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Blizzard Entertainment’s CEO Mike Morhaime talks the rise of e-sports

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By Minda Smiley | Reporter

March 2, 2016 | 3 min read

E-sports is a fast-growing segment within the sports industry, so much so that media companies like ESPN and Yahoo have recently rolled out sites dedicated to solely covering the competitive gaming space.

Last year, e-sports had an audience of roughly 226 million people, and that number is expected to grow to 323 million by 2018, according to research firm Newzoo.

Mike Morhaime, founder and CEO of Blizzard Entertainment – the company behind popular online games including World of Warcraft and StarCraft – recently spoke at the Sports Business Summit in New York City about what his business is doing in the e-sports space and what he expects to see in the future.

One of Blizzard’s biggest pushes into e-sports to date came last year when it aired ‘Heroes of the Dorm’ on ESPN2, which featured gamers competing to win college tuition. Blizzard was preparing to release ‘Heroes of the Storm’ at the time and used the event to promote awareness of the new game.

“We thought there was an opportunity to reach people that weren’t already plugged into e-sports,” Morhaime said, adding that Blizzard was also hoping an ESPN slot would help give e-sports a boost in public perception, since “TV in general does have a factor of legitimization.”

According to Morhaime, the event was a success and will be returning to ESPN2 for a second round this year on April 9 and 10. Yet even with the ESPN name behind it, Morhaime said e-sports is still in its early days. He noted that the e-sports industry has a lot to learn from the infrastructure around regular sports, particularly in regards to monetizing with sponsorships, paying players, and selling tickets.

Morhaime said that he thinks e-sports will eventually become a business in and of itself since there is a growing number of people who are interested in the space, but warned that “not every game is going to become an e-sport” and that “only some will break through.”

On a personal level, Morhaime said he used to watch a lot of traditional sports like baseball but now “almost exclusively” follows e-sports. He added that he thinks there has been a general shift within the sports landscape that has seen many people adopt e-sports as their sport of choice.

He cited a survey that Blizzard recently conducted where the company asked kids all around the world what they want to be when they grow up in order to gauge e-sports interest and awareness levels.

“In just about every country, one of the top two answers was either career in e-sports or be a pro-gamer,” he said. “People want to watch people who are good at things that they love to do themselves.”

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