Jason Sugarman: Are eSports Tournaments the Super Bowls of the Future?

About a decade ago, if you went to a football game, a baseball game, or even a tennis match, the stadium would most likely be filled to the brim with fans of all ages. These days, go to a game and the fandom filling the bleachers is most likely going to be middle-aged men. Data backs this up. Manchester United, possibly the most recognized MLS brand in the world, has announced that the average age of an MU watcher is now 53. So where are all the younger viewers? Without young audiences, what will happen to major league sports in the future?

Young Sports Lovers are Big Fans of E-Sports

Recently, a journalist aptly noted that the most recent Fnatic convention, a gathering of hardcore e-sports lovers, was packed to the hilt. All around the venue were young faces. Recently, at the Lisbon web summit, when an announcer asked people to raise their hands if they had heard about Manchester United, nearly all hands went up. Then the same person asked people to raise their hands if they had heard about Fnatic? Notably, a similar number of hands went up.

Young audiences are now following e-sports with the same ardent fervor as sports fans following major league teams. Instead of playing a game like football, fans are following top players of games like Overwatch, Counter-Strike, and Dota. Gamers are no longer considered pale-faced nerds stuck in their mothers’ basements. Professional video gamers now even prefer the term “eAthletes.”

Franchise Potential of E-Sports

Sure, e-sports may have fervent followers but could they ever have the same brand recognition as Manchester United, The Patriots, or the upcoming LAFC? If you have ever seen tens of thousands of people crowding Beijing’s National (Bird’s Nest) Stadium to watch e-sports events, you would definitely think so.

E-sports are no longer just a hobby. The sector has already shown great potential not just in attracting devoted fans, but also in making millions in profits. Team Liquid, the e-sports team Jason Sugarman has heavily invested in, earlier this year won the International Dota 2 Championships, bringing home the grand prize of a whopping $10.8 million. Wins like this are not so different from major league wins for both players and investors.

Just like with MLB, NFL, or MLS, major e-sports players have millions of followers. Consider Faker, a South Korean player described as the Michael Jordan of the online game League of Legends. When he lost a major game in a tournament, literally millions of fans joined in sympathy. Pro gamers, just like conventional athletes, make millions through merchandising and appearances, in addition to prize money for tournaments.

Would there be an E-Superbowl in the Future?

E-sports will most likely become more popular in the future, as internet connectivity becomes widespread and speedy. Games are also being designed for mass appeal. So it’s not a matter of if, but rather when, the official e-sporting Super Bowl would arrive. Gamers already call international championships, like the one Team Liquid recently won, the Super Bowl of e-sports.

It would be very interesting indeed to see where e-sporting and sporting, in general, is headed to in the future with the younger generation.