Traditional Sports and Esports — The Overlap
In 2014 the president of ESPN, John Skipper, made what is now an infamous comment regarding competitive gaming: “It’s not a sport.” Fortunately for esports fans, times have changed in the mere three years since then, from ESPN2’s broadcast of a Heroes of the Storm tournament in 2015 to the “NBA 2k eLeague” set to debut in 2018. Traditional sports are meeting up with esports in new and exciting ways day after day, and the crossovers serve to merge fans of both worlds in a mutually beneficial way.
The aforementioned NBA 2k eLeague is the first official esports league to be operated by a traditional sports league in the United States. 17 out of the 30 NBA teams have signed on for the inaugural season in 2018, and each will sign five professional players to compete at the game NBA 2k. These players will receive salaries and face off in a series of games leading up to the bracket-style playoffs, not unlike the traditional NBA’s regular season.
Basketball is one of the most prominent sports to crossover into esports, and perhaps the most well-known example to date is that of three-time NBA champion Rick Fox. Fox began his esports ventures in 2015, over a decade after his NBA retirement, when he bought professional League of Legends team Gravity Gaming and re-branded the organization Echo Fox. Since then the team has experienced only moderate success in the NALCS, but the brand has branched out into a variety of other esports as well.
In early 2016 Echo Fox acquired a CS:GO team, but it was disbanded before the end of the calendar year; however, the fighting game genre attracted the brand as well, and they signed players Julio Fuentes and Mew2King in Street Fighter V and Super Smash Bros. Melee, respectively. 2017 saw further commitment from Echo Fox, signing seven new professional fighting gamers and a manager to the brand.
Rick Fox isn’t the only former NBA star interested in the budding esports market; Shaquille O’Neal is one of four owners and an investor in NRG eSports, an esports organization with current stake in seven different titles. NRG had a League of Legends team in the NALCS before they were relegated, as well, and with franchising coming in 2018 the possibility of them returning to the league is certainly present.
New developments in the affiliation of the two worlds are constantly emerging. Even the NALCS Finals in Boston saw Gordon Hayward, now of the Boston Celtics, appear as a guest on the analyst desk to give his input on the series. With fans of traditional sports being shown the legitimacy of esports by idols like Fox, Shaq, and Hayward, the growth and popularity of competitive video gaming is set to reach new heights in the coming years.