The definition of “sport” constantly changes to include new activities beyond the traditional. Snowboarding, race car driving, and skateboard riding were once disdained by the professional sports community, only to become headlining events.
When fans turn rabid and faithful, the establishment perks up: a large following becomes an opportunity for advertising and capturing a targeted demographic’s spending money.
This grassroots phenomenon is happening again. Move over, XGames, and make room for eSports. Forbes actually recognized 2012 as the year of eSports.
How viewers jumped from hundreds to hundreds of thousands
Video games are a popular leisure activity for many, and with the growth of interactive, role-based, story-driven games, home players become participants and viewers. Much like the connection to a professional football or basketball team, fans connect with the star video players and teams that compete professionally in their favorite games.
As Paul Tassi of Forbes put it, “When you know the game being played, watching pro players tear into each other in competition can be as gratifying as any traditional sport […] Just like in ‘real’ sports, you have your favorite players and teams, and it causes you to have a stake in the matches being played.”
The image conjured with the topic of gaming has shifted. No longer is the label “nerd” something to be ashamed of; it has become a title of honor. And the movement has coalesced around eSports.
Leagues and clubs have popped up at colleges and bars where matches can be viewed en masse. Fans cheer on competing teams in a social environment. This also promotes the amateur talent pool. The success of the UFC’s ranks of amatuer competitors is a model being adopted by eSports.
eSports teams to know
Gaming-focused companies see the profit potential in the sport and are sponsoring individuals and teams to turn a passionate pastime into a profession. The players hone their skills seriously: larger teams live together to form better bonds, and teamwork, exercise, and nutrition routines feed the will to dominate and win.
Teams are forming across the globe. Joining a professional team to compete in the intense games of League of Legends, StarCraft II, and DOTA2 is becoming a necessity. In no particular order, here are five pro-teams that are hot on the radar:
1. compLexity Gaming
A renaissance group that spans four genres (from World of Warcraft to FIFA), this high-profile team has been the focus of an eSports book and featured on the national level in the Wall Street Journal and 60 Minutes.
2. Incredible Miracle
Korean-based and LG Electronics-sponsored, this organization focuses on competing in StarCraft II. Newer to the scene, but an impressive talent pool that makes it worth watching.
3. Team Liquid
Prominent in StarCraft II, this team was established in the Netherlands back in 2000.
4. Team Dignitas
A fan favorite based out of the UK, this outfit contracts more players for more games than any other team listed here.
5. Evil Geniuses
One of the oldest North American sponsored teams still around. Very active in promoting competitive opportunities to pro-candidates.
From hobby to profession
The demand for talent continues to grow in the eSport space and is evident in the active recruitment of existing professional teams and corporate sponsors. With a sophisticated infrastructure and a budding sports industry, taking the leap from college league to the big leagues is a reachable dream.