Electronic Arts wants to be the next NFL

One of the world's largest game makers creates a division to focus on contests where gamers face off against each other.

E-sports is drawing big crowds and even bigger investments.

CNET

You've heard of the NFL. What about the NBA or MLB? Now, e-sports may be joining the big leagues.

E-sport, or electronic sport, competitions pit gamers against one another to see who can play a video game best, whether it's using strategy or speed. Competitions have grown around all types of video games, from first-person shooters like Call of Duty and Halo to classic platform games like Super Mario Bros.

Electronic Arts, one of the world's largest game makers, is joining the fray. EA on Thursday launched a new initiative called the Competitive Gaming Division to help create global competitions around its biggest games, such as Battlefield, Madden NFL and the soccer game FIFA.

"Competition runs deep in the DNA of Electronic Arts, and our games are already at the center of competitive gaming events at different levels today," Andrew Wilson, EA's CEO, wrote in a blog post Thursday. The competitive gaming division will be headed up by Peter Moore, whose new job is being called executive vice president and chief competition officer. He was previously the company's chief operating officer.

EA is far from alone. Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard and Mario maker Nintendo have already begun similar efforts as e-sports have gained mainstream popularity in recent years. Companies like Amazon and Google have also rushed to gobble up technology to help stream e-sports competitions to the eager fans.

And with good reason. Competitions in major sports arenas are selling out, and the number of people watching online rivals that of the hottest episodes in major television shows. An estimated 134 million people have watched e-sports competitions around the world so far this year, according to SuperData Research.

That's impressive but still a long, long way behind a giant like the NFL. By comparison, CBS tallied 114 million people who watched the Super Bowl earlier this year. (CBS is the parent company of CNET.)

E-sports has also spawned entire businesses built around professional gamers who have collectively won $15.7 million in the first five months of 2015, according to market research firm Newzoo. That's nearly double what it was a year ago.

It's all a signal that video games may be the next big competitive sport that turns into a large entertainment business. If it does, expect to see even more companies pile on.

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