Virtual Sports are on their way to become very real
If you tuned into ESPN3 on Sunday, July 20th, you could see the final round of The International which is the annual tournament of the popular Dota 2 video game, hosted by the game’s developer Valve Corporation. This event was the second one this year that was aired on one of the major sports channels in the United States, with the first one being the MLG X Games Invitational in early June. Despite the fact that the idea of broadcasting video games events on national television received mix reviews from viewers, it appears to be only a matter of time before virtual sports, or eSports, become the next major program for video game enthusiasts. As Juniper’s recent report on PC & Console Games highlights, the importance of online streaming services is on the rise and is expected to become an increasingly significant means of involving more people in the video gaming community. The number of passive gamers, i.e. players who themselves do not play video games, but rather watch others, mostly professionals doing so, reaches hundreds of thousands of viewers every week. One of the largest online streaming service provider, Twitch, announced that the number of individual users who broadcast their game sessions on its platform has surpassed 1 million in each month. Watching video games online is popular among PC and console gamers alike, especially since the latest iterations of the PlayStation and Xbox devices also support broadcasting of games. The most popular genres to be broadcast are mainly multiplayer online battle games, such as the above mentioned Dota 2 and titles like Call of Duty and League of Legends. All of these games put thousands of viewers in front of the screen. As Erik Johnson from Valve Corporation said in a statement, the “collaboration with ESPN […] really demonstrates how much competitive gaming has grown to rival traditional sports”. Indeed, the championship that started only three years ago in 2011 has seen its prize pool grow from $1 million to over $10 million, which was more than five times what Rory McIlroy, the winner of the British Open in golf received ($1.6 million). While being televised is certainly a huge step for video games, it is also another sign that line between traditional television and online streaming (or Internet TV) is becoming increasingly blurred. Additionally, due to the increasing competition and changing user preferences, online streaming of video game sessions could mean an emerging opportunity for PC and console gamers as well as hardware providers to explore and exploit in the future.