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Video games preempt “real” sports in a growing number of bars

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Starcraft

Sports bars are no longer the sole domains of football and basketball fans.

A new breed of patron is on the rise — and while they may have minimal interest in the NBA playoffs or the World Series, they get pretty rowdy when the Zerg battle the Protoss.

eSports, also known as competitive video gaming, has been building a cult following for years. And while most of the mainstream world doesn't know — or care about — the players, savvy bar owners are finding the new gamer clientele to be a tremendous source of income.

It's competitive rounds of Starcraft II that have really taken hold. Fans of Blizzard's real-time strategy title organize "Barcraft" events — and take over bars across the country, switching the TVs to Internet-broadcast professional matches taking place across the country and sometimes across the globe.

"This feels like the World Cup," fan Justin Ng told the Wall Street Journal. "You experience the energy and screams of everyone around you when a player makes an amazing play."

The trend started in Seattle in May, when a patron suggested the idea to the owner, who happened to be a gamer. Noticing that no one seemed to care about the Mariners game on the set, he decided to gave it a shot. 150 people showed up to watch two days later.

Today, that bar - Chao Bistro - hosts Barcraft nights twice a week (Wednesdays and Sundays) attracting between 40-50 people each time.

They're not the shut-ins you might expect, either. The largely male patrons are generally the same folks you'd normally see at a sports bar — and they're just as enveloped in the games, chanting the names of their favorite players and groaning en masse when a bad move is played.

Competitive Starcraft is nothing new in South Korea, of course. The game is so popular there that two television networks are dedicated to "Starcraft" tournaments - and, in 2006, one professional player signed a three-year deal worth $690,000 — plus endorsements.

Starcraft isn't likely to replace traditional sports as the mainstay of your corner watering hole anytime soon, but if the trend keeps building, don't be surprised if the local sports bar becomes the local eSports bar.

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