Photograph of a stadium filled with thousands of fans. Half of the stadium is covered in red light, and the other half in blue light.
BogoGames/Creative Commons. Esports have become a major player in the U.S. sports market. The 2019 League of Legends Championships drew in over 100 million viewers.

Video games have become one of the major players in the entertainment industry. In 2018, total gaming revenue outpaced the global box office $43.8 billion to $41.7 billion according to the Entertainment Software Association and comScore. With the recent rise in gaming as a medium, it also has given way to a larger acceptance of gaming as a competitive sport.

At some point in our lives, everyone has played a video game to some degree. Whether it was back in the late 1970s and 1980s with the rise of coin-operated arcades or within the last decade and an increase in mobile phone gaming. Video games have been a staple of entertainment since the first successful game, Pong, which was released in 1972, and they have mushroom-clouded into a sensation that the world can ignore no longer. 

Competition is rooted in human nature, and the ultimate question has always been “who did it best?” Athleticism, hand-eye coordination and mental strength have separated the physically elite from the rest since the days of the first Olympics in Ancient Greece.

The sports were simpler then—running, jumping and wrestling—the usual physical exertions that put all competitors against each other in a controlled environment to find out who was, or is, the best at whatever the event is.

As humans advanced in technology, so did their games. New sports were created, using specially designed equipment, rules and playing surfaces. With each new game came a new wave of fans and athletes that are dedicated to perfecting their craft.

However, in stark contrast to the literally thousands of years of human competition, the newest form of sport has most people scratching their heads at what exactly it is that they’re watching.

Competitive video gaming, or esports, realistically isn’t a new concept. Video game competitions date back as far as the late 1970s when players would boast their high scores at their local arcade. It has since morphed into something so much larger that it’s hard to comprehend.

It’s very evident that esports are not a flash in the pan and are here to stay. The 2019 Super Bowl claimed 100.7 million viewers across all platforms. In contrast, the 2019 League of Legends World Championship also boasted viewership numbers above 100 million, with a peak of just under 4 million concurrent viewers on the popular video game streaming website, Twitch.

In terms of just viewership, esports is poised to take on the biggest names in the traditional sporting world, with the single exception of soccer, as the viewership for the previous soccer World Cup was a staggering 900 million.

By 2021, it is estimated that esports will have surpassed every traditional sport in the United States with the exception of football. 

Although esports have taken hold in the private sectors such as YouTube and Twitch, the sport still has a lot of work to be done to get into the mainstream.

The largest market that has not yet been taken over by esports lies in the collegiate arena. In 2016 there were only seven colleges in the US that had school-funded esports programs. That number has since increased to over 130 varsity collegiate esports programs in 2019. This is still a far cry from how many colleges in the United States have an active player-base looking to represent their school.

Currently, the University of Nevada, Reno, Esports Club is the largest active club on campus with over 500 active members every semester. The club also hosts the competitive teams for UNR. 

There are multiple competitive teams for UNR Esports, including teams for the most popular collegiate games. Those titles include League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League. UNR Esports has been working mainly independently from the university and has laid claim to some incredible results in tournament play.

Moving forward, it is uncertain what the future of esports will be for the university and thousands of colleges around the country. However, esports is rapidly becoming one of the most-watched forms of entertainment, and if you were unaware of the trend, you weren’t going to be in the dark for long.

Esports is growing at an exponential rate, and it’s only a matter of time until it finds its foothold into the mainstream.

Bryan Fettis can be reached at rfreeberg@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @SagebrushSports.