Pro gaming may soon eclipse sports including basketball and baseball

Playing computer games is more than a pastime for some younger people. It’s a career.

A study by Unibet sheds new light on the phenomenon of eSports, as competitive gaming is called. Did you know that the League of Legends (multiplayer online battle arena/MOBA) final drew in more viewers than the last game of the 2016 NBA Finals (36 million vs 31 million)? Or that the total eSports prize pool exceeds $93 million?

As you can see, competitive gaming has become a serious business. Just how serious? Let’s talk numbers.

ESports viewership has been growing steadily, from 76 million occasional and 56 million frequent viewers in 2012, to a staggering 194 million and 191 million, respectively, in 2017. Statista projections take those numbers even further, expecting them to rise to 286 million and 303 million, respectively, by 2020. To put this into perspective, male millennials in the U.S. already watch eSports as much as they do baseball and ice hockey.

Along with the audience, the number of pro gamers has also been growing rapidly. In 2012, there were 4,246 of them, while in 2016 there were 13,555.

Big prizes

So we have the audience and the digital athletes — all we’re missing now are prizes. And they are generous, indeed. Winning a major golf tournament, such as the U.S. Open, can actually be less lucrative than winning Dota 2 (another MOBA tournament). Each member of the Wings Gaming team who won The International 2016 Dota 2 tournament went home with $1.83 million in prize money.

The gamer with the most money earned is Saahil Arora (gaming nickname: UNiVeRsE), a U.S. Dota 2 player who made $1.73 million in 2015, his best year. In comparison, Dustin Johnson was awarded $1.8 million for winning the 2016 U.S. Open, and Sergio Garcia, the winner of the 2017 Masters, took home $1.98 million.

From 2013 to 2016, the amount of money handed out across all eSports games more than quadrupled, from $21.4 million to $93.3 million. This year could breach the $150 million mark, an almost 100-fold increase from 2003.

Countries with the biggest winnings in 2016 were China ($19.3 million), the U.S. ($14.7 million) and South Korea ($11.9 million). If you’re thinking about becoming a pro gamer, you may be interested…

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