Gaming Culture: Redefining an ‘Athlete’

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Of all the sports leagues in the world, gaming may strike you as more of a hobby than a profession…but you couldn’t be more wrong.

“If football doesn’t work out or if baseball doesn’t work out, they can be a Madden pro. They can be a League of Legends pro. They can be a Rocket League pro. Because it is real,” said Ahman Green, a former Green Bay Packers player and full-time gamer.

“Most parents say, ‘Get off the couch. You’re lazy.’ No, they’re actually working on a profession now.”

It is a new era. A day and age when celebrity gamers are making the cover of ESPN Magazine.
Tyler Blevins–more commonly called ‘Ninja’–became gaming’s first crossover star.

“Kids are looking up to him now,” he said. “I’m looking up to him because I’m excited for him and what he can bring to the industry.”

Competitive gaming is on the rise and getting noticed.

There are e-sports, or electronic sports, scholarships at the university level in some cases.

“The Big Ten, they have a League of Legends tournament no different than the Big Ten championship tournament for football or for basketball or for volleyball,” said Green. “It’s the same thing.”

It is a billion-dollar industry with deep roots–likely in your own pocket.

The Entertainment Software Association says 65 percent of households in this country play video games, whether on the phone or the big screen.

And the average age of the gamer is rising–it is 34 years old.

No one is more aware of this than the NBA.

That includes the Milwaukee Bucks with Bucks Gaming.

The Bucks and 20 other teams compete in seasons of the game NBA2K for pots of cash totaling in the millions, and every one wants a piece.

(NBA 2K LEAGUE)

“This year, we had the Brooklyn Nets get involved, Atlanta Hawks, LA Lakers, and Minnesota Timberwolves are now in the 2019 NBA 2K season,” said Cayle Drabinsky, co-managing director of Bucks Gaming.

The 2K league is in its second year, and it doubles as one of the more ambitious marketing tools around.

“We think if we can get one younger kid to come watch and NBA game through the NBA 2K league, we think that’s a win through non-traditional means,” he said.

Before you start training your thumbs, you might want to scout the competition.

“We had 72,000 people try out for this league, so it wasn’t hard finding talent out there,” said Drabinsky.

Of that number, only six get drafted to a team and salaries float between $32,000 and $35,000 a year.

And these teams are only getting bigger.

“We’re hiring a coach this year,” he said. “We’re hiring a manager, a general manager. We’re building a full team around E-Sports. I think it’s only going to get bigger, which means more jobs to come.”

(BUCKS GAMING TEAM SITE)

Just like your favorite outdoor sports, gaming started as recreation.

And now, we are seeing contracts signed for your performance behind the thumbsticks.

“They’re signing these contracts with a company,” said Green. “And some of these gamers are gaming–which is really work, 12-14 hours straight–you do have rights if you’re doing it for a company. 
Yeah, you might be doing it because you love playing video games, but if Sony/Blizzard/Microsoft write your checks, you can say, ‘I want time off.'”

Close to 60,000 people streamed the 2K league finals last season, the demand for entertainment on the digital front is clear.

“Just like anything else, when it’s genuine reaction from what you’re doing playing that game people want to tune into you every time,” he said.

And if you’re not on the video game bandwagon by now…

“Something’s wrong,” said Green with a chuckle.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY

Local 5’s Digital Manager Josh Rose talks with Reporter John Domol about his story ‘Gaming Culture’ airing at 10 p.m. tonight!

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