VG Tribune

Opinion: eSports has Finally Achieved Mainstream Popularity by Joining Forces with ESPN

January 15, 2016 / 10:49 AM

By: Matthew Williams


The burning questions regarding the validity of competitive gaming (AKA: eSports) as a sport can finally be put to rest. ESPN officially announced their entrance into the market yesterday, by launching its own eSports section on Rejoice all ye merry gamers, for today is a victory to remember. eSports has finally achieved mainstream popularity, and it is here to stay.

In recent years, the traditional sports industry has superfluously criticized the gaming industry’s attempts at popularizing eSports for gamers worldwide. Some sports analysts have even gone as far as to put their own career on the line (I’m looking at you Colin Cowherd), in order to devalue the growing popularity of this new entertainment medium. These analysts argue that eSports cannot be defined as a true sport, due to the lack of physical exertion/effort involved.

Sangam Stadium (Seoul, South Korea) filled to capacity (i.e.: 45,000 attendees)
during the 2014 League of Legends World Championships
Source: Polygon

While eSports may lack attributes that fail this traditional definition, one must not forget about the current generation of ‘change’ that we all live in. This change is better defined as ‘keeping an open-mind to analyze and accept solutions/definitions that are alternatives to the norm’. We hear about it daily through social media and news sites – traditional definitions being challenged and redefined to be more inclusive.

Even if the redefinition of sports may be considered trivial to some, that doesn’t negate the evidence that THERE ARE passionate people who care about this topic. As a result, individuals should be open-minded enough to allow eSports the opportunity of partaking in the journey to become included in that definition. In the gaming industry’s case, eSports has the opportunity to redefine this definition by offering a new standard of ‘mental exertion/effort’ that traditional sports has failed to popularize.

To fully understand this standard, you really need to attend an eSports event (either online or in-person is fine). The level of mental planning, stamina, and execution required to play games competitively is so demanding, that it even has taxing secondary physical effects on participants. A recent example of this can be found within the competitive Super Smash Bros. community, where Jason ‘Mew2King’ Zimmerman had to drop out of Evo 2015 due to major hand pains.

Evo has also provided some of the ‘greatest comebacks’ in competitive gaming history, another testament to the degree of mental effort needed to win in tournaments. Even when the odds are stacked against players, the most resilient ones will always find ways to win. Still need an example? Look no further than Evo Moment#37 from Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, which is perhaps the most well-known (and exciting) comeback ever experienced. The mental concentration and composure Daigo Umehara (Ken) portrayed in his comeback victory against Justin Wong (Chun-Li) will be remembered for ages.


It should also be noted that eSports is extremely popular in genres other than fighting games. In fact, the most popular competitive games hail from the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre. In 2014, League of Legends had more than 11 million peak concurrent viewers (AKA: highest number of viewers at any one time) watching. To put into perspective: this is more than the 8.1 million viewers that watched Game 6 of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Finals. There’s a ‘mic-dropping’ moment for you.

The evidence presented above and ESPN’s recent announcement makes it quite clear that the eSports hype train has finally reached mainstream-type momentum. Whether that momentum continues is dependent upon whether people are willing to allow it to be a newly included piece of the broader sports picture. ESPN has acknowledged this change (for the better) – I hope you do, too.

About the author /

Matthew, a graduate from Texas Christian University, now works as a Senior Digital Analytics Consultant for Ernst & Young. With a passion for video games (mostly retro and survival horror) and data, Matthew is pursuing a career in game analytics.

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