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5 Signs eSports Are Heading Into Traditional Sports Territory

Esports is expected to grow from 540 million fans to 640 million fans by 2025.

A great debate is raging about the future of eSports. Rather than predicting the scale of industry growth or which games will be the focus of future leagues, analysts are focusing on the intersection of esports and traditional professional sports. Around the world, the lines are blurred between traditional and virtual athletes.

Much of this is driven by the rise of eSports. In the mid-2010s, eSports was still considered a fringe interest. It wasn't until mainstream sports began investing and leading the industry that it took off globally. Even then, there was a lot of interest in traditional leagues. For example, association football in Europe has started to take interest in FIFA video games to attract new fans.

The idea was simple: to reconcile the interest in FIFA and the league itself. It worked, helping to unite the fans and their real-life home team. Even in non-sports industries, this perspective rings true. Moves like these introduced fans of traditional sports to a new form of competition that could hold their attention. For example, think back to the popularity of live poker in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Even though poker had little to do with sports, broadcast groups like ESPN began showing live poker action during major WSOP events. Poker has been a hit with sports fans, leading to co-sponsorship deals between poker groups and major league sports. Oddly enough, many of these poker and cross-sports fans were also gamblers. Today, Texas Hold'em and Omaha fans can play directly from a console with a controller on Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo devices.

This interrelationship between fans of sports, games, and competition in general is the first hint that eSports is now heading into more stable and traditional territory. As the industry continues to evolve, here are five more signs that esports will continue to do well with fans obsessed with sports teams from Man City to the LA Lakers.

If you build it they will come

Video games and sports have one huge common trait: a spirit of competition. The phrase "if you build it, they will come" is reminiscent of a popular movie about professional baseball in the United States. It's a terse way of saying that people gravitate towards sport and, more generally, fierce competition.

Simply put, eSports will continue to grow recognizably as video games have been developed to be highly competitive, and especially blockbuster titles like League of Legends, Call of Dutyet Free fire. Even those who don't consider themselves sports fans will tune in to parts of major events like the Olympics. Esports, although still in its infancy, has the same appeal.

A spectator sport

In recent years, adults everywhere must have wondered…why do eSports fans enjoy watching gamers livestream their gaming sessions? After all, what's so good about watching a video game unfold? The answer is very simple and can be asked to fans of football, basketball or hockey: why do you like to watch this sport when you could play it?

For the same reason hockey fans love watching Conor McDavid or basketball fans love watching LeBron, Counter Strike fans would pay huge sums to watch S1imple play live. And with live events like the PGL Stockholm Major attracting millions of viewers and thousands of live attendees, eSports closely resemble professional leagues.

Follow the money

Financial publications, in particular, have focused on eSport as potential replacement for traditional sports. It comes down to a burgeoning fanbase and millions of dollars in sponsorship and investment. Regarding the former, eSports already has a larger fan base than American football with 540 million fans worldwide, which some groups predict could grow to 640 million by 2025. Simply put, eSports is now big business.

Spill into the mainstream

Ten years ago, few average consumers would have understood what the term “eSports” meant. Today, even the most casual participant in pop culture will likely associate esports with video games.

But for younger generations, the coverage of esports in popular media means they grow up with it. And it's not necessarily "eSports" for all groups. In fact, “playing sports” and being an “athlete” can now have double meanings for a traditional soccer player or a MOBA jungle.

Recruit a Rookie class

So far, we've covered eSports as a new approach to competition, a goal of big business, and even a feature of entertainment for younger generations. Above, we've also highlighted how traditional sports have helped shape and drive esports. One of the clearest signs that esports is heading into mainstream territory is the way players are signed into teams and even recruited.

Just as up-and-coming athletes can train at a professional academy, up-and-coming eSports players can cut their teeth at semi-pro and rookie organizations. These are designed to help them launch a professional career one day, and are one of the main signs that eSports aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

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