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Academy Faculty Member Predicts Further Global Growth of eSports

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A United States Sports Academy faculty member who has conducted scholarly research on “eSports” is predicting continued global growth for the popular competitive video gaming tournaments.

Academy Director of Sports Management Dr. Brandon Spradley recently co-authored a research article on the subject with doctoral student Daniel Kane for The Sport Journal, the Academy’s peer-reviewed online journal of sports. Kane is pursuing his Doctor of Education degree in sports management from the Academy.

“eSports is competitive video gaming,” Spradley said. “As a sports professional who studies sports management, it is necessary for me to keep up with current trends in the field. eSports has certainly been a growing trend over the last few years.”

United States Sports Academy Director of Sports Management Dr. Brandon Spradley

Spradley said eSports include any video game that can be played by multiple people – sports games, war games, fighting games, etc. – in a competitive, tournament-style setting. Some of the popular sports games played in eSports tournaments are the Madden series of NFL games and the NBA 2K series.  The tournaments have become highly popular among players and viewers around the world.

“An eSports tournament is set up in much the same way that a traditional athletic tournament would be, in an arena setting,” Spradley said. “The environment and the atmosphere, the things we love about major sports events, can be very similar to a traditional tournament. You have similar marketing aspects and sponsorships. The only thing is that instead of having people running around a track or shooting a ball into a hoop, you have them sitting around playing video games on a big screen.”

Newzoo, a gaming market observer organization, says the number of people who watch eSports – both occasional viewers and enthusiasts – will rise to 427 million globally by 2019.

Fortune magazine reported that the global eSports industry generated approximately $749 million in 2015, including $224 million in North America.  The revenues were overwhelmingly driven by sponsorships and advertising, which accounted for 78 percent, with other revenues coming from fantasy and eSports betting, amateur tournaments, and merchandise and ticket sales. The magazine predicts that global eSports revenue will rise to $1.9 billion by 2018.

Amid growth, there is also controversy.  Says Spradley, “A hot topic for debate among sports professionals is the question: ‘Should eSports be considered a true sport?’”

A former track and field athlete at the University of Alabama, Spradley said he is personally “on the fence” about calling eSports a true sport. But as an academic, he said he finds rise of eSports fascinating. In The Sport Journal piece, Spradley took an objective and academic view of the subject and helped Kane gather evidence to show eSports exhibit characteristics of a true sport.

The Sport Journal article (read here) suggests that eSports be considered a sport and governing bodies like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) should recognize it as such. The piece also suggests eSports should be listed as an emerging sport for women in accordance with Title IX regulations.

Labeling video game playing as a sport is controversial, with many people saying eSports will never be considered a “true sport.” Others say the skillful execution, planning, precise timing and hand-eye coordination needed for competitive gaming are aspects that make it a sport.

“I’m a former collegiate student athlete, so it is hard for me to look at eSports as a real sport,” he said. “But in my role as a professor, I have to look at trends and study them. I have not necessarily bought in to the idea that eSports should be considered a sport like basketball, football or track and field, but I do think the topic of eSports is interesting because there are so many unique aspects to it.

“I have watched some of the eSports events on television; I look at the preparation that takes place.  I look at the preparation, the focus and the mental aspect. You have to have good hand-eye coordination and be prepared ahead of the tournament. It takes real mental focus to be good at eSports on a truly competitive level.”

The first competitive video gaming tournament took place in 1972 at Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where a few students played a space video game against each other. In 1980, Atari held the first large scale video game competition called the Space Invaders Championship tournament, which attracted 10,000 participants from around the United States. In the 1990s, the advent of the internet saw large eSports tournaments sprouting around the world. The trend continued to grow in the 2000s, which also saw the beginning of televised eSports in South Korea, the United Kingdom and eventually the United States, where ESPN has broadcasted Madden NFL competitions.

Today, the eSports movement has been granted legitimacy by professional sports organizations. Recently, 17 NBA teams announced plans to participate in the inaugural season of the NBA 2K eSports league, set to debut in 2018. It will be the first eSports league operated by a United States-based professional sports league.

eSports have also gained popularity at the collegiate level, where this year the Big Ten Network announced it would host a season of video game competitions between the conference’s member schools. eSports have also received considerable media coverage from ESPN, Yahoo!, Sport1 and others.

“It is more widespread than you may think,” Spradley said. “I read an article where NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was talking about a partnership they signed with a video game publisher. A team, for example the New York Knicks, would link up with the eSports New York Knicks, and they would play competitive video tournaments gaming during the season against teams like the eSports Chicago Bulls. That caught my attention because it was the first time I had seen a major professional organization getting on board with eSports.”

On a global scale, supporters are pushing to have eSports recognized as an Olympic sport. In April, the Olympic Council of Asia announced plans to introduce eSports as a demonstration sport in the 2018 Asian Games and to make it a medal sport in 2022 in Hangzhou, China.

While eSports may never be recognized by some fans of traditional sports, Spradley said there is no denying that the trend will continue to grow worldwide for the foreseeable future.

“eSports will continue to grow,” Spradley said. “Much like traditional sports, I think this will grow from the local level upward.”

The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports.

The Academy is based in Daphne, Ala.  For more information, call (251) 626-3303 or visit www.ussa.edu.

By Eric Mann

Eric Mann is the communications assistant at the United States Sports Academy. Reach him at emann@ussa.edu

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