Xbox exec predicts esports will be 'as big as regular sports'

Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft's Xbox Division, imagines a future where 'competitive jet-assisted car soccer' is a phrase we can all take seriously.

Speaking at the recent Halo World Championship in Hollywood, California, Microsoft's Phil Spencer predicted esports would soon rise to the same level of social recognition as its meatspace contemporaries.

"I think about us back on the original Xbox, plugging wires together," Spencer remarked following Counter Logic Gaming (CLG)'s first two wins over Allegiance. CLG would go on to win the evening on a 4-0 streak, netting the team the championship title. "My esport was, 'Could I beat the guys in my dorm room?' Now, people are making a living playing Halo. It's great to see how the community comes together to support eSports. It's real. It's fantastic."

Competitive Halo, of course, has a long history in the esports scene, and with this championship's staggering $1 million grand prize (funded in part through in-game sales, similar to how Valve funds its prize purses for The International), it's clear we'll be hearing more from it in the future. But Spencer's remarks were more general, describing a future where many videogames enjoyed a mass following of fans and spectators.

"You look at the number of people who play games, you look at the different platforms people are playing on, you look at the money that's pouring in, the broadcasts," Spencer continued. "I think there's no cap to what esports can become. [...] esports is going to be as big as regular sports."

As of now, the two biggest 'faces' of esports are multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs, like League of Legends and Dota 2) and real-time strategy games (Starcraft II). First-person shooters (FPSes) like Halo and Counter-Strike have traditionally held a much smaller chunk of that global audience, but that could change -- and then you have games like Rocket League, which is more clearly a 'sport' in the conventional sense (albeit one played with rocket-propelled buggies), and the games favored by the fighting game community (FGC), which has less of an emphasis on prize pools and is a bit more 'grassroots' in contrast to esports. A couple decades ago, seeing any of these games on a grand, international stage would be hard to contemplate, but now they're a regular weekend occurrence.

Whether all that interest translates into the mainstreaming of esports remains to be seen, but at least major sportscasting outlet ESPN is joining the fray, and has begun televising certain tournaments. Who knows; maybe in a few years, it'll be as natural to hang out with your buddies at the local sports bar and catch the Halo playoffs as it would to watch a game of one of those old-fashioned sports that don't require a controller.

You can catch the whole broadcast of the 2016 Halo World Championship below, or archived on Microsoft's official Halo channel

(Top image: Phil Spencer [right] on the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon.)

Kris Ligman is the News Editor for ZAM. They play Halo for the story. Discuss their Master Chief/Arbiter fanfiction with them on Twitter @KrisLigman.