The controversy over whether playing video games can, in fact, be called a sport is now fading rather fast. As viewer and fan numbers continue to climb exponentially, investors and sponsors are starting to value the phenomenon and are quietly – or otherwise – just getting into the act. Many business have sprung up offering boosting services, which help gamers achieve certain ranks and hopefully gain recognition in the e-Sport scene.
As the sport continues to get more organized, heavyweight sponsors and investors are getting in on the ground floor to take on top players and teams. Logitech and Razer were early sponsors; Coke, Nissan, and Red Bull are just a few of the newer sponsors.
A surprisingly high number of enthusiasts are high profile celebrities and sports stars. NBA players, in particular, have been quick to invest. Jonas Jerebko of the Boston Celtics has just purchased The Renegades whose well known League of Legends team was banned from competing and who now focuses on Call of Duty and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Former LA Lakers player Rick Fox owns Gravity, a formidable League of Legends team. Alex Rodriguez, Shaquille O’Neal, and Jimmy Rollins own NRG eSports with two teams that compete in Counter-Strike, Overwatch, and League of Legends respectively.
There is some speculation over why professional athletes are taking to e-Sports so readily, and the answer may be that the e-sports environment is so utterly familiar to them. It has been argued that “precise timing, careful planning, and skillful execution ought to be what classifies an activity as sport.” e-Sport is little different from basketball in that respect, as skill is the deciding factor for success and a relentless training regime is the only way to stand out. Add that you need lightning reflexes, superior eye-hand coordination and the ability to react to situations at once.
It is a team sport, and players must be loyal, supportive of achieving larger goals, and have an instinctive ability to be in the right place at the right time. Like sports superstars, e-sport fans are becoming celebrities. Some players are recognized wherever they go and are often swarmed by fans for autographs and photo opportunities. Fans adore and follow their favorite players around.
e-Sports’ bigger tournaments rival many sporting events. The League-of-Legends Championship did sell out the 40,000 seat World-Cup Stadium in Seoul in 2014 with an average online audience of 27 million. Around 205 million people followed eSports in 2014. Europe and North America now claim nearly 30 million eSports fans, not to mention the number increases by 21 percent per year. Some midweek live streams often attract over 100,000 online viewers.
Prize money can add up to millions of dollars per year – Dota 2 players received close to $65 million in prize money, including 12 players who won more than $1 million each and League of Legends has awarded nearly $30 million this year.
Sponsorships are another very familiar part of the e-sports scene. Pro gamers play for official teams, who feature their sponsors prominently on websites, team jerseys and social media. Some of the biggest teams have over 1.27 million social media followers, and branding and logo placements have become an integral part of the scene.
Fan demographics makes this new sponsorship field incredibly exciting. E-Sport fans are far from the “Young, single, male … living in a basement” stereotype. The face of e-gaming is young, digital, global, and incredibly diverse. Over half are employed full-time, 45% are parents, with a significant number being female.
Many professional athletes play video or online games to pass the time as they travel from tournament to competition. Gordon Hayward is just one of the several NBA players involved in e-sports and is a well ranked League of Legends, StarCraft and Halo player. In 2007, Gilbert Arenas sponsored the top Halo team Final Boss.
Given the similarities between the worlds of top level e-sports and the existing professional athlete culture, it is highly likely that more professional athletes will be joining the e-Sport fray. With the popularity of video gaming becoming a sport, it’s not surprise that businesses offering such services have sprung up over the course of the recent years.