Video games: A new stage for competition, but is it a real sport?



As many as 12,000 spectators descended on KeyArena in Seattle to watch teams play Dota 2, a 5-on-5 video game. (Bettina Hansen/Seattle Times/TNS)

RYAN HERRING, Sports Columnist

You’re flipping through the channels on your television. You have your MLB game, typical sitcom, two or three crime shows and competitive video gaming. Wait, what?   

That’s right, this phenomenon known as eSports is set to return to TV starting in 2016. I say return because this concept was tried about 10 years ago but was a big bust. However, that was back in the day when professional gaming was a generally new concep. It has grown tremendously since then.

  Since its first bust, there have been specific eSports tournaments/events broadcasted but nothing presented on a regular basis. Now, it’s big time. Large arenas are selling out left and right for people who want to see elite gamers comepete. There is even an established network of fantasy leagues that fans use to play their friends in, exactly like any other sport.  It’s starting to attract the cameras and media. And whether you love it or hate it, you’re talking about it.

Now at this point, you are either thrilled or terribly confused. Why would people want to watch people play video games? How is this seriously going to be on broadcast television consistently? What kinds of networks are trying this?

Many major networks are giving this a shot, with TBS leading the way. No official dates are set, but starting sometime in 2016, there will be two 10-week seasons of live competition in the shooting game, “Counter-Strike: Global Offense” airing on Friday nights. Honestly, TBS and these networks have soul reason for doing so. eSports is alive and growing.

According to Newzoo, a market research firm, nearly 205 million people watched/played eSports in 2014. It definitely has the audience and support to thrive and compete in ratings against all the other big-time sports.

That brings up another big question: Are eSports considered a sport? Are these gamers considered athletes? Well, that’s your call. It depends on how you view these terms.

Former ESPN radio host, Colin Cowherd, made it clear what he thinks about the most notorious sports network (ESPN) airing electronic sports. He believes it is ridiculous and even went as far as saying, “I was going to leave if they ever signed a long-term contract with eSports.”

He actually went separate ways with ESPN for other reasons, but you get just how strongly some people feel about this debate. Whether it’s a sport or not, it’s here. Newzoo estimates eSports as a $278 million industry today and expects it to grow into a $765 million industry by 2018. That’s a lot of money being tossed around out there for video games.