Why eSports should be taken more seriously

The start of the new year signals the start of multiple different eSports leagues across the world. Multiple different variations of the League of Legends Championship started in the last week. Chinese leagues started on Jan. 16, Koreans started on Jan. 17, Europeans started on Jan. 19 and North Americans followed suit on Jan. 20. The Hearthstone World Championship began on Jan. 18 as a culmination of the invitational tournaments over the last year. The biggest news this year is that Blizzard’s new project, the Overwatch League, started up on Jan. 10, birthing a potential new dynasty in the realm of eSports.
The rise of eSports as an industry has been hard to grasp by some people, specifically in Western regions like America and Europe where there’s less of a pre-existing eSports infrastructure like there are in China and Korea. The main argument brought up in this situation is that the video games aren’t as physically taxing as real sports and thus should not be considered as such.
Very recently, the Players Tribune released an article around Peng “Doublelift” Yiliang, a professional Attack Damage Carry for Team Liquid’s League of Legends team and his recent roster change away from Team SoloMid. The Players’ Tribune is a website that allows athletes to publish articles written mostly, if not entirely in their own words to tell their story. In light of Doublelift’s article, journalist Keith Olbermann ripped the Players’ Tribune by telling them they “jumped the shark by publishing pieces by snotty rando kids playing children’s games.” While this might have been a PR trick to gain attention, it raises the issue that people still do not believe eSports are legitimate.
This is not the first eSport athlete to have been published by Players’ Tribune. Most notably, another professional League of Legends player named Faker was published as well, and he is a three-time world champion of the game. Doublelift is by no means a small name either, as he’s garnered one of the biggest followings in North America. On top of that, he is easily more popular than some of the athletes of traditional sports that have been published by the site as well.
Regardless, eSports is fast on the track to legitimacy in the world. Specifically, the competitive League of Legends scene is booming. Ronaldo Fenomeno, two-time World Champion in soccer, appeared at the Mid-Season Invitational Tournament in Brazil for League. The World Championship tournament held in the fall of 2017 took in 1.2 billion hours of watch time amongst the fans of the game. Through in-game transactions, the player base also managed to contribute over $2.5 million to the prize pool for the tournament, which peaked at just under $5 million overall.
Apart from the numbers, the North American league established a franchising system for this year, meaning the team positions are permanent and they can make longer-term deals. Many sports teams have stakes in the league now as well. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, and Houston Rockets from the NBA all have their own individual teams involved. Former NBA player Rick Fox also owns his own team in the league, and aside from these they have attracted lucrative sponsorships from some major companies, including Snickers, T-Mobile, Acer, Coca-Cola and American Express.
The Overwatch League is also a point of interest for the development of eSports as a whole. Being a very new game, the Overwatch League still managed to bring in 10 million views in its inaugural weekend. This is well earned, as the investment Blizzard put into this is almost unimaginable for something so new. The first big move was when they picked up former League of Legends casters Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles and Erik “DoA” Lonnquist who had established themselves already as the best casting duo in that specific game.
The production quality during the actual games was ridiculous, regardless of who was casting. The behind-the-scenes crew at Overwatch League were keeping games interesting by constantly highlighting various people and teams with random facts that made me personally feel more invested in the players I was watching. For someone who’s new to competitive eSports, it was overall very friendly and it helped make certain names stand out as players to watch.
Competitive Overwatch is only adding to the continued growth of eSports as a legitimate industry. The numbers prove it, the fan commitment proves it and it’s only a matter of time before people have no choice but to take it seriously.