While eSports is currently popular among teenagers and young adults, it is still not considered “mainstream” enough to be routinely mentioned in our society. However, this will likely change in the future and we can already see what that future could be like. South Korea has played a significant role in the popularization of eSports through the online video game Starcraft that’s commonly referred to as South Korea’s unofficial “national sport”. In South Korea today, competitive video games are taken very seriously. There are dedicated channels on television in South Korea that serve as an ‘ESPN’ for all video game related news and coverage. Professional gamers in South Korea are treated like pop-culture celebrities and can commonly be seen on many different advertisements and commercials in South Korea. These players make a living through various sponsorship and by playing at both national and international game tournaments with prize pools ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Similar to how there are dedicated sports leagues for college or even high school sports, a few games have also created tournaments that allow high school and college level players to compete in. The University of Maryland College Park already have teams, made up of students, in a variety of games that compete in national college-level eSport competitions, such as the Collegiate Star League or Dota League. Another example is the High School Starleague, a tournament for high school students for the game Starcraft II that has been hosted for three times (known as seasons) already. As these events and tournaments grow and expand, eSports will become more integrated into mainstream culture. Wang, the winner of past High School Starleague seasons, says that “[t]he reason why those [traditional] sports are so big, it’s not just because of the infrastructure. Kids have been watching football, playing basketball, playing baseball since they were young…In order for [eSports] to be socially acceptable, in order for kids to be able to play [games], you need to have some sort of competition that legitimizes eSports in high school.”
While professional gamers and eSports might not ever become as popular as the sports scene in America today, there is no doubt that the popularity eSports is growing. As the popularity grows, so does the popularity and attention to the players and the community supporting them. In Valve’s free-to-play MOBA (Massive Online Battle Arena) game Dota 2, each year there is a tournament, known as “The Internationals”, that invites the top sixteen teams in the world to compete for fame and money. For The Internationals in 2013, the initial prize pool was 1.6 million U.S. dollars. However, about two months before the actual tournament, Valve released an in-game purchase that for each one bought, $2.50 would be added to the prize pool. In the course of those few months, players in the community raised the initial prize pool from $1.6 million dollars to a grand total of $2,874,380. As communities in various games grow, there is no doubt that the amount of support and revenue from these games will also increase.
Some companies already see the potential economic benefits of eSports. Coca-Cola recently formed a partnership with Riot, the company responsible for the popular MOBA game League of Legends, as a sponsor future eSports events and is reported as saying, “Since Coke is a global brand, we see value in the global nature of eSports.” Other companies around the world are beginning to recognize the influence of eSports. Riot’s Vice President of eSports says the Qualcomm, Nissan, and American Express have all signed on to sponsor tournaments and that “none of these sponsors knew what eSports was maybe a year ago, and so these companies are very exciting to [them] because it’s kind of confirmation that this is something that is appealing to big blue chip brands.” He also talks about potential deals in the future with companies such as Netflix or Hulu to broadcast eSports.
Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco, a professional player in League of Legends, says that “ESports in the U.S. will go more the Korean path, where you’ll see it more on TV. You’ll see brands like McDonalds and Taco Bell sponsoring players and teams. Once you see eSports on TV and in commercials like you see NFL or NBA players, it’s going to become more mainstream. It might not happen in five years, but I can see it definitely happening in the next ten years.”