By ALBERT JIA
About a month ago, I sat in the Staples Center waiting for a sporting event to start. The event wasn’t a basketball game, a hockey game, or any traditional sport at all, but rather the start of the League of Legends World Championships Final. League of Legends (LOL) is a “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena” game that features 2 teams, each with 5 players duking it out until one team’s main building, or nexus, explodes. Many question whether or not “professional gaming” or esports should be classified as a real sport, but it should be and here’s why.
Students all across the nation are earning scholarships to universities by playing video games, akin to how high school athletes can get sports scholarships to schools. In fact, Robert Morris University, located in Pennsylvania, offers a League of Legends scholarship that would cover about half of the tuition costs any student would incur. A collegiate league has even been developed in which many colleges are putting together teams to compete is what has been named the “Collegiate Star League” by Riot Games, the company that created League of Legends.
Another factor the legitimizes esports is the prestigious venues in which events are held and the subsequently large viewership. Other than Staples Center, the League of Legends World Championships have taken place in the Seoul World Cup stadium, Madison Square Garden, the USC Galen Center and the Mercedes Benz Arena in Berlin. Nearly every time the LOL World Championships venue is announced, tickets sell out almost instantly. According to Ernie Johnson, a host of Inside the NBA, around 12 million people attended live esports events across western Europe and North America last year. In addition to the in-person viewership, U.S. viewership of the 2013 and 2014 League of Legends World Championships were the second most viewed sporting event in all of America, with 32 million viewers – second only to the Super Bowl. These competitions garnered even more views than the World Series (14.9 million) and the NBA finals (26.4 million).
Esports teams have all the hallmarks of a professional sports team. They have coaches, analysts, sports psychologists, managers and sometimes even in-house chefs. These professionals ensure that players can give their one hundred percent to improving at the game, free from distraction. Practice isn’t easy either. Some of the best teams, most of which are from Korea, practice for up to 16 hours a day and only stop to eat and sleep. Esports require the same discipline and, to a certain extent, physical fortitude that professional sports do.
Investment from professional sports teams, retired professional players and large corporations have provided the necessary capital to further develop the esports scene. The Philadelphia 76’s recently bought Team Apex and Team Dignitas, teams in the North American professional scene. Retired NBA player Rick Fox owns his own team called Echo Fox. The Golden State warriors co-owner bought a controlling stake in Team Liquid. Shaq considers esports real sports, and even owns part of team NRG. In Korea, the birthplace of esports, the teams are sponsored by Samsung, KT Rolster, CJ and South Korea Telecom, some of the biggest corporations in Korea. This has even leaked over into the west with companies like Coke, HTC, Geico, and even Nissan, corporations which are each involved in esports somehow. Professional sports giant ESPN has even jumped on the hype train and now features esports scores and articles on its main site.
Based on their viewership and support required to maintain them, esports are clearly the next big thing. While some may be hesitant to call it a sport, the viewership numbers, legitimate investors and the feeling of fans waiting in anticipation in arenas all across the globe prove that esports are as legitimate as any other professional sport.