By JJ Kim, Assistant Sports Editor of The Daily Illini. Originally published April 29, 2019. Click here to view the article in its original format.
Most people find identifying new trends difficult until they’re already blowing up. Think Apple Airpods or even the iPhone itself. Although they were revolutionary, not many people had an inkling it would be the next must-have gadget until everybody had it.
That same revolution is taking form in the world of sports: esports. Taking off like no other entertainment industry, and people are beginning to take notice. The stigma of nerds wasting their time in a fantasy world has now turned into a mainstream activity. Esports include online competitive gaming such as League of Legends and Fortnite.
A lot of this newfound acceptance has come from celebrities and athletes streaming themselves playing video games, creating a new space for them to interact with fans. It shows a more human side to the otherwise superstar lifestyle they seem to live.
Whereas in the past when traditional sports generated all the views and money for companies through sponsorships, the rise of esports has come to a point where it has begun to rival traditional sports in viewership and money-making ability.
Even in 2016, according to Statista, there were 162 million frequent watchers of esports, with more than 131 million who watch occasionally, which is more than the 2015 Super Bowl’s 111.3 million viewers. While traditional sports are seeing viewership taper off, esports has been growing exponentially every year.
With most of the viewers in their teenage or young adult years, this age group is a coveted group for advertisers. This has prompted companies like Adidas, VISA and Pepsi to get a head start in that market by sponsoring different esports events and companies.
As viewership in esports continues to grow, so does the money involved.
Epic Games, the makers of the smash hit video game Fortnite, announced in May of last year they provided $100 million to fund prize pools for their competitions. League of Legends, renowned as the most popular PC game in the world, has seen its top tournament’s purse grow in size every year, offering $6.45 million in 2018. League of Legend’s rival game, DOTA 2, had about $26 million in overall prize pools, according to easportsearnings.com.
While we wait for football head coach Lovie Smith to put the finishing touches on the football team’s rebuild and before the basketball team goes to the Big Dance, why not root for our star-studded esports teams?
Illini esports SMITE just won The National Association of College Esports’ SMITE Championship, and the Illini Esports League of Legends team will compete in the 2019 College Championship on June 7. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Most, if not all, esports teams at the University are top-tier.
Esports on college campuses have definitely been developing rapidly. With the formation of NACE, better known as the esports equivalent of the NCAA, there are already 130-plus member schools and $15 million in scholarships and aid, according to their official website. We are witnessing history being made in real time.
We’ve entered a new era where more people are beginning to interpret the phrase “warmup” for booting up their computer instead of stretching. For those who like to be at the forefront of trends, you better hop on the esports bandwagon quick.