ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This month, we are exploring the world of esports on All Tech Considered.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: One hundred of the best players in the entire world are about to face off for $15 million.
SHAPIRO: Esports is competitive video gaming, and it's a huge business.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Six-figure salary, in the spotlight on stage, and some of them are just...
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Going for the double tap.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: Can he get another?
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Can he hit it?
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: He's going to end up picking up three kills. Oh, my God, what is that?
SHAPIRO: According to the analytics company Newzoo, 2019 was the first year global revenue surpassed a billion dollars. For more on esports, we turn to Remer Rietkerk of Newzoo.
REMER RIETKERK: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Start by just painting a picture for us. What is one of these big matches like? Paint a picture.
RIETKERK: Absolutely. So I mean, I think when you enter a stadium where there's a big esports event, it honestly feels like any major traditional sporting event. You have loud fans, people banging, making noise. It's a - massive screens in the center. And then there's usually a small stage underneath where the players are sitting with their computers. And the stadium will be, depending on if it's done in the round or from one side out, will be half or entirely filled with fans.
SHAPIRO: How much money can they win?
RIETKERK: That depends a lot on the sport. You hear these great headlines about Fortnite, where, I think, one player won something in the neighborhood of $3 million. But a lot of these sports are also structured like a traditional league, where, rather than in the vein of boxing, it's about winning in the tournament and getting the big cash prize. Instead, these guys are employed as full-time athletes, playing week in, week out in a league basis. And in those cases, you see some players in the top leagues earning over seven figures.
SHAPIRO: And who are the big stars of esports? I mean, they don't necessarily look like traditional athletes, right?
RIETKERK: That's true, but I think what you're starting to see is also a change there. I think that when you look at a lot of the really professional organizations, they've come to realize that even in esports, fitness is actually important. So while they may not have the huge muscles you might see in traditional sports, a lot of these guys are starting to get into really good shape because they're aware that being physically fit is also important for their reaction times in the game.
SHAPIRO: What are the skills that it takes to be great at one of those games?
RIETKERK: There is a lot (laughter).
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) I mean, to me, it seems like you've got to have quick reflexes. That's sort of, like, No. 1, right?
RIETKERK: I think there's a lot of depth in understanding the way the game plays. And so you will have map states. I think if you listen to a professional analyst talk about Counter-Strike or League Of Legends, it'll sound like Greek to you, right? It'll sound like a completely different language because there's...
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) I've watched some YouTube videos, and yeah, indeed. I couldn't follow what was going on.
RIETKERK: (Laughter) Exactly. And so there is a depth in understanding the game, almost in a way like chess, where you really have to understand the different map states, the circumstances that which you're playing in, understanding your opponent, how they might play. There's also - communication is a really big part of it because you're playing in a team game. And at the end of the day, being able to effectively communicate, to effectively operate as a team - a lot of these skills that you would need in a traditional sport as well carry over completely into esports.
SHAPIRO: It's no surprise that a lot of the best esports players come from countries that have really fast Internet speeds and really advanced technology. How does the U.S. compare?
RIETKERK: The U.S. is an interesting market. I think that the U.S. - if you look at a lot of esports, I would not say that the U.S. is necessarily the strongest country, but they do field competitive teams in all of the major games, whether that's League Of Legends, Counter-Strike, Dota or Overwatch.
SHAPIRO: When you look to the future, do you see esports reaching the size and scope that traditional sports have reached?
RIETKERK: I would say one day, asterisk.
RIETKERK: So I would not say this is something we should expect to see in the next 20 years. I think traditional sports has had a good 100-, 120-year head start (laughter).
RIETKERK: But I'm very bullish on the future of esports, though, because you start to see young people more and more are watching esports and playing video games, which means that every year, more young people are aging into the market, and a larger percentage of them are watching esports. When you consider the fact that esports has only kind of begun to permeate the mainstream in the last five to 10 years, I think you could very reasonably say that you could see 20 years of year-over-year growth in the esports audience from now.
SHAPIRO: Remer Rietkerk is head of esports for the analytics firm Newzoo.
Thanks for talking with us.
RIETKERK: Thank you.
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