32 million people watched the Season 3 World Championships for the video game League of Legends this year. 8.5 million of those people watched at the same time. To put that in perspective, 13 million people watch a typical NFL game on Sunday. Last years’ World Series drew 18 million viewers. 8.5 million viewers at one time is really impressive when you realize this was accomplished without a large TV contract and almost no marketing. The impact of these gaming tournaments has created billion dollar deals in the field of video streaming. It is big business.
Competitive video gaming is nothing new. Game designers however, have figured out a formula that not only makes games that have mass appeal to players, but to those watching as well. Games are no longer just for sale as a leisure product, they are a sport. Games like League of Legends, Starcraft II, Counter Strike and Dota 2 are putting up millions in prize money and salaries to top players.
If you are thinking I am joking, the United States recently recognized League of Legends as an official sport so they could issue visas to players, just as they do for sports like the NBA. And yes, there are even fantasy leagues where you can put together teams of your favorite League of Legends competitors and earn points for your virtual team online. And with millions in prize money and sponsorships for players, more and more people are pursuing competitive gaming careers. You no longer need to be a programmer to get a job in games. You can now select from hundreds of related careers like announcer, PR representative or business development director.
So with all that is going on in the world of competitive eSports, I believe the time has come for more school programs to include competitive gaming. There is a large population of students that are not currently being serviced by competitive sports programs in schools. You might label them as the “chess club” kids, or the students that spend most of their after school time searching for a home in the Student Technology Association. Don’t get me wrong these are excellent organizations, but these students want more.
They are typically gamers. They are often associated with geek culture. Sometimes they are brilliant with excellent futures. But they need that social outlet to increase self-esteem and alertness. They need a purpose to come to school and get better grades. Competitive gaming represents this opportunity. We just need to get programs started.
So where do we start? I believe that most of the work has already been done. Schools already play other schools competitively in other sports. We need coaches and players to organize schedules. Game companies should offer up servers for practice and competition. Students should meet after school in a social environment like the computer lab and get organized. They should build their teams, they should plan their strategies. Large events could be held in the auditorium that often goes unused. Bake sales could buy computers and game time. And matches could be streamed online for the world to watch.
As technology advances, we need to advance with it. eSports are here to stay. For what it is worth, I officially decree that we need gaming in schools!