By Melissa Platero, CCNN Writer
While millions tune in to regular sports channels to watch their favorite teams duke it out with old rivals on the field or the court, there’s an increasingly popular non-athletic “sport” that’s settled behind a computer screen. Crack those knuckles and fire up that laptop, because competitive video gaming – or “eSports” – is bringing millions of dollars and gamers together with all the fan worship, intense rivalries, and shouting of a regular sporting match.
So, how did this whole eSports trend start? Well, it all began back in the 90s with StarCraft, a real-time strategy game by Blizzard (the company behind World of Warcraft and Diablo). The military sci-fi game was super popular after releasing in 1998, and competitive matches started popping up in South Korea. Teams and individuals participated in professional competitions, with the top gamers earning paid sponsorships from companies wanting to advertise their products. Over 10 years later, StarCraft II came out in July 2010, and Blizzard seized the opportunity by organizing World Championship Series events with a $1.6 million prize pool.
Now, however, the big dog is Riot Games’ League of Legends (LoL), which was actually based on a modified version of Blizzard’s Warcraft strategy game. In LoL, teams control characters in an online battle arena, and the championship broadcast in 2013 had 32 million viewers watching! And, there was about $15.6 million in prize money on the table for those gamers who were able to out-click, out-think, and out-game the competition. Then, in July of 2014, teams from the Americas, Southeast Asia, China, and Europe competed for a $10.5 million prize pool as part of Valve’s Dota 2 Championship, for a truly record-breaking gaming fest. This year, the Dota 2 tournament prize pool broke the $18 million mark!
Just like there’s a Major League Baseball organization, there’s a Major League Gaming (MLG) organization that’s actually been around since 2002. Headquartered in New York, the MLG has hosted video game tournaments in the USA and Canada, even coordinating broadcasts of eSports on ESPN.com! Now, they’re expanding into Brazil, where the nation’s citizens spent about $2.6 billion on video games in 2012. The MLG says this is just the first of many international expansions to come. As eSports become increasingly popular, I wonder… will future “athletes” trade in their uniform for some comfy couch clothes, their gym membership for a laptop, and their physical exercise for mental exercise?
Images courtesy of Major League Gaming Facebook.