Is the day coming when you could sit down with your family to watch a video game competition on your TV?
Professional gamers, or esports athletes, leapt their biggest hurdle yet when League of Legends players were granted the same immigration visa status as traditional athletes. The P-1 visa gives athletes license to compete in the United States for up to five years.
“Many people will be able to come and live here and train in team houses rather than go back and forth constantly,” said Mike Sepso, president of Major League Gaming.
By now your head might be reeling. Professional gamers, training and competing in Major League tournaments? When did that happen?
Once relegated to one-off matches viewed online, competitive gaming is now a huge industry. “Now it’s essentially just like any other professional sports season with matches happening every Thursday and Friday at our studio in West Los Angeles,” says Dustin Beck of Riot Games.
Riot Games makes League of Legends, which draws 12 million people every day and is the most popular eSport game in South Korea. Korea has had a popular professional gaming scene for years—and the South Korean team went on to win the grand prize of $1,000,000 at the League of Legends World Championships in Los Angeles this year.
Yep, you read that right, one million dollars. The World Championships were held in the Staples Center and attracted 32 million viewers online. Professional matches are broadcast on websites like Twitch.tv, a streaming website that has had a big part to play in the popularity of esports—Twitch.tv makes it easy to find and watch professional and rookie matches, anywhere, anytime.
So what’s the attraction? Why are esports so fun to watch?
Think about all the things that make traditional sports attractive: competition, skillful players, and the festival atmosphere of going to a game and hanging out with people who share your love of the sport.
Esports have all of that! ESport-friendly games like Starcraft or League of Legends are really challenging. In Starcraft, players have to think fast and manage resources (for example, they need to collect minerals so that they can build weapons) to get an advantage over their opponents.
League of Legends (LoL) is equally intense, because players compete in five-member teams (here is a more in-depth guide, if you’re curious). Players choose a character to represent them, and each character has certain skills. For example, one player might be the designated healer. That means the other four team members will be relying on this person to keep them in the game. Like the members of a baseball team, LoL team members have specific roles to fill, and the success of the team depends on how well they work together.
At the League of Legends World Championships, professionals offered play-by-play commentary of each game—analyzing team performance and calling out the best plays of the match. Audience members filled the Staples Center, watching the games on the big screen, while the players sat below at their computers.
If this all sounds crazy, think of it as watching high-speed chess. The players need to be strategic and purposeful in their moves and perform with a consistently high level of technical skill.
If you’re worried that your kids are going to ditch school to be professional gamers—don’t be. Pro-gamers train for hours every day to achieve their pro status. Like any other sports career, it takes a lot of time and a lot of money to get to the top tier. The immediate barrier of entry might be lower—fans can buy and play the games without the hassle of, say, putting together a local football league—but professional play is a far-off goal for the majority of players. Check out this video to see some professional Starcraft players in action—and don’t get too dizzy watching their fingers.
So, are esports here to stay?
Probably. All the ingredients of success are there. There are heroic figures to look up to—players like Lee “Life” Seunghyun, one of the youngest professional Starcraft players ever. There is the drama of team matches. And there is broad appeal—this is a truly international sport, with players from all over the world.
There’s still room to grow, too. Every year esports become a little more professional, a little more smoothly orchestrated, and a little more popular.
Above all, esports are a great way to connect with your kids. Even if you aren’t interested in playing these games, you might get a kick out of watching a match—and if your kids follow esports, they’re sure to have favorite teams, favorite players, and a lot of opinions on how the game is played. Next time a championship tournament rolls around, grab the popcorn and consider giving esports a try.