Last year there were more than 3,000 StarCraft II tournaments held in North America. That was good enough for Blizzard Entertainment’s award-winning real-time strategy game to become the fifth-most popular tourney game, behind League of Legends, Dota 2, FIFA, and Pokemon, respectively. Which is to say, there are many, many video game (or eSports) tournaments held every year and the numbers just keep going up. According to a recent study, there were 8,809 tourneys in 2011 and that number is expected to top 47,500 in 2014. And that’s just participation–the viewership numbers are also going through the roof. Last year’s League Championship Series (LCS) Final held at the Staples Center in L.A. hit 32 million total viewers, peaking with 8.2 million watching at the same time.
The latest eSports extravaganza recently wrapped up with the Grand Finals for Red Bull’s three-city tour of professional tournaments for StarCraft II. The events earlier this summer in Atlanta and Detroit led to the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, where South Korean Choi “Bomber” Ji Sung was the overall winner, taking home his share of the $50,000 prize money and making him the No. 7-ranked player in the StarCraft II WCS rankings heading to next month’s World Championship Series Global Finals
Both days of the weekend tournament were sold out and more than 1.4 million people watched the event streaming on Twitch, Red Bull’s website and Red Bull TV, the brand’s mobile app.
The scope of the event reflects how massive the eSports space has become over the past several years. Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg has noted, “Games have become the biggest unofficial sports league in the world right now,” and the numbers support the conclusion. In what was called the largest eSports event to date, the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship livestream last October was watched by 32 million people, with 8.5 million watching concurrently. MLB’s postseason viewership was up in 2013, to an average of 6.3 million across Fox, TBS, and MLB Network. The NHL’s Stanley Cup finals in June averaged 5 million viewers.