Next level of video games and sports

It used to be that the only spectators in video gaming were buddies waiting for their turn or the occasional girlfriend tapping away at her phone, waiting for it all to be over.

But that is an antiquated thought circa 2010. If you can accept a liberal definition of “sport,” then video gaming is now a genuine, no-exaggeration, spectator sport with sponsorships, leagues, championships and well-known superstars who pose for pictures with fans.

And it is coming to a sports network near you.

A recent Forbes article explains the rise of Twitch, a Web-hosted broadcasting network that streams live coverage of video game events across the world. Twitch attracted 45 million unique visitors in October, 50 percent more that Hulu, which has backing from Disney, NBC and FOX.

The most popular spectator events are League of Legends tournaments. The most recent one played out in a sold-out Staples Center in Los Angeles.

“Watching live games instantly is one of the most important elements of a world-class sports experience,” Dustin Beck, vice president of e-Sports at Riot Games, the publisher of League of Legends, told Forbes. “Twitch brings the action to players across the world.”

Twitch originated as Justin.tv, which attempted to traffic in something it called “lifecasting.” Basically, people could broadcast whatever they were up to on a live Internet feed. That never amounted to much, but Justin.tv’s co-founder, Emmett Shear, noticed people had started hooking up their video game systems to his service and broadcasting their games.

“We had never even thought of that,” he said.

So in 2011 Justin.tv realized it needed something dedicated to gaming, and created Twitch. It had eight million unique visitors the first month, and more than doubled in month two.

Now Sony and Microsoft are integrating Twitch into their video game consoles and several media companies (Wired, IGN, Joystiq) are creating original content for Twitch channels.

“I don’t think it’s a fad — I think it’s gonna grow,” industry analyst Michael Pachter told Forbes. “I don’t think that 50-year-olds are going to start watching League of Legends tournaments, but I think that the 20-year-olds watching now will still keep watching and that there are new 10-year-olds who will start watching. It’s probably going to be a very sizable niche, and pretty stable.”