Professional gaming—dubbed eSports—can be a confusing topic for non-gamers, but it has exploded onto the pop culture scene in the past three years. The field gathers the top players in the world in games that range from Activision's "Call of Duty" and "StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm" to Nintendo's "Super Smash Bros."
Although the idea of watching people play video games may sound dull, the speed and efficiency at which some of these players compete is on par with the NBA or NFL. And the fan base is rabidly enthusiastic. Last year's League of Legends finals sold out the 15,000 seat Staples Center in Los Angeles (home of the L.A. Lakers) in under an hour. (Scalpers commanded prices of up to $2,000 per seat, having paid somewhere between $45 and $100 originally.)
They're just as enthusiastic about funding some tournaments. Later this month, fans of Valve's "DOTA 2" will compete for more than $10 million in prizes in Seattle—a prize pool that was entirely crowdfunded.
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Among fans, the best eSports athletes earn a level of celebrity on par with traditional pro athletes, and many earn a healthy living doing so. Lee "Jaedong" Jae Dong, 25, a South Korean who specializes in "StarCraft II," has earned more than $504,000 over 47 tournaments. And Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel has pocketed more than $450,000 in tournaments (and a lot more in endorsement deals).