The Village Idiot

Go eTeam, Go!

Can you make money playing video games? Absolutely.

It was recently reported that during his seven-year career, 22-year-old Lee Young-ho, a South Korean video gamer, earned $487,141 at 59 tournaments. (Meaning he was 15 when he started.) And Chen Zhihao, a Chinese national, has averaged about $220,000 a year gaming for the last five years.

It’s called eSports, and it’s attracting big crowds and big money. In 2014, 45,000 people showed up to watch a “League of Legends” tournament in South Korea. 27 million people watched it online. The prize pool was over $2 million. At an event in Seattle in 2015, the prize was $18 million and change. Since this is just the beginning of eSports, it’s easy to see that this will soon become the biggest of the big-money sports. Oh, yeah -- you can gamble on it, too.

So, should you really be worried that your kids are spending all their time gaming in the basement instead of practicing jump shots in the driveway? Upset that they never see the sun, that they live on pizza and soft drinks? Is it possible that by insisting that they do something healthy and active, you may actually be hurting their chances of becoming a highly overpaid e-athlete? Will football and basketball still be the money sports of the future, or will high school sports 10 years from now look radically different?

Maybe you’ll read a story like this on the sports page a decade from now.

”The defending champions from the Elon Musk School of Dramatic Arts are on the brink of winning the state championships in ‘Defenders of the Ancients.’ They have a chance to win it all: to take home the trophy and dance their victory dance on the heads of their cross-state rivals, the Disruptors from Jeff Bezos Tech. Tech’s robot cheerleaders really know how to whip up a crowd. Because they are using real whips, and they are deadly accurate.

”Both teams have been training hard, but several of the best have been put on the DL with serious thumb trouble. There’s been a real fear of injury this year, but both teams have put an emphasis on player safety after one student broke a nail in last year’s competition after slapping his game console after an error. It was several months before the coaches thought he was healthy enough to train for this year’s competition.

”Coaches’ salaries have become an issue in states where eSports have become extremely popular. As with football in the days of yore, some parents wonder if it’s right to pay a coach millions of dollars a year while teachers’ salaries remain stagnant.

”The new $12 million eSports arena, which replaced the unused football field, track, and field house, has been a point of controversy since running into cost overruns, but the school board defends the decision to go ahead.

“‘Football,’ said one board member, ‘is the fax machine of the 21st century.’ And indeed, colleges are dumping expensive, money-losing football programs and giving free rides to the top gamers. Not bad when you think that tuition for the best schools just hit $150,000 a year. High-tech employers want gamers, not jocks. All the colleges are sending scouts to this championship game. Some of these athletes will earn more than their parents by the time they’re 18.

“Another board member pointed out that eSports give more students a chance to participate.

“’Most of the old big-money sports favored big and tall boys, and that’s it,’ she said. ‘All the hard work and practice in the world won’t make you 6-foot-7. That’s an accident of birth. But almost any student can compete in an online game -- boys, girls, kids with different abilities, they can all participate. They’ll meet people from all around the globe, people that all speak the language of eSports. It’s like an Olympics every single day.

“’Besides,’ she added, ‘most kids are playing them in class anyway. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’”

(Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com.)

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