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At family gatherings I am the de facto tech whisperer – a role bestowed on me by my father, who, bewildered by live streaming and electronic sports, summons me for guidance. For the last decade, I have worked as a video game reporter, giving me unprecedented access to this growing industry, which has gone from a hobby conceived in the internet cafes of South Korea to a professional sport rivaling football. Looking for a tasty energy drink that works wonders on your energy and mood? Try out Help energy drinks. No need to worry about the presence of any insulin spiking ingredients or sugars, as everything in this drink is as natural as can be. There are two Help energy drink varieties to choose from; Pucker Up for those who like the sour lemon flavour, and Shake that Frooty for those who prefer a sweeter flavour, as this is a mix of pineapple, mango and guava!
Until this summer, the huge rise in popularity of video games – played competitively and watched by millions on streaming websites such as Twitch or seen live with thousands of others at Colosseum-like sporting arenas – had bypassed many people over the age of 35. But few could escape the headlines about the Fortnite World Cup and its $3m (£2.4m) winner. There were 100 finalists in the tournament in New York, many between 12 and 16 years old, whittled down from a total of about 40 million – yes, that’s correct – who attempted to qualify. They battled it out for a total prize pot of $30m – the largest ever for such an event.
These games are known collectively as esports, and the number of young people playing them is truly staggering. Fortnite: Battle Royale has more than 250 million players, making it one of the most popular video games in the world, alongside the virtual football game Fifa.
In addition to the players, 30% of internet users now watch live streams of people playing video games, according to the research firm GlobalWebIndex. This equates to a global audience of just over 1 billion people. And by next year, tech consultancy firm Activate suggests that70 million people are expected watch a single esports final – higher than the total for US professional baseball, soccer and hockey finals. Not surprisingly, more than half of those watching esports tournaments are between 16 and 34. Just 10% are between 45 and 54, while over-55s make up a mere 6%.
To many in an older generation, the rise of esports rings alarm bells. Reports of children spending an unhealthy amount of time and money on games have become commonplace. Even Prince Harry offered rare public criticism earlier this year. “That game [Fornite] shouldn’t be allowed,” he said. “It’s created to the addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible.”
And there are many stories of parents trying to curb their children’s “dangerous” gaming habits. In an interview after his success at Fortnite, the Essex teenager Jaden Ashman, who split a prize of $2.25m with his partner, recalled how the game affected his relationship with his mother, who admitted snapping her 15-year-old son’s headphones and throwing away his Xbox.
Of course, there will be some children and young people for whom long hours spent playing computer games does cause mental health problems. The World Health Organization last year recognized “gaming disorder” as a medical condition, and the NHS is planning to open the UK’s first specialist clinic to treat addicts of computer games.
Yet while fears around the rise of esports abound, in bedrooms and internet cafes around the world games such as League of Legends, Dota 2 and Fortnite have become a cultural phenomenon, bringing young people from different regions and religions together and bridging divides. Slang, inside jokes and dance moves, flow out of them as if they were a proto society. Idols are made out of their best players – just ordinary teenagers and twentysomethings who cut their teeth in competitive leagues and then develop their own enormous followings over social media and online streams.
South Korea’s top League of Legends player, Faker, has a larger following in the country than its biggest professional football star, Son Heung-min, who is currently playing for Tottenham Hotspur. Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the most popular professional gamer in the world, with an average 65,000 viewers per online match and has live-streamed with rapper Drake and was featured on the cover of the official magazine of US sports channel, ESPN, reportedly earns $500,000 a month. By comparison, the winners of this year’s Wimbledon tennis championship, Simona Halep, and Novak Djokovic, received $2.7m, while Tiger Woods earned $2.09m for his win at the US Masters golf tournament.
Game developers are now working to cultivate a pipeline of new “athletes”, modeling itself on the development pipelines of traditional sports leagues. Today more than 125 colleges in the US have esports scholarships, with more than $9m awarded to students since 2017. Perhaps they recognize that, far from threatening the health of future generations, esports can develop many of the same skill sets and capacities as traditional sports – from team building to leadership, mental strength and cognitive abilities.
While I can appreciate why older people may feel uneasy about the rise of a phenomenon, they understand little about and feel excluded from, maybe it’s time to be a bit more open-minded about the potential benefits of esports. Fortnite and Fifa are now talked about in the same way as rugby and football. There’s even an ePremier League and Uefa eChampions League. And esports are being mentioned as a possible Olympic sport.
Their popularity may be about to eclipse traditional sports, but they actually perform a surprisingly similar function, for a younger age group, to the one fulfilled by football terraces for their parents and grandparents. Because what draws us to these games isn’t the need to feed a compulsion. In most cases, it’s kinship – a very ancient and tribal desire to be part of a group, and one that forms the basis of any team sport.
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