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Sugar House Journal

One of the fastest growing sports is... videogames?

May 08, 2019 15h55 ● By Greg James

Gamers come in all ages, Spencer Cox (not the Lieutenant Governor) and his cousin Jordyn play Smash Brothers at home on the Nintendo DS. (Photo courtesy of Greg James/City Journals)

By Greg James |  [email protected] 

Esports is a multi-billion dollar industry that is growing in popularity in players’ basements, but also stadiums around the world.

Esports describes the world of competitive, organized video gaming. Competitors from different teams and leagues face off playing games made popular by at-home gamers such as Fortnight, Call of Duty, Overwatch, Counter Strike and Madden to name a few. Gamers are watched and followed by millions of fans all over the world by attending live events, on TV or online. The live streaming service Twitch allows viewers to watch gamers in real time.

“There are tons of Meetups and small community groups that play weekly, like little grassroots groups,” said JJ Mckeever, Information Technology Specialist for GameTyrant, a North Salt Lake based gaming center. “The games have been made increasingly available. People play in groups and there are tournaments where they can play in person.”

The 2018 Overwatch Grand Finals were held at the Barclays Center in New York City. According to a report from Newzoo, a market analytics company, 380 million people will watch esports this year. Tournaments and events will draw crowds that rival most traditional sports. In July, ESPN and Disney announced a multi-year deal to televise the Overwatch League.

According to Newzoo, 588 esports events were broadcast in 2017.

Last year, the NBA drafted 102 professional gamers to compete in its newly launched NBA 2K league. Colleges have even gotten in on the action. Recently, Snow College in Ephraim announced plans to add an esports program to its athletic department.

“We are excited about the addition of esports and the opportunities it presents for our students,” Snow College President Gary Carlston said. “This is new territory for most higher education institutions.”

But not everyone carries the same enthusiasm. 

“I could not get him out of the car,” Jaylynn Merrill said. “He is always playing that game and never pays attention.” She had grown frustrated that her nephew, Spencer, did not want to stop playing long enough to walk into the school.

The attitudes of many parents and family members are similar to Merrill’s feelings. 

“I do not understand what he sees in those games,” she said.

Esports players, not unlike traditional athletes, can rake in big money. Tournaments boast millions of dollars in prize money. The world's best players can earn seven figures a year. The League of Legends tournament in 2017 generated $5.5 million in ticket sales.

“For the most popular games there is a tournament almost every weekend,” Mckeever said. “Super Smash Bros is very healthy (popular) in this area. Game Tyrant (in North Salt Lake) had a tournament that attracted some major talent. The Pac-12 has an esports league and the (University of Utah) has several esports teams.”

Newzoo indicates League of Legends, Counter Strike and Fortnite as the most popular esports games. The NBA is not the only traditional professional league to get in involved. Major League Soccer has started eMLS using the game FIFA. The International Olympic Committee met in 2017 to discuss the possibility of legitimizing esports as an Olympic competition.

“Kids can get involved by watching YouTube videos and learning the strategy,” Mckeever said. “Practicing is important. Join up and play face-to-face. I know there are school leagues to get involved with.”

Taylorsville, Cyprus, Herriman and Copper Hills high schools are some of the many local schools that offer gaming clubs. 

“Perfect practice applies just as much to esports teams as to traditional sports teams,” Mckeever said.