What do you think of when you hear “eSports”?
A loner teenage boy playing video games around the clock in his parents’ basement? Sports that require electricity, like baseball at night, which are inherently discriminatory against the Amish community? Or maybe you think I’m mispronouncing “ESPN”?
But if you’re a member of Generation Z, you’re familiar with eSports. You see your fellow unruly youths playing video games on Twitch. (For older readers, Twitch is a streaming platform, sort of like YouTube for video games, not a gateway drug that induces facial tics.)
Generation Z might even go so far as to label eSports as — get this! — a “legitimate career path”.
And Zack Johnson, who is not one of those Generation Z whippersnappers, but a full-grown adult male with a career and a family, would agree with them.
An Athlete’s View of eSports
I know what you’re thinking, and no, Johnson is not “off his rocker”, “smoking the reefer” or “licking wild toads he passes while riding his mountain bike for psychedelic trips”.
Johnson is what you might call a successful “entrepre-nerd” (I can say that because nerds are cool now). Johnson started and then sold an Internet service provider/tech company, and now runs a software company as well as eBash, a venue for gamers of any age to play video games, competitively or just for fun.
So why am I writing about Johnson in a sports column? Well, like it or not, eSports is something all of us traditional sports fans will be encountering in the future, and aside from being a tech whiz/aspiring Mr. Miyagi of the eSports world, Johnson played collegiate basketball. So he’s uniquely positioned to talk about eSports and how it fits into traditional “sports”.
Here are some of the main takeaways from my conversation with Johnson.
First: Though eSports is feast or famine right now, with the majority of gamers either not making any money at all or bringing in millions, Johnson envisions a future where competitive youth video gaming is as common as Little League and Saturday soccer games.
Johnson noted that more than 80 universities currently offer eSports scholarships, and with places like eBash (which hosts the Wabash Valley Highlanders) giving more chances for gamers to compete in regional leagues, eSports is likely to become ubiquitous.
Couch Potatoes Need not Apply
Second: You can’t be built like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons and expect to make it in eSports. “The big pro teams are regimented on their schedule, and there is a lot of physical activity involved in their practicing,” Johnson said.
To be frank, I thought Johnson was stretching the truth just a bit. So I did some research, and I stand corrected: see Jaroslaw “pashaBiceps” Jarząbkowski as an (albeit extreme) example.
As a former collegiate athlete, Johnson sees exercise as beneficial to about any endeavor in life. “If I go a month wichthout riding my mountain bike, I’m not as sharp at work.” The same applies to eSports, he said.
Third: Johnson makes a compelling argument for eSports as a dominant sport of the future.
“My son’s generation, 20 and younger, they’ve all grown up on YouTube and Netflix. When they grow up and have disposable incomes, what are they going to buy tickets to? Every other professional sport is declining in viewership and attendance. I’m not saying I like it,” Johnson, added, but there’s the reality.
Of course, this is all assuming my generation (those bleepity-bleep Millennials) doesn’t flush the country down the toilet by the time Gen Z has a chance at “adulting”.
Practical Benefits of eSports
Finally, Johnson’s use of the term “legitimate career path” isn’t an exaggeration, but it’s not an excuse for kids to focus all their aspirations on playing video games professionally, either. Johnson correctly noted that the rise in eSports is giving rise to a booming industry, and there are a ton of opportunities related to the sport.
But ultimately, Johnson hopes eSports will be another avenue for the valuable lessons only sports can provide.
“The goal is focused on the next generation and the people that accept [eSports] and make sure it provides for them what traditional sports has provided for people for years.”