People: Voices

Column: Out of the basement

By A.J. Moore

If you are old enough to remember who Willie Mays is, you might need to Google the topic of this column.

Heck, if you remember LeBron James’ high school playing days, you might also need to consult your favorite internet search engine to understand the subject of  this column: eSports, which are the next big thing in the sports media marketplace.

Yes, eSports, which is short for electronic sports — a euphemism for competitive/professional video game competitions. Yes, opposing teams facing off against each other on a virtual playing field in front of thousands of paying fans should be on your radar.

Dominant teams, star players, packed arenas, endorsement deals, all of which are familiar in the major sports leagues, are now taking root in the eSports community.

The hobby you once did in your basement, the activity you tell your kids not to do for too long, is on the threshold of becoming a billion dollar sports operation.

Before you complain that video games are not a sport, look at this trend through the eyes of digital natives raised on modern technology. Once you do, you can see the migration to eSports was bound to happen.

In the eyes of many millienials, baseball is boring, hockey is unfamiliar, football is past its prime and basketball has too many timeouts.

The ultra-realistic graphics and continual action of eSports make it an attractive commodity for the 12-25 year old market from both the participatory and spectator standpoints. This demographic base is ocean-front property for advertisers, so like it or not, please welcome eSports from the fringes into the mainstream sports conversation.

Goldman Sachs valued eSports at $500 million in 2016 and predicts the market will thrive with 22% annual growth over the next few years and soon surpass the $1 billion mark.

It doesn’t matter what an eSports star runs the 40-yard dash in; players in this realm excel with their joysticks, not their feet.

As an indication of how sports has gone from E as in Elvin Hayes and Esposito to eSports is the amount of coverage ESPN and Turner Broadcasting devote to the games. YouTube, the place younger people now watch “TV” has numerous eSports channels with hundreds of thousands of viewers.

The Pac-12 and Big 10, both synonymous as major college sports factories, have started fielding teams to compete against their conference rivals.

At Rider, eSports are becoming popular on the club level and will continue to do so with the school’s new Bachelor of Science in computer science.

Those sold out audiences at Madison Square Garden aren’t just for the Rangers and Knicks. The eSports equivalents of Mark Messier and Patrick Ewing are helping to pack the World’s Most Famous Arena.

One of the reasons behind Downtown Las Vegas’ rebirth is the city’s foresight to embrace eSports.  Are you listening, Atlantic City?

Sorry moms and dads, telling your kids to lay off the video games because there is no future in it is no longer valid. There are now jobs in eSports, as well, as all the other marketing and media professions associated with major college and professional sports.

It’s really not a surprise that children born in an era where parents can live tweet their births see MLB The Show or Madden NFL not as eSports but as sports. You grew up playing pick-up basketball. They grew up playing Call of Duty and League of Legends.

The sports media landscape continues to change at a rapid pace, but it’s easy to predict the success of a league with fast moving graphics on a computer screen geared toward a younger demographic. Most likely that growth will come at the expense of sports that feature fast moving men and women on ice, grass or the hardwood.

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