Yes, you can sit in a chair in front of a computer and be an athlete. Professional video gaming — “e-sports” to those in the know — is a growing global phenomenon. There’s more prize money for e-sports today than there’s ever been. Televised coverage is on the upswing. And pro gamers are garnering ever more respect to go with the cash they’re pulling in.
Here are five pieces of info about this up-and-coming sport (or pastime, depending on how you look at it):
1. E-sports have been around for decades.
In 1980, Atari staged the First National Space Invaders Competition. It drew more than 10,000 participants. During the arcade craze that followed, pro gamer Leo Daniels earned press coverage for gaming marathons in which he achieved huge scores in games like Asteroids, Robotron, and Tempest. He would spend up to 42 hours in a single session.
The modern era of e-sports might be considered to date from 1997, when legendary gamer Dennis “Thresh” Fong took home a Ferrari as the grand prize for winning Red Annihilation, a competition in the first-person shooter game Quake.
2. You can make serious money playing video games.
The best pro gamers make a comfy living off what they do. For example, StarCraft II pro Lee “Jaedong” Jae-Dong has earned more than $500,000 in prize money to date. (Factor in endorsements, and it’s likely more.) Tournament purses continue to rise, too. This week, The International 4 — a global competition for the game Dota 2 – concluded in Seattle, with the winning team, China’s NewBee, taking home more than $5 million. The tournament’s total purse exceeded $10 million. By contrast, the total prize money for Wimbledon this year was about $42 million. Gaming is closing the gap.
3. The U.S. government has recognized e-sports players as legitimate athletes …
Last July, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recognized the video game League of Legends as a professional sport after negotiations with its publisher, Riot Games. The first pro gamer to receive a visa in this category was Canadian League of Legends player Danny “Shiphtur” Le, who was permitted to come to the United States to train for the world championships that October.
4. … and so has one of South Korea’s top universities.
Earlier this year, Chung-Ang University announced that it will begin accepting e-sports players as athletes for the purposes of gaining admission to its Department of Sports Science. While this sort of legitimization is perhaps not surprising in a country where e-sports is a major part of the culture, it could also show which way the wind is blowing internationally.
5. It’s on ESPN.
There’s already been a massive amount of e-sports coverage on YouTube and Twitch, and on official game tournament sites. And now the big boys are getting into the game. ESPN broadcast the final rounds of the Dota 2 tournament, The International 4, on its streaming service, ESPN3. Just to give you a taste, here’s an actual quote from some of the play-by-play commentary on that broadcast: “I’m surprised that Banana [Jiao “Banana” Wang] didn’t go for an item like Aghanim’s [Scepter], which would just increase your damage output, and his survivability, but Force Staff is one of the best utility items in the entire game, so no surprise that he’s going for it.” Get used to it, world.
You can email Gordon Cameron here.