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Old-school fans may cringe, but esports are the next big thing

(Photo by Benedikt Wenck / picture alliance via Getty Images)

Today is one of my favorite days of the year.

My birthday? No, that’s nine months away.

My wedding anniversary? Also no, that’s in January.

How about National Cheesecake Day? Well, yes, but that’s not why I’m excited.

It’s “Madden 20” release day, the biggest day of the year in the video game world. I’ll be waiting anxiously for my copy to arrive by the end of the work day, then I’ll spend hours of my free time and way more money than I care to admit alongside countless other MUTheads (the MUT is short for “Madden Ultimate Team” for those that aren’t familiar) in a quest to reach the peak of the video-game community.

At this point, most of you are probably thinking, “You’re seriously writing about a video game?” A valid question, but here’s why you should care. I’m not just talking about a video game; I’m talking about the next big thing on the Mount Rushmore of sports.

Esports are the next big thing. So much so that there’s a very real chance they pass the likes of hockey and baseball (if they haven’t already) on a worldwide scale sooner rather than later. Don’t believe me? Let me try to change your mind.

“Madden” probably won’t be the game to put esports on the map, but it doesn’t have to be. That honor goes to a couple of titles you might not have heard of and one you definitely have. One is “Overwatch,” an online first-person shooter whose international league championship (yes, that’s a thing) drew more than 10 million viewers in one session last year. “DOTA 2,” another online multiplayer game, drew in 15 million concurrent views in a span of just a few hours in 2018.

And then there’s “Fortnite,” the biggest game in the world during the last two years. This past weekend, nine million people turned on their computers to watch the Fortnite World Cup, a competition that welcomed players from around the world and offered a prize pool of $30 million dollars. One 16-year-old kid, Kyle Giersdorf, took home the $3 million dollar top prize, the largest of its kind.

For reference, that’s just about $800,000 shy of the payout in the upcoming U.S. Open in tennis. Giersdorf’s winnings are $1 million more than Tiger Woods earned at the Masters this year, and $250,000 more than both the men’s and women’s Wimbledon champions. Each member of the Super Bowl winning New England Patriots only picked up a $67,000 bonus.

Speaking of the Super Bowl, here’s some quick viewership numbers from the biggest games in the big four sports. Not surprisingly, Super Bowl LIII brought in a massive amount of eyes, with 149,000,000 people tuning in this past February. This year’s NBA Finals drew an average of 15 million viewers per game. Last year’s World Series had close to 13 million watching per game. But here’s the one that may surprise you: This year’s Blues/Bruins Stanley Cup brought in right around 5 million viewers per game. That’s right, 4 million less than the Fortnite World Cup.

So here’s my point: The nature of sports as we have come to know them is changing. Esports are a major player and they’re only going to get bigger. Whether you play video games, watch video games, or buy video games for your kids, you’re a part of that change. If you don’t do any of those three, maybe think about jumping on board the bandwagon.

I’ll say it again: Esports are the next big thing. And today, I’m happy to take part.

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