Daily 49er

Esports are coming for your balls

What was once a shameful hobby for nerds is now a booming sports industry.

The+lights+go+down+as+play+begins+before+a+large+crowd+at+the+League+of+Legends+World+Championship+at+Staples+Center+in+Los+Angeles+on+October+29%2C+2016.+%28Luis+Sinco%2FLos+Angeles+Times%2FTNS%29
The lights go down as play begins before a large crowd at the League of Legends World Championship at Staples Center in Los Angeles on October 29, 2016. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The lights go down as play begins before a large crowd at the League of Legends World Championship at Staples Center in Los Angeles on October 29, 2016. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

TNS

TNS

The lights go down as play begins before a large crowd at the League of Legends World Championship at Staples Center in Los Angeles on October 29, 2016. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

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Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals set viewership records for the league, with 31 million people tuning in to watch LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers take on Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. It was the most-watched series in almost 20 years, but it wasn’t even the most popular sporting event of the night.

According to Riot Games, 36 million people around the world instead had their eyes fixated on screens showing a much less traditional event–the video game League of Legends.

Esports is loosely defined as organized professional gaming, and in 2016 it was a half-billion dollar industry. A Dota 2 tournament had an over $20 million prize pool, with the winning team taking 9 million as a result. In 2017 it showed no signs of slowing down, selling out major arenas across the country including Staples Center in Los Angeles, KeyArena in Columbus and even Madison Square Garden in New York City.

In the next few years, Americans will start seeing video games on national television more and more often, and soon Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch will be competing for prime time slots against the likes of the NFL and NBA.

Don’t believe me? Just ask Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots. He’s the new owner of the Boston Uprising, an Overwatch League team joining Blizzard’s leap into the sports deep end.

“This is a growth area,” Kraft said during his team’s announcement. “Look at a company like Facebook 20 years ago, look where they are. I think esports has the same chance to see the same kind of dynamic growth, and we want to play in it.”

Overwatch is a 6-on-6 shooter with various game modes, with its own take of King of the Hill-style and point-based objectives. It has a roster of 26 different characters that fill certain positions, such as tanks who soak up lots of damage, damage dealers who go after the other team and supports, who keep their teammates alive.

Built on the foundation major sports associations have been using for decades, The Overwatch League was announced last year and kicked off in 2018 to impressive numbers, with major investors from the traditional sporting world. Kraft isn’t the only figurehead getting in, either. New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon will be take the helm of the unfortunately named New York Excelsior, taking on Kraft’s Boston Uprising and 10 other teams in a season with regularly scheduled matches, a set playoff schedule and a minimum salary of $50,000 for every player in the league.

The boom for esports comes at a time when many traditional leagues are having trouble with viewership, especially the NFL. This is part of the reason that, according to Newzoo, 22 percent of young men watch esports, putting it just behind baseball and hockey here in the States. Soon that number will grow and spread to other demographics.

Esports are coming for your television screens, and there’s nothing the NFL or any other league can do about it.

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