Will eSports ever become as popular as real sports?

Up until a few years ago, few people had even heard of eSports. Now the biggest tournaments are pack out arenas and top players go on world tours. But can eSports ever become as big as real sports? How much potential is there for their appeal to grow? Can they attract the advertising and sponsorship required to keep money coming in? And do people take them seriously enough?

A brief history of eSports

The history of eSports can be traced back as far as 1972, when Stanford University held a Spacewar! Competition, followed by an Atari Space Invaders tournament in 1980. These early contests attracted a lot of attention because video games were exciting and new, but as time wore on and they became more commonplace, the glamour wore off and tournaments found their own niche, supported by a specialist press, as their mainstream appeal faded.

It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that, in the far east, eSports began to outgrow their niche and, in combination with the growth of the internet, this led to the first global tournaments. From there, eSports went from strength to strength, with national and international leagues being formed and world championships attracting not only players from all over the world, but audiences too.

Physical vs mental

The biggest challenge eSports have faced in gaining respect is that they don’t involve as much physical activity as traditional sports. It’s a mistake to think that they don’t involve any physical activity though; at the top level, players need to be in shape because of the fast reaction speeds needed to beat opponents and the stamina required for long sessions.

Players argue that eSports fall into the category of mental sports, such as chess or poker; both games have large followings, and eSports has the potential to emulate that.


Universal accessibility is generally considered a good thing, but it’s an aspect of eSports that is commonly cited by people arguing that they are not real sports. In fact, it’s where the accessibility of eSports falls down that holds it back.

Whereas most traditional sports require participants to be able-bodied and physically fit, in theory anyone who puts in enough hard work can master eSports.

However, because they are still seen as a male preserve, the negative attitudes of some players and a shortage of role models is limiting their accessibility to women, which will need to change if eSports are to reach their true potential.


Most eSports players and fans are men under the age of 35, an ideal target audience for marketers that has helped bring money into this form of competition. However, there are big questions around what will happen as these players and fans get older. If they retain their interest as younger people discover eSports, the number of players and fans will continue to grow. If not, there will be serious challenges ahead.

Spectator appeal

The biggest advantage for eSports when it comes to popularity is that there are multiple ways they can be presented on screen. Viewers can get inside the game in a way that would be too intrusive in traditional sports.

If you watched the Call of Duty World League games in September, you’ll have seen some good examples of this. Activision Blizzard CEO and Founder of the Call of Duty Endowment Bobby Kotick is confident about the future of the game, and recently promised further instalments. You can find out the latest by following Bobby Kotick on Twitter.

Viewer engagement

The ease with which eSports can be shown at their most exciting online isn’t the only thing that makes them appealing to spectators. It’s now easy to gamble on eSports, enabling fans to benefit directly from the success of their favorite players. And whereas you can’t go from watching baseball to playing baseball unless there’s a ball field available nearby, you can go from watching eSports to playing them yourself in seconds.

While there are still a lot of unknown factors when it comes to the future of eSports, it’s easy to see they’re on the up. However, whether or not they can ever become as popular as real sports will depend on significant cultural change. Can we value mental prowess as much as physical prowess? Can competition in a virtual environment garner the respect that completion in a physical environment has?

Whatever the answer to these questions, it seems certain eSports will continue to vie for credibility for the foreseeable future.

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