By Glynn Cosker
Since the 2000s, esports has graduated from a casual pastime in college dorms and living rooms – played side-by-side among friends – to a juggernaut that entertains millions of global viewers via live-streaming, live events, and television shows.
Esports, also known as electronic sports, comprises competitions using high-speed internet video games, often involving organized multiplayer contests between professional individual or team players. The industry is expected to reach $4.75 billion globally by 2030, as new gamers, media, and yes, millions of fans, flock daily to watch and learn from the best players.
Twitch – the live streaming subsidiary service of Amazon.com – has more than 15 million daily active users as many turned to gaming and live-streaming during the pandemic. The demand shows no signs of slowing with the impending rollout of the metaverse.
As the industry’s job market grows, colleges like American Military University (AMU) are recognizing its popularity with an online bachelor of science esports degree and sponsoring an esports club more than 500 members strong with a majority of students coming from the U.S. armed forces – early adopters of online gaming.
Esports has long served as a mainstay for entertainment to our nation’s troops and veterans, but also as a way to stay connected and compete on teams with colleagues, or game with family and friends during deployments.
We are only now seeing the enormous potential of a “military metaverse.” Each branch of the U.S. military has its own team that participates in national and international video game contests – including the CODE Bowl which was won by our newest branch the U.S. Space Force. And, veterans are also discovering that esports can help prepare them for life after the military.
Esports Franchises and Leagues
The most common esports video game genres are first-person shooter (FPS), multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), card, fighting and real-time strategy (RTS) games. Call of Duty has its own extremely popular league, and some of the other most popular esports franchises and leagues include League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Fortnite, and Splatoon 2 – which is often played in high schools.
On the sports side, esports franchises and leagues include England’s ePremier League, the NHL’s Gaming World Championship, and NBA 2K – one of the most popular professional esports leagues in the world – equipped with team standings, stats, player profiles, and merchandise.
“Esports competitions sell out arenas that the NBA would sell out,” stated Brian Freeland, dean of the School of Health Sciences at AMU. “And the viewership is right up there with the top professional sports organizations. Esports jobs will continue to grow because it’s trending upward. I think Esports will become just like other sports. It may end up being a sport that every high school or college has – along with football, soccer, basketball and other sports.”
Freeland’s colleague, AMU Sports Management Department Chair, Jim Reese, shares that sentiment. “I’ve seen 18,000 [mostly] young people sitting in an arena getting ready to watch a Jumbotron showing competitors who are playing video games,” he said.
Esports Viewership May Soon Top The NFL’s
The esports industry is expected to see huge growth in the coming years. Currently, we’re living in the global age of sports with esports teams, gaming organizations, and venues pulling in media deals and sponsorships from top brands including Amazon, Nascar, Doritos, and Mastercard – comparable to the NFL, NBA and other major sports organizations. In 2022, esports accounts for 10% of all sports viewing, and some experts predict that esports viewership will soon be second only to the NFL.
“Esports players are athletes. NBA 2K is a great example,” stated Craig Skilling, a professor and esports coordinator at AMU. Skilling helped develop the university’s curriculum.
“It’s now possible for people to learn how to play, get drafted, and take their playing careers all the way to the top – all through esports. The metaverse is here to stay, and with artificial intelligence, we’re getting closer to players in the games being indistinguishable from the real people. The salaries for NBA 2K players are competitive and are becoming comparable to some pro sports players – over six figures in prize pool splits, and millions of dollars in possible endorsements for top players.”
Skilling is an education and entertainment industry influencer and his career includes stints at the NBA and the Miami Heat. Influencer Brand LLC., founded by Skilling, launched a virtual Esports Skills Academy in the summer of 2020.
The Metaverse – This Century’s Industrial Revolution
The metaverse will likely become this century’s version of the Industrial Revolution. Geoff Kowalski is chief revenue officer with ESTV – the first global 24-7 live video channel dedicated to esports athletes and gaming franchises. Kowalski recently commented on how esports will become a large component of the metaverse in an interview with Forbes Magazine.
“The size, growth, and shared yet nuanced interests within esports makes this increasingly powerful community the frontline champions of innovative technology that enhance engagement,” Kowalski told Forbes. “By accepting that consumers are multi-screening and engaging brands and content across platforms simultaneously, there is a willingness for brands to open their markets so consumers can continue their engagement when crossing platforms, serving as influencers for said brand throughout the metaverse.”
Esports has the potential to fundamentally change society in the mid-21st century, the same way television changed society in the mid-20th century. Radio stuck around when TVs invaded the infrastructure; time will tell if real sports will stick around once esports fully cements itself into our day-to-day lives. We’re just in the early stages, but, ultimately, people born in this decade will likely participate in – and watch – more esports than real-life sports as adults.