The Spectator Sport of Gaming

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Since ancient times, sporting games have been a source of fun and excitement. From gladiator fights, to jousting, to the Fifa World Cup, spectators crave live entertainment. Though watching televised games can still be fun- and many times, the only option- the thrill of the arena, the bright lights, and being at the front-centre of all the action is an experience that simply can’t be duplicated through a television screen. But while the attendance of live sporting events is commonplace, with fans filling up massive arenas with capacities over 100,000, the newest sport to garner a spectator following is...gaming?

For the first time ever, the Grey Cup (Canada's biggest sporting event) will be hosting a League of Legends Esports tournament this year as part of its 108th Grey Cup, with a whopping $50,000 prize pool!

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League of Legends is currently the most popular Esport in the world; a multiplayer online battle arena game released in 2009, the game currently has amassed an active user base of over 80 million players spanning across 145 different countries, with over 30 million players logging on every day. Given the game’s massive popularity, its addition to the Grey Cup Festival lineup becomes slightly more understandable, with Festival director Mike Edwards explaining that:

“Technology is a huge focus for us as we plan the 2020 Grey Cup Festival; League of Legends is the largest and most popular Esports game in the world. The tournament will help engage a new generation of fans with the Festival that may not have attended before.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic still largely interfering with live sporting events, it is unsure as to whether the event will yet be held in person or not. However, the addition of League of Legends to the festival’s sports lineup suggests that esports events may remain in the festival lineup well into the future.

Esport tournaments have been on the rise for a while now, and with the popularity of online gaming only continuing to skyrocket, esports leagues are only continuing to grow. Some of the biggest leagues include Major League Gaming, European Gaming League, and the Electronic Sports League (Arthur C, Stuart K 2014). Gaming tournaments themselves have existed since the 70s, with the very first gaming tournament taking place in 1972 at Stanford University with the game Spacewar. From there, there was little time before Atari hosted a Space Invaders Championship, in which more than 10,000 people gathered to watch- this rise of gaming competitions is actually what inspired the 1989 film The Wizard! (Paradise 2018)

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Nowadays, Esports tournaments are held in all types of different venues around the world: from colleges, to universities to real sports arenas. If fans can’t make in-person events, they can tune in online to stream the competition on Twitch, which currently has 5 million active daily viewers, each spending an average of almost two hours a day streaming games, that’s more than most prime time cable TV networks (Paradise 2018)! Though League of Legends is currently the most popular esport, it is by no means the only one. Among other popular esports are Dota 2, CS: GO, and Rainbow Six Siege, which together have given out almost 21 million dollars in tournament prize money in 2020 alone (Hore 2020).

So what makes a video game quality to be an esport? As Andrew Paradise explains in his article The rise of esports as a spectator phenomenon: “For a game to become a sport, it needs three core components: competition, tournaments and spectators.” Like any sport, another key component in popularity is strategy: esports fans prefer games that take time and require a great amount of skill to properly master, adding to the steepness of the competition. Another popular franchise now receiving the esport treatment is Super Smash Bros.; the ionic Nintendo fighting game which now fills entire venues packed with fans as matches are projected on enormous screens, complete with betting, cash prizes, and in many cases, even game commentators! Notably among which is former Disney-star, Dylan Sprouse.

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Though the number of in-person esport events have dwindled due to COVID-19, esports streaming only continues to rise; either way, esports look like they’re here to stay, and if your game has a strong capacity for competition, strategy, tournaments, and spectators, it could well become the next big sport!


Arthur C, Stuart K (2014) How video gaming turned into the world's newest spectator sport. [online]. Charles Arthur and Keith Stuart. Available at:

Hore, J. (2020) The Biggest Esports Games. [online] Jamie Hore. Available at:

Paradise, A. (2018) The Rise of Esports as a Spectator Phenomenon. [online] Andrew Paradise. Available at:

2020 Grey Cup Festival. (2020) League Of Legends Canadian Nationals. [online]. Available at: