There is a rush that you get as a player before a game. Playing semi-professional soccer was the highest point I reached after college, but knowing I would be playing against ex-professionals and other ex-college players still created a buzz inside of me. You went into the game wanting to win, even though the game itself meant nothing to the world. Actually, most games you play mean absolutely nothing. I am a high school state champion in soccer, and that game in all honesty means nothing to almost everyone, but in the moment and to the athlete, it means everything.
To be fair, I was never that good, but I worked hard, am 6’ 4” and left footed, so coaches loved me. If you don’t think that makes a difference, then you should read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. My point is that I was an average player, at best, my entire career, and not the most competitive, though I was competitive.
You may be wondering what any of that means in Esports. When I go and play soccer now in men’s leagues, I hate it. I may not be amazing, but I am way better than who I am playing with. The games have lost their buzz. I could win or lose and now the games truly mean nothing to me, and not just mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, but in the moment. I enjoy playing, but just as a way of getting exercise. I am not at my best, and I am not playing people at their best anymore. To those who are ex-professionals who had long careers in their sport, I can’t imagine how it feels to them. Brett Farve in a pick up football game will never get the buzz of even a high school football game against the worst team in the league.
But I found that buzz again. What used to be something fun to do late into the nights with my friends has turned into something I study and work to build my skills. Don’t get me wrong. I am not great at this, but there is always the possibility of beating a bunch of random people that are very good. The competition is fierce. The competition is there. The competition is in video games. I cannot just walk outside and go to a park and get into a pick-up game with competent soccer But if I load up Call of Duty I can play with experts at that game.
I am able to play against 150 other players all over the world who all want to win (for the most part), and I want to win just as much as them. I want to land my shots, I want to time my grenades, and I want to pull off a knife throw while jumping off a damn and then parachute to safety. I want to do that because I know that someone else on the other end of a different screen doesn’t want me to and thinks they are better than me. They may be, but I am going to make them prove it. I think it is part of the reason for the statistics in this article:
The next generation of professional athletes are growing more and more invested into the video game realm. Many are transitioning into video games in the aftermath of their career on the court, pitch or field.
Adrea Pirlo, who is one of the most respected and decorated professional soccer players of his generation, said, “After the wheel, the best invention is the PlayStation”. Then he goes on to say, “’Me against Nesta was a clasico of our time at Milanello . . . . We’d get in early, have breakfast at 9 then close ourselves off in our room to challenge each other, train, have lunch and then it was back in our room again until 4 in the afternoon. Our battles were pure adrenaline . . . though I often lost. I’d become furious, I’d throw the joystick, demand a rematch and lose again.’” I bet if you know soccer, this is the last person you would expect to be playing a video game when he wasn’t on the pitch or tending to his vineyard.
Gordon Hayward, Paul George, Cam Newton are all avid about the gaming industry and Esports. Although they all stick mostly with sports games that they have played at the highest level in real life, they still are getting that buzz on the field, on their couch. These professionals are also bringing their following with them. If you are a Panthers’ fan and Cam Newton is going to be playing Madden in some competition, you are going to hear about it and maybe tune into it. Now Madden is grabbing the gamers and the sports fanatics under one roof. I think athletes won’t be able to resist the spotlight again and playing on a big stage.
Neymar, the arguably best Brazilian forward, currently plays for PSG in France, has played with Ninja, the most popular Fortnite streamer in the world. That is a true collision of worlds for younger generations of professional soccer athletes playing against professional video game athletes.
Ninja, was obviously better, but you would never see the opposite. If Ninja were to take the field with PSG and Neymar, there would be a lackluster competition. I know this sounds like common sense, but in the future, groups of retired athletes may become immersed in gaming, and if so, the industry will be seeing new funds and money come into gaming. It’s unclear whether ex-professional athletes will use their gaming for streaming, charity or competitions, but it’s a safe bet that they will have a hand in most of those venues in some way. And this is a trend that I’m keeping my eyes on.