Even if you’re only remotely aware of the extreme sports competition, when you think of the X Games, you likely imagine BMX riders flying through the air or skateboarders popping an ollie with ease. You imagine a lot of physical movement by the talented participants.
But the typical X Games competitor is about to change, with the announcement of the X Games’ newest competition: eSports.
On Monday, ESPN X Games and Major League Gaming announced that they are joining forces for the first ever MLG X Games Invitational, which will take place during X Games Austin from June 6-8. MLG Pro Gamers can win actual X Games medals, and viewers can watch the competition live on MLG.tv or catch highlights on ESPN and ABC.
If you don’t consider yourself a part of the millennial generation, or you haven’t touched a game console since Super Mario Bros., you’re likely scratching your head as to how eight teams playing Call of Duty: Ghosts qualifies as a sport. It’s been the subject of heated, online debates, and now we’d like to provide some helpful insights into the world of competitive gaming.
It goes back to the dawn of video games
Online gaming certainly caused the current boom of e-sports in America and around the world, but it’s worth remembering that since the Stone Age of video game arcades, gamers have gone toe-to-toe to see who’s the best at moving pixels on a screen.
Look no further than the critically-acclaimed documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which details the decades-long battle to see who can break the high score for the original Donkey Kong arcade game. The virtual battlefield has been active with epic digital showdowns, but only recently have massive numbers of players been able to duke it out from across the globe.
“But,” you’re probably asking yourself, “it can’t be more than just a hobby, right? Who really considers it to be an actual sport?” To answer that, just look across the Pacific.
The rest of the world boasts a huge following for eSports
Look no further than South Korea to see that eSports not only attracts many aspiring pro-gamers, but there’s a fanbase willing to watch the action unfold in real-time broadcasts. Massive followings for games such as StarCraft II and League of Legends led to the creation of the Korean e-Sports Association by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The country even boasts Ongamenet, a cable TV channel with a major programming focus on broadcasting video game matches.
Earlier this year, MLG announced plans to create MLG Brasil as its first international initiative. MLG will also build the world’s first video game arena, seating 15,000 spectators on Hengqin Island off the coast of Macau. And the potential to rapidly expand eSports stateside is also of note.
American eSports spectators have already staked their online claim
While you can’t call up Grande and ask them to carry a channel devoted to competitive gaming, that doesn’t mean there’s no American audience willing to sit and watch strangers from across the world play Call of Duty.
Say hello to Twitch.tv, a website that streams live videos of eSports and video gaming. According to the Twitch Media Group, the website boasts 45 million unique viewers each month, and the Wall Street Journal estimated that Twitch.tv accounts for 1.8 percent of peak internet traffic in the U.S., behind only Netflix, Google and Apple.
X Games inclusion doesn’t settle the "real sports" debate
ESPN, the “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” is making a very savvy move by including eSports in its coverage of the X Games. The genre has a massive following of viewers across the world that already overlaps with the X Games' targeted demographics of Generations X and Y, but don’t expect to see gamers vying for medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro just yet.
An episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel showed how public opinion is likely divided on whether eSports constitute “real sports.” Some panelists dismissed it as a bunch of nerds who normally go to Star Trek conventions. On the other hand, Soledad O’Brien noted that it contains a complex structure, business model, prize money and an elite competitive level that is evident in any widely accepted sporting event.
Does that affect the fans who will trek to this year’s X Games in Austin? Probably not. They just want to see the world’s best do what they do so well.