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Traditional Sports Are Starting To Recognize E-Sports
The gaps are closing
If you still think that it’s ludicrous pro gamers shouldn’t be considered athletes then you’re still stuck in the early 2000s. In the recent decade, video games have boomed into becoming the largest entertainment industry, consistently doubling Hollywood revenues. Games are ubiquitous—they’re on every cellphone, computer and in many countries, even on TV. Now the last gap: for the sports industry to recognize competitive gaming as serious business, seems to be closing at last.
A lot of ESPN fans are made up of a particular demographic. That is to say, manly men who like their football in the morning and their basketball in the evening. When ESPN launched a new section dedicated to e-sports right alongside other verticals like the NFL and NBA, the game changed. Suddenly e-sports had serious coverage on the most influential sports page on the planet. The shift seems to have been just in time as more people watched the League of Legends World Championships this year. When you have professional analysts, sports journalists and industry veterans writing and talking about e-sports, how can you still not call it legit?
In 2013, the US government started to take the plight of professional gamers seriously and began recognizing pro gamers as eligible for sports visas, which are normally only issued to athletes who must make trips to other countries to compete. It was a long and tedious process that was stymied by the fact that laws for the athlete visas were written without the possibility of e-sports in mind, so the qualifications for what makes a pro athlete were outdated. Now that pro gamers are considered athletes, at least for the purposes of obtaining visas, it means that the US is willing to invest in these young players to carry the country’s honor to international competitions. Hopefully we start doing the same, as our players face a lot of visa problems, too.
Perhaps one reason that people from traditional sports are starting to recognize e-sports is because it’s suddenly become very lucrative to be a part of it. With millions of viewers and limitless advertising potential, investors have been pouring into the scene in recent years. In particular, certain NBA bold-faced names have also dipped their toes. The Philadelphia 76ers acquired e-sports organization Team Dignitas this year. NRG e-sports is co-owned by Shaquille O’neal. Magic Johnson has also invested in NA e-sports giant Team Liquid. Hell, Rick Fox now has an e-sports organization of his own called Echo Fox. What are the chances that fans of these legends will also become fans of their League of Legends teams?
The Player’s Tribune
Lastly, though this may seem like an afterthought compared to the other milestones on this list, sports journal The Player’s Tribune released a feature last month that shook fanbases on both sides of the sports/e-sports divide. The Player’s Tribune published Unkillable, an essay by Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. The journal is usually reserved for personal accounts of sports athletes, but for the first time ever an e-sports athlete was featured and it was none other than the current greatest League of Legends player of all time, The Unkillable Demon King Faker. Though the traditional sports fans were shocked, the e-sports world cheered as they saw one of their idols publish a well-written and very tongue-in-cheek essay about being a professional gamer on a site for athletes.