Competitive video gaming or eSports, once considered the pipe-dream of teens and twenty-somethings in basements and college dorm rooms, is now becoming a legitimate, mainstream form of entertainment with all the tinsel and trappings that you would expect from a major league professional sport.
Professional gamers, much like their celebrity counterparts in other forms of professional sports, have found themselves in the spotlight, earning salaries competitive with those of some professional athletes and finding themselves being featured on sports media giant, ESPN. South Korea is generally considered the cradle of eSports with their progressive attitude toward competitive gaming and was the first developed country to establish eSports organizations and officially license professional gamers starting in 2000.
Since then, professional gaming has spread around the world with the first to follow in South Korea's footsteps into large-scale professional gaming being Riot Games and their well-known multi-player online battle arena (MOBA) game, League of Legends (LoL). Riot Games, became the first company to pay players as contracted employees like most professional athletes in more mainstream sports. Since its release, League of Legends fan base has expanded to a staggering 67 million players per month with 27 million of those playing every day and over 7.5 million playing at the same time during each day’s peak play time.
As a result of such massive support, Riot Games separated from Major League Gaming, the most widespread professional gaming network in the United States, to establish their own tournament circuit complete with coaches, team owners, and corporate sponsorship's. Organisations such as Dignitas have developed competitive teams for multiple games, contracting players and providing extravagant amenities such as entire gaming houses complete with water, electricity, coaches, trainers, food, and gaming peripherals. This is rapidly becoming the norm with teams such as Curse and TSM following suit. Professional eSports teams and tournaments are now finding themselves sponsored by huge corporations such as Nissan and Coca-Cola and team members are developing into full-fledged celebrities.
eSports continues to expand rapidly and is becoming more mainstream with each passing year. In 2013, the US Immigration Service announced that it will recognize professional League of Legends players as professional athletes, making the visa application process significantly simpler.
In 2014, Robert Morris University announced scholarships covering up to 50 percent of tuition and 50 percent of room and board, worth up to $19,000 per student, for its League of Legends collegiate competitive teams. eSports popularity has exploded since its beginnings in South Korea back in 2000 and the future for its players looks brighter than ever.
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