Click. Buzzz. Katizz. In the Heights area of Houston, Texas at the tail end of September, a group of around 20-30 Millennials gather around the television on a hot Sunday afternoon. They flick through the channels to cheer on their favorite Houston team. But something makes this event different from the Sundays past, it is not to cheer on any soccer game or football or even tennis. It is The Overwatch League 2019 Grand Finals. Twitch and even ESPN have helped make gaming the single largest entertainment business in the world. By a long shot.
These platforms provide live coverage of the matches that are viewed by a little under than half a million people. The viewership is only growing and is fast outpacing all mainstream physical sporting events. The world of competitive gaming has swelled, and with it; the potential winnings. According to Overwatch’s website there is around 5 million dollars at stake for those willing to put in the work. There are salaries to be earned and online forums to troll. Split between the Atlantic and Pacific, 6v6 teams ranging from cities like Guangzhou and Toronto to compete in the regular season to play live at an arena built by Blizzard, the video game developer company itself in Los Angeles.
I was first introduced to the gaming world by my older brothers. One brother in particular was very tech savvy and in the early 2000s would go around our suburban neighborhood with his high school friends and haul back big monitors with giant convex glass screens that flickered and hummed whenever you turned them on. With whatever tech supplies that he could scrounge up he would hook together something called a Local Area Network (LAN) and would invite his friends so that they could play Warcraft III. Now, 20 years later, Blizzard is still maintaining a solid grip on the gaming industry. Blizzard has been able to adapt and anticipate new markets such as first-person shooter games like Overwatch.
First-person shooter games are heralded by conservative older Boomers at its worst as a poison that stokes violence among the youth and at its best; a waste of time. But we can’t deny that video games are the domain of Millennials like my brother and has become a huge part of our world culture. First person shooter games have become so pervasive in our society that if continuing the current trajectory will overtake even the most steadfast of American traditions, football. Rather than torn ACLs, carpel tunnel has the potential to take over as the predominant sporting injury that costs professional gamers money according to a 2016 article by The eSports Observer.
But can you even define gaming as a sport? Fans of Overwatch would argue steadfastly for the affirmative. Activision Blizzard, the publisher of Overwatch along with many other highly successful games has permeated the market has made millions, just like in real life (IRL) sports. Blizzard is the brains behind Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, and most famously World of Warcraft. Game developers have found other ways to make money according to the Atlantic like loot boxes which is surprisingly close to gambling.
In conclusion, the rise of professional paid gaming is just in its infancy. Gaming competitively will further embed itself into the norms of American culture and a world denied to all but jocks will see the revenge of the geek. There is are high stakes to be tackled, and much nerd-ary to be embraced. Oh yeah, and millions be made.