Once there was a time when video games were considered the sole purview of outsiders and loners, the socially awkward and the physically weak. People who were stronger and more confident of themselves played real sports, like football and basketball.

In 2013, however, gaming has changed. Astronomical improvements in processing power have brought lifelike and realistic sport simulations to living rooms and bedrooms, and everybody — from the jocks to the nerds, and the geeks to the popular kids — wants to be part of the digital sports revolution.

A whole new ball game

Sports games have come a long way since the only thing players could do was control shapes on screen that vaguely resembled paddles. While imagination was key to making those games come to life, video games today leave nothing to the imagination — using motion capture, professionally-recorded commentary, real-world statistics, multiple camera angles, player likeness, realistic stadiums, and real teams and leagues to deliver as complete a gaming experience as possible. In the words of EA Sports, “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game.”

Field of screens

That commitment to realism has revolutionized the way players approach sports games. Now, any fancy can be indulged via an Xbox or PlayStation. EA Sports, the industry leader for sports video games, has produced entire series of basketball games (NBA Live), soccer games (FIFA), hockey (NHL), football (Madden NFL) and NASCAR games. In 2014, EA Sports will debut EA Sports UFC, their foray into the world of Ultimate Fighting Championship’s mixed martial arts.

EA Sports’ main competitor is 2K Sports, a subdivision of the Take-Two Interactive video game publishing company. 2K have made their own games based on basketball (the NBA 2K series), baseball (Major League Baseball 2K), tennis (the Top Spin series), and management (MLB Front Office Manager), and have most recently entered the professional wrestling arena with their WWE2K games (having inherited the license to produce WWE games from the now-defunct THQ game studio).

A big score

It’s not just the video game market that realizes the value of the digital sports revolution. The games’ real-world counterparts have been eager to promote, market, and reap the profits of an industry that was once considered a quaint substitute for the real thing.

In 2004, for example, the NFL granted EA Sports an exclusive deal to produce football games using team names and other imagery copyrighted by the NFL. The deal was renewed until 2012. In 2005, EA Sports and ESPN signed a 15-year deal for ESPN logo, name, and other visual elements to be integrated into EA Sports’ range of games.

And the numbers do not lie: EA Sports’ revenue in 2008 was a cool $4 billion.

Virtual betting

Virtual betting is another way that digital sports and the real thing have overlapped. As sports games become increasingly competitive and allow for multiplayer leagues and tournaments, more people want to get in on the action.

Interested parties can find a sportsbook of their choice from their living room or the palm of their hand (thanks to mobile gaming and applications), with none of the tricky legal issues that have made sports betting mostly illegal.

The friendly competition adds a new layer of interest to digital sports games, further removing them from the domain of studs and jocks, and offering a level of equilibrium that was once thought impossible. In 2013, anyone can make the team.