British video game vlogger Olajide “JJ” Olatunji, makes a living from playing FIFA.
At the time of writing his YouTube channel ‘KSI’ has 9,643,092 subscribers and his videos have been watched over a billion times (c.f. the most recent UK X-Factor final attracted an audience of just over 9 million). When not playing video games, Olajide boffs around in his Lamborghini, dreams about the hot tub he’s about to have flown onto his London penthouse roof terrace and tries his hand at being a rapper. This 21 year old is literally living the dream.
And it’s thanks to eSports. The latest entertainment phenomenon is sweeping the world from East to West, enabling young gamers to become millionaires, buy fast cars and achieve global fandoms. The world’s media have only recently swooped in to expose the gamer houses, world tours, stadium battles, costumes, live broadcasts, streaming sites valued at a billion dollars (Twitch), uncovering the gargantuan scale of a rapidly growing movement that, for many, still remains under the radar.
But now this bout of coverage (Fortune, City AM, IBT, BBC) is forcing us to speculate on the rise of eSports. Are they a passing fad? Or will they ultimately come to dominate the world’s entertainment industry?
If you’re still unsure about what the hell is going on with this gamer revolution, you should really check out VICE’s thorough five-part ‘eSports‘ series which investigates this emerging global phenomenon.
Fronted by Matt Shea, the series delves into an impossibly large and rapidly expanding cyber-world which will leave the majority of us feeling as though we’re still stuck in the present. Jumping from gamer houses, to 24hr PC Cafes in Seoul, to internet rehabilitation centres, to cosplay teams, to global tournaments, Matt explores the many facets of the gaming world, seeking out celebrity ‘cyber athletes’ and examining the psychological impact its having on a new generation of gamers.
Here’s quick look at who’s involved.
The ones who get paid to play. Samsung White, Dignitas, Fnatic, Team Liquid and Rascal Jesters are a few of the more famous professional gaming squads, in which the brightest young men (and maybe the occasional woman?) train daily to become the best video game players in the world. Despite their parents’ inevitable protestations, they make a decent living, with the top players earning over $100k a year, whilst others generate millions as they become international sports brands. They usually embark on this career path in the most formative years of their lives, dropping out of school or university to compete.
In addition to the humans who want to play the characters, there are also the humans who want to be them. We’re in this strange place where, if you drop some dosh on creating an elaborate costume, you can actually become a professional virtual character, an online presence in the real world. There are teams of these people, who are making careers out of dressing up, parading at events as mascots, posing for photographs and becoming the ‘cheerleaders’ of eSports. Women’s outfits can be particularly revealing, you wouldn’t guess at the traditionally male gamership…
They enlist players, they make merchandise, they ‘train’ their players, they make cash. Nuff said.
The video-gaming public, tapping away at controllers in millions of homes and internet cafes around the world.
The movement is vast – League of Legends has 27 million players, the FIFA franchise has generated more than $6 billion USD since it launched in 1993, Twitch has accumulated 55m unique monthly users and “Leeeeeroy Jenkins” has 43,925,767 views and counting.
It’s a fun and satisfying pursuit – many even suggest that video games can actually boost analytical skills and reaction times – but does gaming have a darker side?
Not only are most gamers quite literally playing ‘in the dark’, they’re also isolated from physical human socialising, at the risk of feeling out of place in the real world. Rather than enjoying social interaction, some of the young people VICE’s Matt met in Seoul had never been to a club and preferred ‘hanging out’ – in their own isolated worlds – playing solo at a ‘PC Bang’. Sounds a right laugh.
Indeed, the gaming world is not all millionaires, near-naked women and screen-time. VICE’s series also looks at the way eSports might be endangering the next generation’s psychological well-being. To date, 2 million South Koreans have been diagnosed with internet addiction, 90% of whom are addicted to online gaming, and many are being treated for sleep deprivation, sight loss and seizures. It’s deemed such a threat, that the South Korean government introduced the Cinderella Act in 2011, banning children under the age of 16 from playing video games after midnight.
South Korea has already established an internet rehabilitation centre in which ‘online addicts’ are treated with Clockwork Orange-esque techniques of brain scanning, electro-pulse therapy, and continuous watching of gaming videos.
Adding to the worrying trend, recent research published in May 2015 by preeminent psychologist and Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo suggests that video games and pornography may trigger a ‘crisis of masculinity’.
Whilst researching the behaviour of 20,000 men for his new book, ‘Man (Dis)connected: How Technology has Sabotaged What It Means to Be Male’, he found that the excessive use of the stimuli caused by a heady combination of gaming and porn “begins to change brain function. It begins to change the reward centre of the brain, and produces a kind of excitement and addiction.”
But despite speculation on the detrimental side-effects, the world of gaming continues to grow at an astonishing rate. And if you still in any doubt as to the scale of the revolution, go straight to Part 5 of VICE’s series which culminates in a blinding vision of the League of Legends’ World Championships – held in the giantic World Cup stadium – complete with Korean drum ceremony, American rock band, Olympic-style graphics of the players, fireworks, commentators, pres junkets, paparazzi and a $1m prize. It’s an incredible spectacle, but as the Samsung Whites claim their momentous victory, I have the strange sensation of being left on the platform.
History’s arenas have seen chariots raced through the dust, gladiators fighting to the death, maimed war veterans sweating through the Paralympics, bull fights, rodeo, the World Cup Finals, celebrating humanity’s glorious physical prowess. Now the twenty first century offers ten bespectacled teenaged boys in various degrees of scrawn and podge.
Are these kids to be the legends of our time?