The New Spectator Sport: Electronic Gaming

By Jon Stinson

The Internet- After years of opposition, the definition of what is a sport is being expanded. Recently, Esports (or electronic sports) have gained traction in the world of spectator sports. Video games like Overwatch, Rainbow Six: Siege, and battle royale games like Player Unknown: Battlegrounds have burst into the esports community while commanding large viewerships and high prize pools. The popular trading card game Magic: The Gathering has reinvented and marketed their game towards esports with the launch of Magic: Arena, an online platform for the game. The huge increase in popularity of these electronic sports as shown by increasing views and prize pool amounts is bringing esports to the mainstream.

One of the largest metrics used to judge a budding spectator sport is viewership, and the dramatic increase in esport and competitive gaming viewership is really driving the wider acceptance of the activity. Esports has the added factor that many professional gamers also stream their private gaming, giving viewers even more access to competitors. Avid event and competitor viewer “xHailSturmx” (her screen name has been used as requested for privacy) has attended live events and regularly watches streams of competitive gamers on the popular streaming service

“It’s really day and night, actual tournaments are far more serious and sporting-like while watching pros stream is like hanging out with them. They’re more personable, and answer questions constantly,” she said.

While games such as the popular RTS (Real-Time Strategy) game Starcraft have boasted long time popularity abroad in places like South Korea (with prizes as high as $47,000 as far back as 1999), esports hasn’t been accepted into the world of spectator sports or sports in general until recently. Hasbro subsidiary Wizards of the Coast launched the open beta of Magic: Arena in September of 2018, and has since put on tournaments as recently as March 2019 with a prize pool of $1 million dollars. These rewards compare to the 2019 Masters golf tournament which boasted an $11.5 million dollar prize pool. By comparison, The Masters has been around since 1934 and started with a prize pool of $1,500 (comparable to over $28,000 today).

“The accessibility of these events makes the prize money even more appealing. The Magic ‘Mythic Invitational’ left a chance for any player of mythic competitive rank to compete.” said “xHailSturmx.”

The lack of physical barrier for entry in competitive gaming is a major draw. Anyone capable of playing the game can reach a competitive level, and there are a number of controller interfaces to allow anyone to play regardless of disability or restriction.

While we edge towards the second quarter of the 21st century, the future for esports looks promising. Audience projections for 2022 predict esports audiences increasing by nearly 200 million, and it’s easy to see those numbers continuing to grow. Who knows, maybe esports events will one day reach the magnitude of the celebration surrounding the SuperBowl. Though without the support physical sports receive in the United States, and the lack of any sort of national league, esports will continue to slowly gain popularity.

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