Competitive gaming breaks the mold

According to history.com, video games began as an experiment for scientists to test simulations, but evolved into a way for people to kill time and enjoy themselves. When playing video games people are sometimes able to do things that aren’t possible in the real world, such as slaying dragons, going on a grand adventure, exploring the great unknown of space, et cetera.

Today however, video games can be more than just a hobby. For some people, video games are their career, and it’s one that is growing in popularity, with large player bases and viewerships for professional play.  

eSports is defined by Dictionary.com as “competitive tournaments of video games, especially among professional gamers”. As the name implies, it’s considered to be a form of sport, with teams that are formed of professional players, playing specific games in tournament or event settings.

Northwood University has added eSports as a varsity level sport. Some students like senior Connor Sensabaugh plan on attending the institution for the purpose of playing eSports competitively.

“Who doesn’t want to get paid to play video games?,” Sensabaugh said. “I think sports in the traditional sense are kind of going downhill.”

According to olympic.com, there was an Olympic summit held in October of 2017 that discussed eSports possibly being an Olympic sport, right along more traditional sporting events.  

Sensabaugh also thinks that getting into the eSports scene early is best for people who are looking on going into the practice.

“The future of sports, I think, is eSports, so entering that field while it’s still growing gives you definitely and advantage over people that will be coming in later,” Sensabaugh said.

Sensabaugh is considered to be quite good at eSports specific games by the Northwood eSports team, which is the reason he is attending Northwood University. Sensabaugh will be primarily focusing on the battle royale genre, with games such as Fortnite, Player Unknown Battlegrounds, Apex Legends, etc. He loves what eSports presents to the future of entertainment and sports as a whole.

“I think the energy [is great],” Sensabaugh said. “All sporting events, have a really high energy atmosphere, but when you go into any eSports stadium, or if you’re just even watching it online, [it’s great]. When you’re watching a traditional sport, you get excited and stuff, but with an eSports crowd and energy, it’s infectious almost, but like not in a bad way.”

Northwood University’s eSports coach Cody Elsen thinks that while eSports is up-and-coming on a professional level, it’s not just restricted to professional players.

“Everybody can do it,” Elsen said. “It’s receptive to everybody in the fact that majority of people nowadays are starting gaming in elementary school, you can play games on your phone, it’s just a part of technology and society today.”

According to sources such as Newzoo, which is the leading provider of market intelligence dealing with eSports, the eSports industry is supposed to continue growing. The eSports industry will reach $1.4 billion by the year 2020, and the global eSports audience will also continue to rise, with numbers reaching 380 million total viewers. 165 million of these will be eSports enthusiasts, with 215 million being causal viewers.

According to Elsen, the game League of Legends, a popular multiplayer online battle area game that is the biggest game in eSports, had over 200 million viewers across multiple platforms during the 2018 League of Legends Worlds tournament finals.  

For reference, according to CNBC, the 2019 Super Bowl had about 98.2 million viewers, the lowest viewing numbers since 2008. The League of Legends Worlds Tournament finals, just months earlier, had double the viewership of the most watched sporting event in the world, according to Statista.

Elsen said that this trend is natural, because technology is increasingly becoming more and more potent in society.

“Studies show that people from the age of 13 to 20 are actually watching double the amount of eSports events than they are traditional sports,” Elsen said. “So it’s important to embrace it because that’s where everything is going.”

With the fast-paced up-and-coming of eSports, people haven’t had time to adjust to the concept of eSports, and discredit its impact. Sensabaugh said that the perception of video games and eSports should be more positive, and it may take time for people to alter their views of the sport.

“A lot of people can’t break the perception of lazy guys sitting in the basement,” Sensabaugh said. “But I think in time, it’s really going to challenge people to see what they view as a sport as traditional sports continue to decline in popularity and eSports rises.”

Traditional sports, such as football, basketball, baseball, etc. have been around for a long time, and people have become accustomed to different sports, and are fans of different sports. However, it can be difficult to make the trek to watch one’s favorite sports team in a live setting. People watch sporting events live on television, yet some people nowadays don’t even have cable television. eSports can be viewed on different interactive platforms, such as Twitch and YouTube, that are all free to view.

“You can’t have a fifth grader go play football with a college football team or professional football team, but you can have a fifth grader play against all the professional players in the world and get that experience,” Elsen said. “The opportunity to actually be involved with fans is way bigger than traditional sports.”

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Zane O'Dell

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