LOWELL, Mass. – The newest pro sports league has it all: dynamic young players, a loyal fan base and teams in major cities around the world led by the some of the same high-profile owners as the New England Patriots, New York Mets, Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia Flyers.
What it doesn’t have is an actual playing field. The Overwatch League, which launched in January, is the latest manifestation of the e-sports craze. For the uninitiated, e-sports is where online gamers compete before an audience watching via video-streaming sites like Twitch and YouTube – and no one needs to leave their couch. Special events, like tournaments or the playoffs, can draw thousands to watch the competition together at venues that range from those built specifically for e-sports-viewing to traditional theaters.
It all might leave average American adults scratching their heads, but for those age 14 to 21, e-sports are about as big as football, according to results of a UMass Lowell-Washington Post poll released today. Forty percent of that age group said they are football fans while 38 percent count themselves among fans of e-sports.
“The popularity of e-sports and online gaming among American teens and young adults as both a recreational activity that you participate in or can also watch reveals a shifting landscape for what constitutes a sport in American life. It is absolutely telling that the fan base for e-sports is just as large as the fan base for professional football among Americans ages 14 to 21,” said Prof. Joshua Dyck, co-director of the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion, who wrote and analyzed the poll with The Post. “The reasons teens and young adults give for participating in e-sports/online gaming mirror many of those given in our survey of adults 18 and older about why they watch live sports.”
Some of these social interactions that are core to the sports-watching experience, he added, have been moved online into a game space that can accommodate simultaneous game play by millions of users.
The availability of online gaming may speak to its popularity among those age 14 to 21. Fifty-nine percent of teens and young adults in that age group said they have either participated in a video game competition or played an online video game with multiple players in the last 12 months and a similar 58 percent have watched people playing games online on platforms such as Amazon.com-owned Twitch and YouTube.
The popularity of e-sports is even higher among young men: 89 percent of male teens and young adults said they have either played online video games, participated in a competition and/or watched others playing games online in the last year. Only about one in 10 males in that age group have had no interaction with online gaming in the last 12 months. Among females in that age group, 56 percent have either played or watched a video game over the same timeframe. By comparison, only 18 percent of American adults 18 and older reported having played an online video game with multiple players or participating in a video game competition in the preceding 12 months and just 16 percent reported watching video gaming online via Twitch, YouTube or other platforms.
Asked whether they would rather spend a free hour of time watching a live e-sports competition or watching a live sporting event, such as football or the Olympics, the live sporting event won, but the younger the respondent, the more likely they were to choose e-sports. Seventy-eight percent of all adults who play or watch video games preferred the live sporting event to 15 percent for e-sports. But among teens and young adults, 35 percent said they would prefer watching a live e-sports event and that option was even more popular (41 percent) with 14- to 17-year-olds.
The poll found that Americans play or watch video games, regardless of age group, primarily because they are fun and challenging, but also for other reasons, from spending time with friends and making new ones. Teens and young adult gamers were more likely to say that they have made friends by playing competitive online video games (45 percent) than adults (32 percent).
However, female gamers age 14 to 21 were less likely to report that they have made friends online, 36 percent compared to 50 percent of male counterparts. This may reflect the poll’s findings that women are treated with less respect in the video-gaming world than men. Sixty-three percent of female teen and young adult gamers said they feel that is the case compared to 44 percent of males in the same age group.
Results of the UMass Lowell-Washington Post poll of Americans age 21 and older, which looked at Americans’ opinions on a variety of sports and related issues, are based on live interviews with a random sample of 1,000 American adults conducted in English and Spanish via cellular telephones and landlines Aug. 14 through Aug. 21. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points for all respondents.
Results for the 14- 21-year-old age group are based on a probability-based survey of 522 teens and young adults with a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points. The data was collected via the NORC AmeriSpeak panel that is representative of the U.S. household population; adult panelists with children age 14 to 17 provided parental consent for their participation and respondents 18 to 21 years old were selected directly from the panel; 503 interviews were conducted online and 19 were conducted by telephone.
Details on methodology and additional poll data and analysis are available at www.uml.edu/polls
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. www.uml.edu