Imagine going to a bar and crowding around a television with hundreds of people to watch two people play video games against each other with millions of dollars on the line.

Many have considered that to be the future, but the future is now.

Esports are here to stay and are slowly changing the world one controller at a time.

Many have considered video games to be a lazy leisure activity. Some have stereotyped it in the past as something that teenagers do to pass the time and ignore their chores at home. The way the industry is headed, though, is something much different.

Esports are growing in popularity, and I believe they will join football, basketball and baseball as the top sports in the U.S. within the next 10 years.

There is money in video games, especially for the players. Colleges are catching on, and esports teams are forming with students on full scholarship to play on them. Professional players make as much as seven figures a year from winning tournaments and endorsement deals.

It is not just the money in the industry that’s growing. It is also the number of consumers who watch esports.

When I was in elementary school, I would come home in the afternoons, go to my brother’s room and watch him play Madden 2005 on his Gamecube. I found just as much enjoyment in watching him play the game as I did playing myself. Little did I know that thousands of others would enjoy doing the same thing with other players around the world in the future.

Fast forward 15 years to now. This year’s Madden esports tournament final garnered about 800,000 viewers on ESPN2, and that is not including those who viewed it on streaming websites such as Twitch.

Before we know it, esport contests will be on sporting networks like any other sport and will draw ratings like the rest.

Esports are also starting to make an impact locally. Rogers State University in Claremore was the first Oklahoma college to form an esports club team, as it did so this past fall. It caught the eye of bigger universities in the state, as the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University contacted RSU about esports, and OSU started offering them as intramural sports in the spring.

High schools are joining the phenomenon, too. A recent league was formed with 10 schools, including Sapulpa.

Although the equipment can be expensive, schools are acquiring sponsorships from both domestic and international technology companies to provide the equipment. Esports at the high school and college levels have taken small steps, and I assume more schools will catch on. I think there will be more high school and college esport teams than football teams in Oklahoma and the U.S. within my lifetime, which is crazy to think of.

At times, the growth of esports can be hard to wrap one’s mind around. A once lazy pastime has become a booming industry and is forging ahead to the new frontier of sports with a growing fan base. Jobs are being created to work the events, and people once disregarded as nerds are becoming stars.

Some people have warned of esports becoming a household thing in years to come. That’s not true anymore. Esports are a household thing now, and it is time to embrace them as we do the other big sports.

 Sam Henderson is a contributor for the Stillwater News Press and is going into his junior year at Oklahoma State University.