I’m going in for the kill. I can feel how close I am, yet my prey is staying just out of my grasp. They are so close to death, yet no matter how hard I am trying, I can’t seem to end the chase. I’ve almost gone too far, and it’s beginning to get dangerous for me to be here. I take one last shot as a last ditch effort, by throwing my hammer at them as hard as I have ever thrown anything, as accurately as it could be after taking aim for only a second and a half. Luckily, I hit my target, and I see the enemy Agni fall to the ground, now dead for 28 seconds. I take my medal for a player elimination, and I creep quietly through the jungle and try to “back” to base without being seen. At the last moment, I am seen by the enemy Serqet, but luckily she misses her taunt and I get away by the skin of my teeth. I spend my 2350 in-hand gold that I have, buy a Jotunn’s Wrath, and yell “I’m the Greatest!” over and over until I get VGS spam blocked.
What the heck was that, you might ask? Well, that was a situation one might be in during a match of SMITE, a massive online battle arena (MOBA) that is very quickly making its way up in the world of professional gaming. Professional gaming, also known to many as ESports, is completely taking over the world with gaming tournaments and championships. ESports has been growing at an incredible rate over the last few years, with the industry of professional gaming now worth $720 million. While that number may seem ridiculous to most, and reasonably so, at this rate it is going to keep growing more and more each year. It is projected by some economic experts that the industry will bill pass $1 billion by 2018, not counting the sponsors of both players and events by major, non-gaming companies. Before the release of the colorful shooter Overwatch, Coke ESports (a new division of the Coca-Cola Company), sent multiple online personalities and professional players gift packages sponsoring the game, as well as limited-edition prizes, novelties, and items to give away to viewers for promotion. HP constantly sponsors League of Legends tournaments, as well as the top professional players and personalities within that community.
ESports has become a huge business for players, with some of the best players earning millions of dollars each year. But why has everyone the world over become so obsessed with professional gaming over the last few years? Let's start with this: Some 205 million people watched or played ESports in 2014, according to market research firm Newzoo -- meaning that if the ESports nation were actually a nation, it would be the fifth largest in the world. And while ESports have long been biggest in Asia, especially in Korea, North America and Europe now claim 28 million ESports fans. And it's been growing at 21% annually for the last three years, which is one of the fastest growing industries in history. So not only is it one of the biggest industries in the world, with a ridiculously giant following for hundreds of games, but it is seems to be growing exponentially each year. And it shows no signs of slowing down or letting up.
Now, let's get down to what really matters: the green (and no, I’m not talking about my SMITE gems). Esports offers an incredible amount of money to those who are good enough to earn it, with some of the best players earning millions of dollars each year. This year, the Defense of the Ancients (DOTA 2) World Championship prize pool is currently sitting at $10.9 million and is expected to be raised to $18 million by the time the tournament actually starts. To put that into perspective, the Super Bowl here in the US offers only $8 million, and the ICC Cricket World Cup offers $10 million. So there is serious money to be had in the world of Esports (if you can make it). In fact, so much money and effort is put into these competitions that the US government has begun issuing sports visas for professional gamers to visit countries, and for gamers from other countries to come to the US. (So, not only is there serious money and skill involved on a gaming level, but even on an actual sports level.) When the government of one of the most powerful countries in the world acknowledges you as an athlete, I think you’ve done pretty well for yourself.
So not only does Esports have an incredibly intense and loyal fan base, rivaling that of any physical sport, but it has been officially recognized by the government as a sport. The best players can make millions of dollars, and create a brand of their own to further expand their influence and name beyond just gaming. Take Nadeshot for example, one of the runner-ups from the 2013 Call of Duty (COD) World Championship. He started out as just another COD internet personality, yet now he has a loyal fan base of people who watch his vlogs religiously, buy his merch, which he has a ton of I might add, and use the services which sponsor him. He is now an “Internet Celebrity” because of his video gaming career, and he is making just over $1 million a year, even though he doesn’t play professionally anymore. So something that seemed childish before, getting paid to play video games all day long, is now a serious business, and it can branch off into multiple career paths online, which can be just as successful. The world is moving forward, and it’s becoming more digital. So doesn’t it seem natural that our favorite pastimes and sports do as well?