How Major League Video Gaming Might Surpass Pro Sports In Money And Popularity

Getting paid to play video games professionally is basically every kid's dream. Let's face it, most of us are not cut out to be professional athletes.

Yet, with enough practice, you could be crushing the whole neighborhood in Madden or FIFA. You may not be able to catch a football or kick a soccer ball in real life, but with that controller in your hand, you're basically a Greek god.

This is what makes video game so appealing -- they are a chance to escape, and to embody something or someone that isn't possible in reality. There is also something extremely satisfying about beating an opponent in a video game -- it gives you bragging rights. In an odd way, these games actually seem to bring people together.

A lot of us might picture the typical video gamer as a fat, unemployed loser playing World of Warcraft in his parents' basement. In actuality, it's becoming an exceptionally popular spectator sport, bringing out massive crowds and boatloads of money. In fact, major league video gaming might just be America's next big business.

There are now professional video game tournaments, known as e-sports, where contestants can win millions of dollars. This isn't that surprising, as video games have become one of the most profitable industries in the world.

Global revenue for video games has already surpassed the music industry's by $20 billion dollars, and it is not far behind the film industry either.

The US government has even taken notice of this, as the State Department now grants visas to international video gamers in the same way it would for athletes.

Believe it or not, part of this is due to the fact that people really enjoy watching other people play video games. While most of us impatiently wait for the controller to be passed over to us, a lot of people enjoy watching the best gamers in the world do their thing.

Indeed, video gaming has become an international spectator sportLeague of Legends, which is the most popular e-sport game, allows for team competitions. Accordingly, spectators can choose a side to support, making the experience very similar to that of an athletic contest.

Shockingly, professional video game tournaments are now attracting as many spectators as professional sports. More than 70 million people worldwide watch e-sports online or on TV.

Likewise, the championship tournament for League of Legends last October attracted as many viewers as the deciding game for the Stanley Cup last June.

Nick Wingfield, who writes for the New York Times, has been following the growing popularity of e-sports quite closely. As he states:

Game tournaments sell out giant arenas, and some attract at-home audiences larger than those of top traditional sporting events. Madison Avenue’s highest fliers, like Coca-Cola and American Express, have lined up as sponsors. Prize money has soared to the millions of dollars, and top players earn six- or seven-figure incomes and attract big and passionate followings, luring a generation of younger players to seek fame and fortune as gamers.

What's more, professional video gaming has become so lucrative that universities are now awarding scholarships for gamers. Robert Morris University of Chicago is one of the first institutions to do this. The scholarships they are offering cover up to 50 percent of both tuition and room and board.

Perhaps video games aren't such a waste of time after all -- they are so popular and profitable that being good at them can literally provide you with an education and make you rich.

The online gaming site, Twitch, is the most popular website for watching people play video games. It's so successful that Amazon recently bought it for $1 billion. Twitch has over 50 million unique viewers each month, making it an enormous online community.

It essentially provides live views of people playing video games, such as Call of Duty. A lot of people visit the site to learn how to get better at their favorite games, or to watch other people play games before deciding to buy them.

It sounds ludicrous, but professional video gaming is now a viable career option. Some people, like Ben Wu, have actually left comfortable positions to pursue a career in gaming.

Wu graduated from college in 2009 and landed a job at a respectable trading firm in Chicago. He was making good money and found his work stimulating. Yet, in 2012, he quit the job, and became a full-time professional gamer.

This might seem like an idiotic move, but it turned out to be an extremely profitable one for Wu. As a member of a professional video game team that competed around the world, he was making close to five figures at some tournaments.

He no longer plays in tournaments, but goes online to educate others on how to play and is a web personality at tournaments. He's like a retired NFL player turned ESPN analyst and announcer.

According to Wu:

Some say that gaming is what children or teens do, as if it's a dirty thing... But it's very dynamic. It requires teamwork, thinking out of the box and being creative. It's an outlet to develop your brain. 

A lot of people might think it's crazy to believe that video games could ever surpass professional sports in popularity and revenue. Yet, when you look at the numbers, it's already possible.

Likewise, unlike certain American sports, video games are popular globally. Baseball, basketball and American football are not played in many countries around the world, but video games are.

Moreover, video game competitions can occur online, athletic contests cannot. Simply put, video games are more widely played, and competitions can occur anytime, anywhere. A video game tournament will never get canceled for inclement weather.

One thing that might work against video games is the stigma that surrounds gamers. Gaming has drawn controversy due to the psychologically-addicting aspect of video games.

Video games don't exactly promote physical activity, and could lead to obesity. Will professional gaming increase instances of gaming addiction and obesity as more children aspire to become pro gamers? Only time will tell.

To be fair, it's not as if professional sports are completely safe either. Football can lead to brain damage, and it's not as if the NFL is providing the best role models for kids at the present. Simply put, any game or competition brings with it inherent risks.

Monetarily, however, video games are a sound investment. Their popularity is already widely established, and continuously on the rise as more innovative means of playing come forward.

Perhaps in time, e-sports will become the most lucrative industry in the world. At present, it's already looking very probable.

Photo credit: Enrique Espinoza/MLG