ESports, or professional gaming in general, is a part of gaming culture that many people believe to be something of a joke. “It’s just playing video games, there is no real skill in it” is something I’ve heard more times than I can count, yet eSport competitions have grown into some of the biggest prizepool events in sporting history. They even beat huge sporting events like the FA Cup, the Tour de France, and even The Superbowl. Yes, even the Superbowl. Just take that in for a second.

Last year at Dota 2‘s annual The International competition, the winning team took home $5 million between the five players and a total prizepool of $20,770,640. This was topped only by this year’s tournament, which currently sits at a staggering $23,029,421, and will continue to grow each year thanks to the fan funded method that Valve use to fund The International. It isn’t just Dota 2 either; games like League of Legends, Halo 5, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are all rocking multi-million-dollar prizepools that grow year on year as the games gain popularity and more sponsors jump onto the lucrative gravy train.

With money like this on the front line for professional gaming, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to say that eSports are far more than “just people playing video games.” These are life-changing amounts of money on the line for the best of the best to compete for. At their inception, eSports tournaments were traditionally only for the hardcore crowd following a game – which makes people wonder if these tournaments belong in the eyes of the mainstream media.

Will society ever accept that the people that compete in these tournaments are not just your average couch player? They are in fact professionals that are playing to win because that’s what will pay the bills, and they have the skills honed to do so. There is no easy answer to this question. It’s asking the world to accept the fact that there can be such a thing as ‘professional gamers’, as well as proving that these tournaments pull in crowds of people equivalent to those of large sporting events’

There is hope for eSports making it into the public eye, however. ESPN took the leap into broadcasting eSports back in 2014 and aren’t showing any signs of giving up on the scene now that BBC Three have announced that they will be doing weekly coverage of eSports as well. While these are only two major channels, they do give people a collective area to watch their favorite games on an actual official channel rather than services like Twitch. They also give fans and players alike a faint glimmer of hope that the media is paying attention to the growing eSports scene.

The trouble that these companies face with this is clear as day: there are masses of traditional sport fans that simply refuse to accept that eSports should be considered a ‘real’ sport, so they don’t deserve the coverage on the mainstream channels. This is what I believe is holding back eSports from breaking into mainstream media. People don’t see how much training and practice is needed to make a true eSport champion. Sure, it may not be physical training in the sense of running and weight lifting, but it’s training nonetheless. There’s this general idea that anyone who competes in these tournament is some couch potato kid playing games for an audience of kids. If something like Valves amazing Free To Play documentary was televised on a major channel like ESPN, it would help show the general public that these players are much more than what they thought.

These are players who are dedicated they’re to their craft and will stop at nothing to make sure that all this dedication pays off for them and their families.

Big tournaments can pull in viewing figures in the millions, as is seen in the Twitch most viewed section during the times that they are on, so it’s not like this market is a niche one anymore; getting an extra couple of million people watching your channel when you put a tournament on is easy ad revenue for whoever has the guts to sign the rights. Especially now that huge sponsors, including owners of NFL level Football teams, are getting involved with eSports to bring in the cash and the numbers. People may just tune in to see what the fuss is about. You’d think this would be a massive selling point to take to any network.

From personal experience, I can tell anyone that just watching an intense match of anything can be entertaining. You get swept up into the thrill of commentated games with money on the line, making for a great viewing experience even if you don’t know the first thing about the game that you’re watching.

People should give eSports the chance it deserves – it’s still real entertainment through-and-through. Don’t just pass it up because you think “it’s not real sports”; you could be excluding yourself from what could easily be a great time watching something fun and exciting.

If you still aren’t sold on eSports, check out The International 7 from the 7th of August to see exactly why so many people are calling this the next big leap for gaming. You can get a taste of the game that people dedicate their life to for the chance to get a piece of that sweet, sweet prize pool money on a stage in front of thousands of dedicated fans. On top of that, check out some of the coverage on the BBC Three eSports section to get a taste for just how big this area of gaming is becoming. You won’t believe your eyes when you see the sheer size of some of those crowds.

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