Esports a Sport?
There is no question that people enjoy video gaming. According to steamcharts.com, there are 14.6 million people logged into Steam right now (1/23/2019 at 1:22pm cst). DMR reports that Blizzard's Overwatch has 40 million active players. Not to mention Fortnite which has widely reported reaching a peak of 8.3 million concurrent players and a total number of players of 200 million. Of course, those statistics are worldwide and players in the U.S. represent less than half. To estimate U.S. participation, let's use a NewZoo statistic that attributes 32% of gaming revenues to the United States. So, that's 4.7 million steam users (right now), 12.8 million playing Overwatch, and 64 million that play Fortnite. Now for some perspective...According to a 2018 study published by the Sports Fitness Industry Association, 14.9 million people in the U.S. played basketball regularly 2017. This figure drops to 9.2 million for baseball, 5.3 million for outdoor soccer, and 1.3 million for ice hockey. These figure do not even take into account that participation in most sports drops off considerably for older teens and young adults - not so for video gaming.
Recent trends point to video gaming's potential as a competitive sport. Major players in professional sports, including NBA and NHL owners have invested millions in teams. Colleges teams and leagues have formed, some offering scholarships to the best players. High schools are starting to follow suit with leagues and tournaments forming. What people (parents) have trouble wrapping their heads around is video gaming's viability as a spectator sport and the desire to gather and play.
Looking first at the spectator aspect, the similarities that gaming has with other sports should not be discounted. Just like baseball, basketball, and hockey, people not only enjoy playing recreationally but also competing. They also enjoy watching more skilled players (professionals) compete. Just like any other sport, there are elite players that others admire and follow. These elite player already have millions of fans and are true professional athletes. You may not see it now, but "Home Teams" are in the works.
Given video gaming's nature, it is not surprising that many assumed it would remain a virtual phenomenon. As a consultant to the convention center industry, I am often asked if the proliferation of virtual meetings has had a negative impact on conventions and conferences. The answer is No. Our desire to meet and gather is still strong. If anything, the ability to connect on the internet with others has allowed us to find new groups of people with similar interests. After creating a strong virtual connection, meeting in-person is an exciting and natural next step. Not buying it? Try going to a Rooster Teeth Convention (RTX) and see for yourself how strong and meaningful a virtual community can be.
With respect to Esports, just like any other sport, we can watch competitions on television or on-line, but to see a sport's best compete live and in the company of other fans, is something special.
Catherine Sarrett is the President of Strategic Venue Studies, a consulting firm dedicated to sports, entertainment, and convention venues. She has provided feasibility analyses and economic impact assessments to facilities throughout North America.