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E-Sports Reach Pro-Athletic Status, Fandom — And Money

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Online competitive gaming is increasingly mirroring the world of professional sports. E-sports are attracting hard-working teams that compete for millions of dollars in prize money.

Generally, gamers wage battles with one another using rapid clicks of a computer mouse. "A lot of it comes down to reflexes, but a lot of [it] is strategy," says David Gorman, a sportscaster for the popular e-sport, Dota 2. "It's very much like chess, except it's in real time. Almost like speed chess."

Despite this seemingly sedentary pastime, Gorman tells NPR's Jacki Lyden, these players are like professional athletes, practicing hours each day with specialized training staff. Even the U.S. immigration service agrees: E-sports players receive the same visas given to visiting baseball and soccer stars.

In the latest sign that the value of gamers is rising, e-sports team members are now being traded to other teams, notes Gorman, who founded the Lost Angeles-based Beyond The Summit, which broadcasts e-sports coverage. Last week, one Chinese player was traded for $85,000.

Dota 2, where teams of five players face off, is particularly popular in China. One of the country's richest men purchased an entire team for $6 million in 2011.

There's big money from the fan base, too. Professional teams are packing large venues, and selling out tickets, Gorman says. The events he commentates, which are carried online and sponsored by advertising revenue, attract up to a million viewers.

"It's really a very global phenomenon," Gorman says. "The audience will come to the venue, but there's people — millions of people — watching from around the world.

League of Legends is even more popular than Dota 2. Last October, the world championship broke all records with 8.5 million viewers live-streaming. That final game, which was broadcast on a big screen above the heads of the players onstage, was played before of a sold-out crowd at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

"It's really not just people playing in their basements," Gorman says. "I don't know if that ever was the case, but it's certainly not how the top teams are organized now."

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