Full house at LA's Staples Center for the League of Legends 2015 Championships
Full house at LA’s Staples Center for the 2015 League of Legends Championships.

Here’s a question I felt sure I could have answered correctly:

Q: If the Super Bowl is the world’s #1 most-watched athletic event, what’s #2?
  1. The World Series
  2. The NBA Finals
  3. The NCAA Final Four
  4. League of Legends World Championship

I didn’t guess “4,” but I should have. It beat 1, 2, and 3 by a long shot. This blockbuster competition, only one of dozens of eSports events drawing worldwide audiences to real and virtual arenas worldwide, recently garnered 32 million viewers a final showdown. That’s more than double the fan base for the baseball and college basketball events and nearly 1/3 larger than the pro hoops attracted.

And the eSports/Virtual Sports wave is rising, even as “real life” football, baseball, and basketball viewing audiences continue to wane. eSports fans watched 3.7 billion hours of play in 2014 alone, a number that’s been growing by more than a billion hours YOY since tracking began in 2012.

Hundreds of millions of players compete in various eSports and e-gaming activities worldwide. Professional competitions attract sell-out audiences (LA’s Staples Center sold every ticket for the League of Legends championships within an hour).

The prize money is mind-blowing, soaring easily into the millions of dollars for top athletes and events. “The International,” the top prize pool for professional eSports athletes, currently boasts a $16 million purse. European soccer leagues are signing their own virtual teams, doubling down on brand opportunities and extending their franchises beyond the usual constraints of geography and traditional contracts.

There are even college scholarships aimed at top eSports athletes.

A few years back virtual athletes started making news by moving through the ranks of video and online competitions and into real world events. Motorsport team Always Evolving driver Bryan Heitkotter, who rose through Nissan’s GT Academy – a global PlayStation showdown that takes aspiring drivers from “Gamer to Racer” – now fights his way around real tracks as a Pirelli World Challenge favorite. The Academy, which launches a new pro driver onto the racing circuit each year, exemplifies the power of the “virtual to reality” movement in several professional sports.

Yet now, even real-world athletes are branching out to virtual sports, extending their careers and earning potential. UK football clubs are bringing top “e” athletes onto their ranks. In short, a whole new category of athlete is rising: one that may never actually lift a weight or maneuver a ball.

Which is not to say that eSports athletes are lightweights – by no means. Their training and intensity rivals that of any Olympian – which is fitting, since a global eSports spectacle will parallel the Summer Olympics in Rio next month.

This is only the beginning. But watching this category grow virtually day-by-day shows the power of what’s coming. Whatever team or sport you follow or love, expect it to include a virtual component in the coming few years.

Unless, that is, it doesn’t already.

Market assessment from new eSports market entrant eSports+Cars, July 2016.

And expect an even bigger rise from the “e-only” sports category, a movement that’s creating a whole new type of athlete, audience, and fan.

As we watch this space at close range, our experience in motorsports and live events gives us insight into the nuances of competition and the technologies that will help eSports producers and professionals document their results as accurately and objectively as any “real” sport would require.

Our unique “glass to glass” offering, spanning capture, live broadcast, data integration, VOD access, and monetization services, brings this arena a power that has never existed before.

Stay tuned for more on our place in this movement soon. Meanwhile, to learn more about our direction in eSports and beyond, follow us on Twitter or on any of the social platforms linked below.

It’s happening fast. We’re ready for the action. Game on.

Chris Dolan

Chris Dolan

CEO / Co-Founder at AerNow
Chris is CEO / Co-Founder of AerNow, a proven entrepreneur, and an avid fan of motorsports and live entertainment.
Chris Dolan

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