast rights.
According to The Guardian, only 1.8 million took advantage of the free coverage, with an additional 4.3 million tuning into BT’s subscription TV channel to watch Cristiano Ronaldo lead Real Madrid to victory in the final.
Though these numbers are certainly not insignificant, they are particularly telling when stacked up against eSports surprising viewership numbers.
Exactly what these figures reveal is simple:
That gaming, far from being the socially unacceptable pastime of old, is now as legitimate a competition as any major traditional sport, and for investors and sports fans alike, must surely be treated as such.
Whether that means eSports begins to enjoy the kind of mainstream coverage and mass media participation enjoyed by the top flight soccer, NFL, and others remains to be seen, but if the current trend in popularity is anything to go by, is all that unrealistic to imagine the likes of BT Sports one day paying the same kind of huge sums that they paid for the Champions League for coverage rights to the next DOTA 2 tournament.