The relationship between traditional sports and eSports

Since the announcement that eSports were being considered for the 2024 Olympic Games, people have been saying that it would be a joke, as many were unable to see the relationship between traditional sports and eSports. Social media posts have been littered with nonsense like, “The Olympics are for athletes, not for fat kids snacking on chips at their computers.” It’s 2017, and it’s pretty obvious that people still don’t quite understand eSports, how serious an industry it is and apparently the fact that many eSports organizations have their players on strict physical conditioning regimens and diets. Perhaps, then it would be beneficial to examine the roots that eSports has in traditional sports, and just a few of the ways that eSports is taking huge strides in mirroring sports structures that most people are familiar with.

eSports is a multi-million dollar industry, and big sports names are involved

By now, you’ve probably seen Street Fighter on ESPN. Maybe you’ve even caught a glimpse of H1z1 on The CW. You’ve accepted the fact that it’s big enough to be on TV, but you just don’t understand the point of burning a time slot on competitive video gaming. As with most things, it’s easiest to do the convincing with dollar figures.

Let’s use Overwatch League as an example here, and we’ll jump back to it throughout this article.

Game developer, Blizzard Entertainment, announced last year that it was attempting something that no one has ever done before. They were going to launch an eSports league with localized teams that aimed at becoming just as big as any traditional sports league. The rumored buy-in price was said to be $20 million, and people scoffed. After a number of months and several team reveals, it’s now known that there will be teams in San Francisco, Miami-Orlando, New York, New England, London, South Korea, Austin, Shanghai, and two teams in Los Angeles. Blizzard also guarantees its Overwatch League players a $50,000 a year salary with benefits, and there’s a $1 million minimum prize waiting for the champions of the first season next year.

Take a look at some of the names involved in Overwatch League. How about Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots? He owns the Boston team. Their New York rivals are owned by Jeff Wilpon, COO of the New York Mets. Down in Miami, Heat CEO, Nick Arison, has a major stake in Misfits, the organization that owns the Miami-Orlando team. Over on the West Coast, Stan Kroenke, owner of the Los Angeles Rams, owns one of the Los Angeles teams. Stephen Kaplan, co-owner of the Memphis Grizzlies, has a stake in Immortals, the eSports organization that runs the other Los Angeles team. The San Francisco team is managed by NRG, the eSports organization co-owned by Shaquille O’Neal, Alex Rodriguez, Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard. If you go across the pond, Cloud9, a team with investors such as San Francisco Giants outfielder, Hunter Pence, and San Francisco 49ers great, Joe Montana, picked up the London spot.

Overwatch League is going to have franchises owned by some of the biggest names in sports. The goal is that it will operate just like the NFL or the MLB, with home and away games and inserting teams into local business ecosystems. Get ready, you very well might see Overwatch League billboards along the highway real soon. All this, and with sports money and minds behind it.

Athletes and entertainers love eSports and want to help the industry grow

I’ve already given you some names from people involved on the business side, but there are quite a few professional athletes that are involved in the scene themselves. Pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, Trevor May, is actually a sponsored streamer with eSports organization, Luminosity Gaming. Apart from frequently commenting and posting about eSports on Twitter, May recently posted a cryptic video about a huge eSports project that he wants to get off the ground. Not many details are known, but he’s looking for content creators of all sorts to help with his ambitious, 24-hours-a-day stream.

It’s long been known that Hunter Pence is an avid gamer. Honestly, the guy just seems pretty badass in general, especially with that Game of Thrones walk-up music. While Pence’s most obvious investment in eSports is through Cloud9, he also hopes to launch some eSports coffee shops to help cultivate eSports scenes at the grassroots level. Most ask, “Why not bars?” Because teenagers can’t go to bars! Legally, anyway. Most pro gamers start training in their early teens and get signed right out of high school.

EDM star Steve Aoki and rapper Lupe Fiasco are both eSports competitors. Apart from playing Call of Duty and other titles, Aoki is also co-owner of Rogue, one of the best North American eSports organizations around. Fiasco has been a top-tier Street Fighter player for years, most recently having beaten Street Fighter god, Daigo Umehara, in a showcase match of Street Fighter V (it was real, man, not staged…wait…). He also follows several other games, including Call of Duty.

Overwatch World Cup, Santa Monica. Photo: Robert Paul

Food for thought

Every cultural phenomenon started somewhere. For every Giancarlo Stanton smashing home runs in front of every fan sitting at home or in bars, there were a few guys arguing whether or not Americans had reinvented the English game called Rounders. It starts with a small grassroots movement until it weaves its way into the fabric of society. That’s where we are with eSports. Today, there are collegiate eSports clubs with associated scholarships, full-blown eSports bars, and a huge selection of high-quality gear from your favorite eSports teams. Every cultural avenue that traditional sports have conquered are quickly becoming saturated by eSports. Is it so odd, then, that people are entertaining the idea of including competitive gaming in the Olympics? As the 18-34 demographic continue to influence this “wireless” cultural shift, it’s only a matter of time before we hear a couple of old people talking about that DotA 2 match they saw the other night.

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