It’s time to take eSports seriously

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I have grown to hate the average sports fan nowadays.

No matter what sport or platform, they parade their competition over others, trying to prove the sport they support is the best. Once something new tries to sprout the wings it needs to fly, they crush it. This is what the modern sports fan is doing to the eSports revolution.

As of 2014, the gaming industry brings in more than $21 billion in profits and fosters thousands of jobs per large title game produced each year.

Still, the media and most of the public treat the industry as one that strictly appeals to adults who live in their mothers’ basements or children who have yet to outgrow them. Most of the time, when the industry does get a spotlight, the media is blasting some stats about how the more violent products of the medium.

The same happened when eSports were thrust into the limelight of one of the biggest sports provider’s outlet, ESPN2.

When ESPN — the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network — announced it would air eSport programming despite earlier comments from company president John Skipper that eSports were not a real section of sports, ESPN faced scrutiny from sports fans around the world.

The first big event streamed live on the second flagship channel for the sport’s juggernaut was the finale of “Heroes of the Dorm,” a collegiate competition of the game developer Blizzard’s, known for its hit online roleplaying game “World of Warcraft.” The focus of the game is to communicate and coordinate with players on a team of five, who each choose unique characters and strategize against the opposite team.

Sound familiar? That is the basic setup of any sport that involves a team, varying in size of the teams and physical activity involved.

Yet this competition, where hours, days, weeks or even years of hard work are put into training and memorizing every detail of the characters, attacks and maps — not to mention team-building — was scoffed at by those who think their normal sports are superior.

The “real” sports fans all point out how little physical activity or viewership there is for such competition. Yet, as I said, a player can spend countless hours honing reaction time or memorizing a map, comparable to memorizing plays for a football game. Plus, the viewership for the larger eSport competitions sometimes surpasses that of the World Series or the NBA Finals.

Over 300,000 people tune in for final rounds of games like “League of Legends” or “Dota 2” on Twitch, the leading video game streaming platform. When the final set of “Street Fighter V” was streamed live from the biggest fighting game competition, EVO, it raked in 201,000-plus viewers on ESPN 2 and even more on Twitch.

Yet, no matter the event, haters or purists will always push the accolades down and assert that it does not qualify as a sport because of the technology and lack of physical aspects. Those people are slowly being converted by similar facts to what I have been saying and by the simple fact that other athletes know it’s the next big thing.

Athletes like Bill Walton, Shaquille O’Neil, Magic Johnson and many more are investing and promoting the growth of the industry. O’Neil and Walton have attended multiple events and personally greeted, eaten with and cheered on members of multiple different eSport competitions and teams.

Walton was present for all three days of EVO and cheered as loudly as any other fan during the finals of each event. He provided coverage for ESPN’s eSports division alongside writer Tyler Erzberger and appeared to be having a blast.

It’s about time for the standard sports fan to drop their ignorant outlook on eSports and face the fact that they are here to stay and will soon be shown even more, whether they like it or not. They can choose to ignore it, but more facts and stats are coming out each day that signify the dawn of a new era, one where an eSport and a regular sport, like football, can air on ESPN and ESPN2 side by side, and no hateful words will be said. They will either adapt or get left in the technological dust of the next wave of athletes.

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