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Activision Blizzard, Inc. (ATVI), Electronic Arts Inc. (EA): Video-Game Athletes Win Millions. Have E-Sports Arrived?

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If you ever want a deep glimpse into the human psyche and the lengths to which we will go to fulfill even our oddest dreams, you should watch The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. It details the battle for a high score on Donkey Kong that rages between two men. Along with the psychology that seeps out as time creeps by, you might also notice an interesting phenomenon — the only real thing on the line is pride.

While that pride continues to drive competitive video gamers, the evolution of e-sports has given competitors another reason to practice. Cash. Lots of cash. In the second season of competitive League of Legends play, the total prize pool is up to $5 million. League of Legends is a multiplayer online battle arena that pits players against each other in a fantasy environment.

League of Legends: Photo: Riot Games.

Currently, only a handful of games account for most of the professional competition, but the range is expanding, and game developers are working to get in on the growing e-sports world. Just as Nike benefits with the rise in popularity of soccer, so, too, do game developers win as e-sports gain more traction.

This is why we fight
That we now live in a society where a person can make millions of dollars for defeating another person at a video may seem like an odd concept. The U.S. is late to the party. In South Korea and many European countries, e-sports have already made their way into the edges of the mainstream. Internationally, competitions are broadcast on TV and players can achieve celebrity status.

In the U.S., popular video games such as Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI)‘s World of Warcraft and Rovio’s Angry Birds have helped push a range of video games into the public consciousness. With millions of subscribers, World of Warcraft has become the kind of game that almost all of us are familiar with because someone we know plays it. While it’s not the same thing as e-sports, it’s not a far cry.

Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI)’s main entrant in the eS-sports ring is a game called Starcraft 2.

E-Sports Stadium in Seoul, South Korea, Photo: WikiCommons.

The game pits humans and two alien races against each other in a battle to build armies and conquer territory. But a look at the leader boards is all it takes to confirm that the e-sports craze has yet to take a firm hold in America. The top 10 Starcraft 2 players are all Korean, and only five of the top 25 break up that run.

The value of new sports
Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI) and rivals are pushing for an e-sports golden age in America. That desire isn’t wholly revenue-driven, and Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI) has said that its main interest is in helping e-sports grow as a community. That’s good to hear, as currently it can be difficult to squeeze a decent profit out of e-sports.

Riot Games, the makers of League of Legends, is busy sinking any spare cash into marketing and infrastructure costs. The company wants e-sports to make it big, and that means treating e-sports like real sports. Riot has proposed building arenas for fans to watch competitions in, developing a regular system of matches, and even getting e-sports recognized by the U.S. government. That last one came true recently, and now e-sports players are recognized as professional athletes by the U.S., allowing companies to grant visas to international players.

That ruling should help e-sports promoters by allowing them to bring in more ringers from other countries where the competition is already fierce. Just like Major League Soccer made a push for recognition by bringing in David Beckham, e-sports may now have a chance to bring in big names from South Korea or Europe to support American teams and boost domestic team spirit.

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