UPDATE: recently, Royals partner-at-large, Andrew Siwka, was invited onto Paul Gardner’s Radio 2GB show to chat about the eSports phenomenon. Have a listen here.

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Picture this: Millions of teenagers glued to screens across the world, watching their favourite athletes battle it out in leagues, competitions and matches to the death – but here’s the odd thing, the athletes are hardly moving. At least in the physical world. In the near future, it’s what your kids, nephews and nieces will be following instead of an AFL or NRL team.

Why? Because eSports is live competitive video gaming. A sports industry that builds tournaments and competitions for professional gamers to compete against each other for huge prizes and the glory and adoration of million of fans. It’s exciting, widely distributed and can make kids rich.

The setups are epic. Think World Wrestling Federation with cheerleaders, spectacular stages, lasers, booming music, screaming fans and cosplay. Young, (often) male, energy drink-fuelled players vie for shares in prize pools of up to $10M. Huge pressure, epic rewards, celebrity status ensured for the victors.

Here the players are the rock stars, tethered to their high performance PCs by Beats headphones, their stages are the worlds and levels within games like League of Legends and Starcraft.

Newzoo estimates that there 205 million people who watch eSports globally, and interestingly 40% of that audience don’t even play the games they watch. Last year’s League of Legends championship, for example, drew nearly 30 million viewers, putting it in line with the combined viewership of the 2014 MLB and NBA finals in the US.

Originating in Asia, the eSports industry is now gaining popularity in the US and Europe, and that means prizes, sponsorships and endorsements are starting to reflect global impact. Global revenue is expected to reach $US465M by 2017, tripling in 3 years, the main benefactors being the publishers, event organisers and organised teams. The money itself comes from brands that want to tap into a highly attractive group of young, educated, and wealthy people. These fanbases are deeply engaged, in both a media and community sense, and are increasingly hard to reach via traditional channels.

And of course, where money goes, scandal often follows. In July this year, there were revelations that a Counterstrike-winning team had admitted to widespread use of the ADHD medication, Adderall. Normally performance enhancing drugs that are associated with physical sports build an advantage in strength or stamina. But in eSports, it’s all about concentration levels and reaction times.

Then in August, Valve’s own DOTA 2 championship was brought to a screaming halt by a denial of service attack (DDos). In physical sporting terms, this would be like hundreds of thousands of people defying security and running onto the field. Except it’s millions. And really, really hard to stop.

eSports matters because it’s an example of an industry that is built for today, one that has truly embraced a global opportunity by putting players and fans at the centre of its brand of entertainment. By using live streaming, interactivity and fan involvement, eSports delivers an experience for audiences used to being involved in their entertainment – something traditional sports will always find hard to match.
Don’t take my word for it: ask a kid.

Andrew Reeves

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