Throwing a ball in a basket, hitting it with a bat, or fighting over a puck on ice have centuries of history. Such sports honor abilities we developed to dominate our environments, specifically, the stamina and coordination needed to hunt. The last NBA Finals, World Series, and Stanley Cup had a combined 20 million viewers at their peak.
League of Legends is a decade-old video game in which teams of players fight on a virtual battlefield of cloaked minions, monsters, and heroes to destroy the opponents’ base. The last League of Legends championship received 46 million views. This is more than double the combined viewership of three time-honored American sports.
In the U.S. alone, 175 colleges and universities are members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), and for good reason. This year the esports industry is on track to surpass $1 billion in revenue. There is no ignoring the trend. Aspiring to play in the NBA, MLB, or NHL will merit a lower pay grade than excellence in video games. Even now, a quick online search gives countless guides on video game training camps, job opportunities, and competitive events for children to become esports professionals.
Now consider the global pandemic. A generation of young adults locked inside for months. The generation that will run the world soon. And the most accessible method of genuine social contact is playing video games with friends. As Bo Burnham comedically put it in his brilliant special Inside, “I’ve learned that real-world human-to-human tactile contact will kill you, and that all human interaction, whether it be social, political, spiritual, sexual, or interpersonal should be contained in the much more safe, much more real interior digital space.”