E-sports becoming a big business: Football, soccer and...Super Smash Bros?

Would you believe more people watch people playing video games than they do basketball or baseball?

For proof, look no further than a recent competition in Los Angeles. Reggie Fils-Aime, the towering and affable president of the US division of Japanese game maker Nintendo, had been preparing for the past year to compete in a World Championship of the company's games.

The game was Super Smash Bros., one of Nintendo's most popular fighting tites. He was controlling Ryu, of the faces the iconic Street Fighter franchise. The character, muscles bulging and forever wearing an intense expression, is equipped to fell opponents with his trademark hurricane kick.

Fils-Aime's challenger, competitive gamer Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma, was controlling Jigglypuff, a cute pink animal from the popular Pokemon monster hunting video game. Imagine a stuffed animal, give it even cuter eyes, and you have Jigglypuff. It sings opponents to sleep.

Fils-Aime's character was knocked out in the first 4 seconds of the game. The crowd laughed, and then expressed support. But Fils-Aime didn't have a chance -- he died repeatedly in the following three minutes and 54 seconds.

This all played out in a theater full of fans. More than 200,000 more were watching live over the Internet.

If you were to construct a timeline of popular technologies in the video game industry, people being watched live by an audience as they play competitively over the Internet would be at the bleeding edge. The trend has spawned entire businesses, it's the subject of TV stations in South Korea and it's expected to attract an audience of 134 million people this year, up 91 percent from the year before, according to industry watcher SuperData Research.

Even sports channel ESPN has joined in, with its magazine publishing its first e-sports issue this month featuring US National Football League player Marshawn Lynch on the cover, accompanied by stories about video games, including a profile of a League of Legends superstar player from South Korea. The company also partners with game makers to stream the world's most popular tournaments online on its ESPN3 channel.

Meanwhile, some of the world's largest tech companies are jumping in. Both Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 can stream games live to the Internet. Amazon-owned Twitch and Google-owned YouTube, which last week launched a dedicated gaming hub, dominate e-sports viewership. In 2012, Major League Gaming, a sports league launched in 2002, started its own streaming service as well.

"Our mission from day one was to turn e-sports into a top five professional sport," said Mike Sepso, a co-founder of Major League Gaming.



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