Rick Fox Says eSports Is Primed to Overtake NHL as 4th Major Sport in USA

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIMarch 21, 2016

Actor Rick Fox seen at the Focus Features premiere of
Arthur Mola/Associated Press

Former NBA player Rick Fox told TMZ Sports on Monday that eSports will soon pass the National Hockey League as the No. 4 major sport in the United States.

The news outlet posted a video in which Fox discussed how the fledgling enterprise will supplant the NHL within two years: 

Fox is a League of Legends team owner, per TMZ, and explained how former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Shaquille O'Neal is among those who have reached out to him with an interest to get in on eSports.

It may seem outlandish to consider a video gaming-based platform overtaking a well-established sports fixture such as the NHL, but Fox does have a fair point.

The rapid proliferation of technological development in the modern digital era has been applicable to the gaming industry, creating an unprecedentedly engaging entertainment experience. Products such as Oculus Rift and virtual reality are pushing that frontier even further.

Tournaments for eSports are already being held, and the momentum does indeed seem to be building for them to become a mainstream phenomenon.

Activision CEO Robert Kotick spoke to the New York Times' Nick Wingfield in January and indicated he was aspiring to create the "ESPN of video games" in taking eSports to television.

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ESPN2 broadcasted the Heroes of the Storm eSports tournament last year and will do so again by airing the semifinals and finals in April.

Prominent sports figures such as Fox Sports personality Colin Cowherd and Utah Jazz star Gordon Hayward have presented contrasting views of eSports:

There's reason to believe in eSports' upside overall and as a legitimate business enterprise too. The ELEAGUE's inaugural season features a $1.2 million prize-money pool, per Turner Sports.

Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat reported in January that the number of U.S. gamers who watch eSports spiked by 100 percent over the past two years, so there's a booming viewership market to consider as well.

But garnering TV ratings may determine how successful eSports can be. As part of the aforementioned ESPN2 telecast from 2015, the finals of Heroes of the Storm posted a 0.1 rating, per Awful Announcing's Matt Yoder, and drew only 96,000 viewers.

To cite an example from the most recent NHL playoffs, Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning drew a 1.3 rating, per Zap2it.com.

The fact ESPN2 committed again to Heroes of the Storm in 2016 despite the poor prior ratings bodes well for eSports—and their live-stream viewership.

For the 2015 League of Legends World Championship, there were 36 million unique viewers who watched the finals, including 11 million concurrent viewers, per Forbes' Paul Tassi.

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