Can you imagine that, one day, instead of betting on whether the Patriots will cover the spread against the Packers, bettors will instead be predicting how many kills a mid-lane carry will rack up or whether a virtual Lebron James will get a triple double? We may not be far off. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, it was released today, will announce the first pick at the NBA 2K League draft tomorrow night. For all you jocks, the NBA 2K League is a joint venture between the NBA and the developers of the NBA 2K video game franchise in which gamers will get paid to play NBA 2K professionally. A whopping 17 NBA franchises will sponsor 2K teams in the inaugural season, so this thing already has some momentum behind it. Not only that, but over 72,000 people tried out, a number which, through rounds of competition, has been weeded out to the best 102 NBA 2K players in America who will be drafted tomorrow night. The NBA even plans to televise games live, making this arguably the most mainstream eSports venture of all time.
The question that has to be asked, then, is are eSports the future of televised entertainment? Before you laugh at me, let’s think about this. 40 years ago, video games were something that the nerds in the AV club played in their mom’s basement. Fast forward to the 90’s and almost every kid was playing Super Nintendo and N64. Nowadays, I can hardly name anyone under 40 that doesn’t have a video game system of some type. And that doesn’t even include phones. Can you truly say your grandma hasn’t sent you 100 invites to Candy Crush? Video games have exponentially exploded in popularity and with rapid advancements in technology, there is no end in sight.
And not only are people playing video games, they are watching them. To anyone born in the 90’s or earlier, that may be an absurd proposition. Sure, you probably saw your friend beat parts of Final Fantasy VII or watched your friends race in Mario Kart since his poor family only had two controllers, but you never would have made a point to find it on TV. That, however, is no longer the case. Twitch.tv, a site solely dedicated to watching other people play video games, is one of the internet’s largest streaming sites with 100 million active users, the same number as Amazon Prime. Also, last year’s Intel Extreme Masters Katowice in Poland reeled in a crazy 46 million viewers. For reference, all three games in this years’ College Football Playoff netted a total viewership of 39.7 million. That’s right, more people tuned in to watch League of Legends and StarCraft than tuned in to watch the three biggest college football games of the year combined.
Maybe the greatest testament to the growth of eSports, though, is the Overwatch League. Overwatch is a first-person shooter, but it goes much deeper than popular games like Call of Duty. Players pick from an ever growing lineup of characters, each with vastly different arsenal of skills and weapons. Teams then work together to complete objectives and stop the other team from doing so. Now, an international Overwatch league has started up with players receiving money for housing, food, and healthcare so that they are able to treat a single video game as a full-time job. It’s happening, folks.
While you have been watching basketball and baseball, games like Hearthstone and Counter-Strike having been rapidly rising in popularity. Much like you watched Kobe Bryant and Barry Bonds excel at the sports you loved to play when you were a kid, today’s youngsters watch YouTube highlights and Twitch streams of the best players of the games they play, as well. Those games just happen to be virtual. And with future generations of children having access to more and more advanced video games as well as more and more advanced streaming platforms, there is absolutely no reason to think that this trend is going to stop. Sports are not going anywhere any time soon, but the way things are trending now, eSports will soon be giving them a run for their money.