eSports

Though most sports fans think of October as the culmination of the Major League Baseball season with the World Series, it may soon be known more for being the concluding month of the League of Legends (LoL) electronic (eSports) Championships. Over the past four years, the LoL Championships have grown dramatically in attendance, prize money, and stature with the last four finals being held in Berlin (2015), Seoul (2014), and Los Angeles (2012-2013). The LoL championship in Seoul was particularly impressive as more than 40,000 fans attended the final match at the Olympic Stadium. Over the past three years, World Series broadcasts have typically attracted 13.2 million viewers per game, but the LoL championship series has seen its online peak viewership increase to more than 11.2 million in 2014, with growth expected in the future. Meanwhile, the eSports space across all types of games, tournaments, and competitions for 2015 attracted 486 million individuals willing to watch gaming video content.

In addition to LoL, other electronic sports (eSports) games such as the Call of Duty series, StarCraft II, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Defense of the Ancients II (Dota 2) have been hosting tournaments that attract not only top gamers as participants, but also live attendees on site and through online streaming. The revenue is substantial enough that Dota 2 currently has a prize pool exceeding US$18 million for the 2015 International Compendium Championship. Despite receiving criticism for not being a real “sport,” there is no doubt that eSports competitions are quickly becoming real “events” that generate revenue through ticket, concession, parking, and licensed merchandise sales. In addition, top eSports participants earn thousands of dollars from competitive success and from increasingly lucrative sponsorship agreements.

Among the fastest growing eSports events are college tournaments, particularly those hosted by the North American Collegiate Championships (NACC). The NACC is currently comprised of more than 1,600 college eSports clubs across the U.S. and Canada. Though most participating students play for their institutions’ club team, there are also participants who form their own “unofficial” campus teams. Recently, Robert Morris University of Chicago (RMU) became the first institute of higher learning to create an eSports “varsity” team, complete with a $100,000 remodeled classroom for team practices and partial scholarships for the 25 recruited students that can equal as much as $19,000 a year per person. At the 2015 North American Collegiate Championships Tournament in Santa Monica, California, RMU finished in second place behind the University of British Columbia. As part of their runner-up finish, each student on the RMU team received $15,000 in prize winnings. The tournament attracted more than 82,000 viewers online. The University of Pikeville (Kentucky) has also recently added a formal eSports team, though without the same financial commitment as RMU.

The growth of eSports has presented opportunities for facility managers as the proliferation of these events is likely to continue in the future. At many eSports events, fervent fans show up dressed in garbs reflecting their interest in their favorite gamers or game characters, commonly known as costume-play, or “cosplay.” Events often have a festive atmosphere, with passionate fans paying close attention to the “action” on the viewing screens. Overwhelmingly, eSports participants and viewers are young, male, and technologically savvy. In addition, given the financial commitment needed to participate (computers, tablets, game consoles, etc.) eSports tends to attract middle class and affluent participants, or, perhaps better stated, younger individuals whose families have middle class or affluent demographic profiles.

Though the passion of eSports does not appear to typically spill over to extremely rowdy or belligerent onsite behavior, eSports offer a different type of potential trouble, particularly given the recent concern regarding international terrorism. With the popularity of eSports growing around the world, some of the world’s professional players include individuals who do not hail from countries with Western traditions or rules of law. As prominent competitions attract a larger and increasingly international participant base, concerns regarding border control and immigration enforcement could complicate player movement. The U.S. government has recently granted eSports gamers visas that recognize them as professional athletes. This classification, and subsequent application of similar coding to U.S. “athletes” competing abroad, has enabled the top gamers to compete around the world, usually without substantial immigration issues. However, this could change in light of recent events in France and throughout the Middle East, especially as many U.S. and European people and politicians express heightened concern for those who cross international borders.

Similar to traditional sporting events, it is feasible that prominent eSports tournaments can serve as potential platforms or targets of acts of terrorism as eSports increases in popularity. Whalen Rozelle, director of eSports at Riot Games, recently noted “ …League of Legends is truly a global sport with most of the continents and many different countries represented. And the spectacle of the event is like the Super Bowl” (Gaudiosi, 2015, para. 3). Though playing video games may seem trivial to some, whenever an event can attract thousands of people on site and millions of consumers live via multimedia platforms, the possibility that a person or group would utilize that event to generate attention through misdeeds must be addressed. It is likely that future LoL, Dota 2, and other eSports championship events will require extensive screening of onsite patrons, much like the World Series and Super Bowl. Video games have advanced extensively since the days of Pong and Space Invaders, and much like their sport and entertainment event counterparts, they now require a more developed event plan, including accounting for safety and security. FM

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Reference

Gaudiosi, J. (2015, October 29). ‘League of Legends’ video game championship is like the World Cup, Super Bowl combined. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2015/10/29/league-of-legends-video-game-championship/