CHICAGO (CBS) — Around 100 million viewers — that’s how many watched last week’s Super Bowl. That’s also how many watched esports’ “League of Legends” World Finals two months ago.
“I never thought I could tell my immigrant Dad that always told me to stop playing video games that I actually have a full-time job and salary from gaming,” said Jon Kefaloukos, professional gamer and broadcaster from Glen Ellyn.
Jon Kefaloukos paid his way through college as a professional gamer and is now a broadcaster. Esports players can rake in seven-figure earnings and brand endorsements. The market research firm Newzoo says the esports industry will likely exceed $1 billion in revenue this year. Now, traditional sports franchises are launching leagues.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Major League Soccer and the Chicago Fire have also jumped on board.
VIDEO: Is esports a sport? CBS 2’s Megan Mawicke gets opposing viewpoints from professional gamers.
“It creates a good atmosphere, not just for the players but for the fans. Not only do they have the first team to go watch in the official games but now they have someone else to support, the official player on their favorite club. It just opens up so many new avenues,” said Enrique Espinoza, Chicago Fire eMLS player.
“You see a lot of sports owners, like Robert Kraft, investing in teams. You see former professional baseball players like ARod. Michael Jordan on the basketball side investing. Everyone is trying to get in. They look at it like the internet back in the late ‘90’s. It’s going to be a boom. It’s going to be the next big thing,” added Kefaloukos.
Esports tournaments and teams are exploding on college campuses. In the current school year, there are 128 universities with varsity programs and nearly $15 million in esports scholarships. NACE projects in five years there will be over $100 million dollars in scholarships and 800 colleges.
“Even though we have 700 in our club, we think there is at least double that in just gamers at school. It’s not necessarily the same kind of traditional sports feel where you kind of have to be born with the right body build or the right height or weight class. A lot of gaming can be done by just around anybody,” says James Yoon, Northwestern University eSports Club co-founder.
“I’ve done other competitive sports. I did junior Olympic archery. I fenced nationally in high school and that’s like a 6-days-a-week training thing and esports are the same thing,” said Melissa Tan, Northwestern eSports Club president.
Ohio State University, one of the country’s athletic powerhouses, has recently announced it is building a state of the art gaming arena on campus to complement its esports curriculum. The great debate is whether esports should be considered a sport.