Performance-enhancing drugs have been a controversy in sports for some time. Now, the problem has crossed over to the virtual world.
The Electronic Sports League, one of the largest leagues in competitive video gaming, announced last week that it would start testing its players for performance-enhancing drugs.
Yes, even in the world of video game competitions, players are using drugs like Adderall, which helps players focus, to gain an advantage.
This might seem like a trivial piece of news, but the implications reach across the globe. The New York Times reports the announcement is a sign that professional gaming, also known as eSports, is turning into a “mainstream form of competitive entertainment.”
Statistics on eSports certainly support the claim. The industry is huge, growing off the video game market that spans the globe.
Revenue from eSports is expected to break $250 million around the world this year. There are an estimated 113 million fans worldwide who watch gaming competitions in person and on sites like Twitch, a 24-hour online broadcast that features entire tournaments and individual players.
Fans tune in to watch their favorite players, who develop followings like big-named athletes, as they compete in games like League of Legends, a free-to-play online game where players battle with mythological heroes and creatures. There are channels where viewers can learn different skills, as well as others where they discuss topics surrounding different games.
So, how did eSports get so big?
To start, video games are incredibly popular. In the United States, 59 percent of the population plays video games, from consoles like Playstation and Xbox to ones like Candy Crush on mobile devices. In 2013, consumers across the country spent more than $21 billion on games, according to research from the Entertainment Software Association.
Adding monetary prizes to tournaments has brought together some of the best players in the world, which has attracted even more fans. The prizes keep getting bigger as well. In a tournament last March where a player admitted to taking Adderall, the gamers were competing for $250,000 in prize money, the Associated Press reports.
In June, the Washington Post reported more than 21 million people tuned in on Twitch to watch the Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3, gaming’s biggest annual show. The online broadcast had as many as 840,000 people watching video streams of the competition at the same time.
The market is so big that Google even wants a piece. The company announced it is launching its own site, YouTube Gaming, that will broadcast to the gaming audience. While it’s due to officially launch this summer, it’s already gone up against Twitch by streaming E3, grabbing 8 million viewers in its first 12 hours.
For story ideas, eSports and gaming offer a number of local money angles. Competitions and tournaments of all sizes are popular across the country, so see if there are any happening in your coverage area and cover the event.
Keep an eye on some of the big releases in the video game industry as well, like the annual release of the Madden football franchise, which releases its newest game on August 25. New releases of the most popular games are often like big movie premiers, with fans waiting in line for hours at stores to purchase the latest installment.
re/code: What Are eSports?