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In this May 11, 2014, file photo, fans watch the opening ceremony of the League of Legends season 4 World Championship Final between South Korea against China's Royal Club in Paris.

There is a new sport out there paying millions to its elite.

Hold it, let's rewind.

It is not actually a sport by the conventional definition. And it's not really new, but that's mere semantics. The next phase is altogether different and potentially could be the next phase of competition for an undeniably online generation.

Meet eSports, the name its followers have given video-game competitions.

Before you judge, know that the championships were held last weekend in Seattle. Also know that while we all were high-fiving every hand in sight as the Chattanooga Football Club drew almost 19,000 at Finley Stadium for soccer this past weekend, the eSports championships played before a packed venue of more than 18,000 all weekend long.

Now the kicker, the eSports championship, which in this case pitted five-man teams against each other in some sort of doom-and-destruction, shoot-everything-in-sight game, paid out more than $18 million in prize money with $6.6 million to the winning team.

Yep, for all the teachers and parents and everyone who told those guys they were wasting their lives playing video games, well, now they are still doing it with seven-figure bank accounts.

This is not to say every gamer needs to race to his or her guidance counselor and say "Professional Gamer" as a prudent career plan. That's the same advice, however, for every parent and youth player who is banking on a traditional professional sports career as anything more than a long-shot goal for the extreme few and extremely talented.

But eSports has a multitude of avenues — and a leg up on several major prominent sports — to connecting with the next generation.

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Is there anyone you know under 40 who never has played a video game?

Very few of us know what it's like to throw a touchdown passes in a competitive situation. Or throw a third strike with the bases loaded. Or fill in the blank about any familiar sporting scenario.

But who among us is aware of Pac-Man and the ever-elusive pattern for the eating machine?

Face it, we as a society are way more connected to Mike Tyson's Punch-Out the game than anything connected to punching out Mike Tyson.

Whether it becomes a spectator sport or not is anyone's guess.

It could be competitive eating — a niche sport that few pay attention to other than the peculiar fact that someone can eat around 70 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Or it could be a virtual MMA situation, and it's important to remember that other than Floyd Mayweather, mixed martial arts has passed boxing in loyal fans.

The eSports craze also proves the point of connectivity that will prove more and more important to the future of every entertainment option moving forward.

This will be another option of entertainment moving forward, one that even has college scholarships offered for those skilled in competitive video games.

Think about the sports that have surged into the forefront of the viewing options of today's sports culture. There's all forms of football. There's the recent soccer flash. Each of those can be directed at a lot of reasons, but there's no denying that each has embraced the TV viewing experience and the connection with the casual fan and the true fanatic.

In fact, there is link to soccer's increasing popularity among the youth — and college basketball's decline — to the video game world. Be it coincidental or direct anyone can assess, but the growth of the FIFA soccer game and the discontinuation of the EA sports college sports game have overlapped the inverse directions of each.

As for football and the NFL, the league has erupted in popularity in the last half-decade because of ways it connects to every fan. Be it gambling, legally or illegally, or fantasy leagues — in 2013 more people in this country played fantasy football than a single round of golf — football's astronomical rise has been helped by its ability to give almost anyone a connection to the game.

And no competitive activity this side of running offers a wider net of inclusivity than video games.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6343. Follow him on Twitter @jgreesontfp.

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