When you think of a superstar athlete, where does your mind go? Maybe you’re thinking of Messi. Possibly Serena. You probably aren’t thinking of a 14-year-old strapped to a keyboard warding off hordes of enemy monsters.
But with “Fortnite” streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins becoming the first professional video game player to grace the cover of ESPN Magazine, and esports featuring at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, the likelihood of sport’s next biggest star being a headset-wearing, sunlight-avoiding, button-mashing teenager might not be so far-fetched.
Because today, video games have grown far beyond the console, esports is now one of the fastest-growing spectator sports in the world. By 2021, esports will be worth a whopping $1.7B (Newzoo, 2018), and the US will have more viewers than every professional sports league but the NFL (Activate, 2017).
Can video games really be in the same league as soccer, football or basketball?
This begs the question, can video games really be considered to be in the same league as soccer, football or basketball? Most think not——only 20% of esports viewers consider professional gamers as athletes (YouGov, 2018). But we’ve seen perceptions of what makes a sport change in the past, and it’s not impossible that it’ll happen again. Skateboarding has gone from a fringe pastime for misfits to an official Olympic sport that is set to make its debut at at the Olympics in Tokyo 2020.
The US Government already recognizes esports players as professional athletes——at least when granting of visas——and on paper, there are many similarities. Esports players follow strict training and nutritional programs, they compete in state-of-the-art stadiums for million-dollar prizes and they are at risk of career-crippling injuries.
And with the F1, Manchester City and Michael Jordan all investing in esports, the relationship between traditional sports and video games are growing ever closer. Increasingly, we’ll see professional gamers battling professional athletes not just in real and virtual stadiums, but in entertainment and business, too.