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Since Pong was released in 1972, video games have become increasingly popular over the succeeding decades. Eventually, the technology advanced to the point where enthusiasts could play games together remotely via the internet. This, in turn, spawned the emergence of video game tournaments ogled by gaming junkies who are obsessed with watching the best gamers in the world wreak havoc on their favorite multiplayer titles.

The Explosion of the eSports Market

Games like Call of Duty, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike have become notorious fantasy worlds for these online battles. Even more notably, the game League of Legends is a recent phenomenon that has generated an online following so immense — in September 2016, the company estimated that it had over 100 million active players per month — that it spawned its own global community called the League of Legends Championship Series (aka LCS or LoL eSports). In fact, the League of Legends is so well-known that a Google search for “lol” doesn’t produce links relating to “laughing out loud” in its top results, but instead, generates references to LoL eSports. That’s beyond impressive.

An estimated 300 million people around the world currently watch eSports in one way or another. It is also estimated that this number will skyrocket to 500 or 600 million by the year 2020. In 2016, the investment bank Goldman Sachs valued the eSports market at $500 million, and the firm expects that appraisal to grow to over $1 billion by 2020.

Video game tournaments have become so popular that media giants like Turner Broadcasting and ESPN have even started broadcasting gaming competitions. Not to be left behind, in 2014 Amazon paid $970 million to acquire Twitch, the most popular platform for online live-stream gaming broadcasts. YouTube has also created its own online gaming platform called YouTube Gaming.

The diversity of eSports tournaments will only increase as game designers become more and more creative in devising ways of combining the thrill and enjoyment of our favorite pastimes with the mystical, “other-worldly” essence of video games. For example, PokerStars has found a way to integrate one of the world’s most popular card games with supercharged “power” moves that can only exist in a video game setting. It’s only a matter of time before the viewing of online Power Up tournaments become a mainstay of the eSports universe.

eSports fans have become so engrossed in online competitions that there are now websites that provide live scores for followers who aren’t able to watch the action in real-time. Perhaps it’s also unsurprising that enterprising connoisseurs of fantasy football and online sports betting have applied these models toward the creation of fantasy eSports leagues.

So, what makes eSports so popular? Well, for gaming enthusiasts, it provides an opportunity to watch the pros in action and not only appreciate them for their skill, but also pick up tips and tricks in the process. Furthermore, as with the spectators of traditional professional sports, whether it be basketball, baseball or tennis, eSports fans can enjoy the beauty and mastery of the game without even being players themselves. In a way, there’s little difference between a fan’s fascination with his or her most beloved football team and his or her favorite eSports players, other than the fact that one might cramp their leg while out on the field while the other might cramp their thumbs while sitting on a recliner in some remote location. However, that doesn’t change the level of relative expertise or entertainment.

According to Peter Warman, CEO of eSports analysts Newzoo, it’s estimated that roughly 160 million people are currently watching eSports on a consistent basis, and approximately the same number tune in for big championship matches. This already puts eSports on par with some medium-tier pastimes. As such, it once again becomes clear that technology continues to shape how we enjoy and interact with our favorite games, and this phenomenon doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.