In some parts of the world (we're looking at you, east Asia), video game competitions gather the same attention, accolades, and drama as traditional put-the-ball-in-the-hole sports. As another summer Olympics come to pass, some industry insiders are asking if video games will ever rise to the prominence of traditional, non-virtual sports.
As London sweeps up the mess from the 2012 games, Cologne, Germany is playing host to the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) competition that will run through August 19th. Modern pro-gaming (or "eSport") competitions like IEM are not only rewarding big money prizes, they are earning sizable viewing audiences. This year's IEM, for example, is expected to attract 250,000 attendees to watch the event (10% more than last year) with more than 20 million people watching live feeds of Star Craft II and League of Legends competition.
And the professional gaming trend is spreading all around the world. This past June, 20,000 fans gathered at the $200,000 purse Major League Gaming Spring Championship in Anaheim.
Riding atop the eSport wave is gaming voyeur service TwitchTV, which boasts millions of monthly visitors and has proven to be one of the world's hottest media commodities. It was one of the first partners for Kickstarter favorite Ouya and has even struck an advertising partnership with CBS Interactive.
Riot Games co-founder Brandon Beck, recently commented to GamesIndustry International that he expects eSports to be an Olympic event "in my lifetime." He went on to comment "we don't have our sights set on replacing soccer right now, but we definitely think that e-sports has a place as a large, important, mainstream competitive activity."
Of course, Mr. Beck has a financial interest in that coming to pass. So, what does the future hold? Consider this: the baton of power will inevitably pass from older generations (whose gaming experience doesn't go far beyond Dig Dug) to younger gatekeepers who appreciate the possibilities, artistry, and competition inherent in video games. Snowboarding, for example, became a staple on MTV and at the X Games before they first entered Olympic competition in 1998. So, why couldn't the same happen with electronic competition? As eSports continue to grow on their own all around the world, there are fewer reasons to think video games could never reach the level of the great global games.