Video gamers go pro

Kai Ryssdal Jan 18, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: Y’know how you read about people getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning to line up to buy the latest video game machine? And you say, man, what’s the matter with them?

Well, I’m one of ’em. Tried to score a Nintendo Wii for my kids just before Christmas. Didn’t get one, they only had 15 of them at the store I went to and I was number 30 in line. But if I’d known how much money you can make playing those games, I’d have gotten up way earlier.

Our business-of-sports analyst Ed Derse’s here to explain why. Hey Ed.


RYSSDAL: Every time I turn around, there’s a new sport. You got poker, you got all these things. Now you’re telling me video games are the next big thing.

DERSE: Well, video games are a big thing already. It’s a $32 billion a year global business. Put that in perspective, that’s more than two times the business. The revenue of the NFL, the NBA and major league baseball combined. It’s huge! And millions of people around the world. . . not just kids, the average gamer is getting up towards 30 years old. . . it’s a globalized phenomenon. This is a globalized sport.

RYSSDAL: Alright, even if it’s more than just 16 year olds. How are you gonna turn a bunch of guys sitting in front of their TVs all alone in the middle of the night into a sport and an industry?

DERSE: Well, it’s no longer guys sitting alone in the middle of the night. You have a number of different leagues already trying to sort of vie for status. But there are actually a couple out there that have been pretty interesting. You’ve got the World Series of Video Games, which I think yesterday announced a five-week series with CSTV, College Sports Television, to display its event. And then last week at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, Championship Gaming Series, which is a product of DirecTV, has announced that it’s gonna be airing a series of team-vs-team competitions beginning in February. And it’s very, very high-production value in a team format. And just listen to the way they promote it:

ANNOUNCER: In 2007, the 101 on DirecTV invites you to get. . . your. . . game. . . on!

RYSSDAL: Alright, that’s great, but do you have stars? I mean, do you have the Terrell Owens and the big name people?

DERSE: There is one big name in professional video gaming. It’s a 25-year-old young man named Jonathan Wendel from Kansas City, Missouri, who goes by the stage name of “Fatal1ty.”*

RYSSDAL: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s a big seller I bet.

DERSE: And he’s really the first multimillion-dollar athlete in the sport. And you know, of course, a lot of these kids can identify with him, ’cause he’s not a 7″2 pituitary case. He looks like a normal, suburban kid who just happens to be the best in the world at video gaming.

RYSSDAL: Is there a live-audience demand for these guys, or is it all television?

DERSE: Depends where you are. In Korea, 100,000 showed out for a tournament. Whether or not it’s going to be a spectator sport in the traditional sense or whether it’s actually gonna work on television remains to be seen. What you do know is you have a huge, huge demographic that is highly valued. The, you know, elusive 13 to 34-year-old young male that everybody and every advertiser wants.

RYSSDAL: Let me take a step back here for a minute and ask about the. . . sort of the morality play of this thing. The phrase that comes up with a lot of video games is “First-person shooter.” It’s blood sport, in essence.

DERSE: You know, you need to ask yourself the question: 1. Is it immoral? and 2. Is it a sport? You know, first of all. So, let me answer the sport first. You know, is golf a sport? Is poker a sport? Both of them are very, very successful on television. As for the blood sport aspect of it, you know, it’s a bit unctuous. No doubt about it that you’re sort of virtually killing people to win points. On the other hand, you know, we are conducting modern gladiator bouts with mixed martial arts with guys in cages beating themselves into a pulp. So, if you define sport as a form of competitive, structured play, hey, this fits. And in the 21st century, where we live increasingly digital and online, who’s not to say that this isn’t a sport?

RYSSDAL: Who’s not to say. Ed Derse is vice president for interactive media at Fox Sports International. His thoughts, when he does the Business of Sports for us, are his own. Ed, thanks a lot.

DERSE: Thank you, Kai.

*[EDITOR’S NOTE: The “1” adds more cyber cred]

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