WASHINGTON — A stadium is packed with 40,000 spectators. Tens of millions more watch online, and even in theaters that have been reserved to broadcast the event on the big screen. It’s the World Championship … of the League of Legends video game.
A far cry from the privacy of basements or game rooms, the hyper-popular online game — which boasts roughly 27 million daily users around the world — has become a viable spectator sport. With teams that live and train together competing for a $1 million first prize, the virtual game has moved into a very real and very lucrative space.
Earlier this year, Robert Morris University created the first American video game scholarship, awarded to 35 students. The scholarship means the players — all of whom are playing League of Legends — are treated as varsity athletes. It’s a first step toward speaking about e-sports, as video games are now being referred, in the same breath as real sports.
But could gaming make the ultimate breakthrough into mainstream athletics to become part of the Olympics?
Rob Pardo, creator of World of Warcraft, recently told BBC that he believes “there’s a very good argument for e-sports being in the Olympics.” And while it’s certainly hard to argue with the global interest in the competitive activity, there are other hurdles to clear before we see anyone gaming for gold, silver and bronze.
Even if the sports bodies accept that gaming falls into a similar mental skill-set category to chess, that won’t necessarily help it make the Olympics. After all, chess is still not an Olympic sport. And some sports executives aren’t even willing to concede that much.
“It’s not a sport,” said ESPN President John Skipper at a conference in New York, according to the New York Post.
That’s a notable statement coming from the head of a sports entertainment network that includes poker, spelling bees and the Nathan’s Famous hot dog-eating contest on its list of programming.
There’s also the issue of the game itself. While League of Legends has grown into a giant and dominates the marketplace right now, there are thousands of games, and a new one could very well come along to unseat the current king. If the industry shifted its attention (and its money) to a different kind of game, would there still be a unified front to push for IOC recognition?
Whether such recognition will ever be given, e-sports have made their biggest inroad yet into the world of mainstream sports.