A couple years ago, it would have seemed absurd to imagine that someone could become an instant millionaire by winning a competitive gaming tournament. A week ago, however, 5 Americans did exactly that, as Evil Geniuses walked away the champions at Valve's annual The International Dota 2 tournament. The team persevered over many tournament favorites, taking home their share of the over $18 million prize pool.
That kind of underdog story is something very familiar to fans of more traditional sports like baseball and football. It now appears that a popular sports network is willing to bet that fans of those sports might like to see it play out in front of a computer screen just as much as on a football field.
Sports media kingpin ESPN announced earlier today that they will air a special episode of their E:60 program that focuses on Evil Geniuses' win at The International 5. The episode is scheduled to air sometime this fall, although no specific premiere date has been revealed at this time. E:60 is ESPN's weekly hour-long investigative journalism show that goes in-depth about all kinds of sports stories and phenomena.
ESPN referred to The International 5 as the "Super Bowl of competitive gaming", and the comparison is valid. Valve's tournament in the heart of Seattle captured the attention of gamers everywhere, and attracted millions of concurrent live viewers during the Grand Finals. It was an eSports spectacle like no other, and hometown heroes Evil Geniuses managed to triumph over heavy Eastern favourites like LGD Gaming and Vici Gaming to take home the championship.
The Evil Geniuses squad is captained by Clinton "Fear" Loomis and rounded out by Syed "SumaiL" Hassan, Saahil "UNiVeRsE" Arora, Kurtis "Aui_2000" Ling and Peter "ppd" Dager, and they have gone a long way to prove eSports has mainstream appeal, despite what some outspoken media members would argue. The massive prize pool that the Dota 2 teams were competing for also helps lend some weight to the argument that competitive gaming is just as legitimate as more physical sports, and ESPN seems to believe the same. Given that the money was largely raised by Dota 2 fans, it should come as no surprise that industry leaders like ESPN are taking notice and willing to take a gamble on coverage.
While other games like League of Legends have a consistently higher viewership, Dota 2's The International remains the pinnacle of competitive gaming, and Valve will be looking to top last weekend's affair with something even bigger next year. It's possible we might even see the International 6 covered all week on ESPN, much like a golf or tennis tournament would be.
Where do you think the ceiling is for these eSports events? Will you be tuning in next year if you didn't last weekend? Let us know in the comments.