eSports Milestone: Pro Gamer Ninja To Be The First Pro Gamer Featured On ESPN Magazine Cover

from the paid-to-play dept

We have been tracking milestones in the maturity of eSports as a real cultural pastime for several years now, given how eSports almost perfectly intersects two main topics here at Techdirt: technology and digital economies. While those that claimed eSports would become a real thing have long been the recipients of skeptical narrow eyes, pro gaming has already zoomed past a number of important checkpoints on its way to legitimacy. Tournaments were heavily viewed overseas at first, but pro gaming then became recognized by universities for athletic scholarships. Next came coverage of tournaments on ESPN, followed eSports leagues being created by some of the major professional sports leagues in America and abroad. Even the IOC kicked around the idea of including eSports in future Olympic Games.

While the latest milestone perhaps isn’t as grand as the opening of leagues and new broadcast channels, it is still a notable development that the very first pro gamer will be featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine this week. That honor will go to Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who has amassed an enormous following on Twitch and elsewhere.

Ninja revealed the cover on Twitter and said “So excited to be the first professional gamer to be featured on @espn the Magazine. Cover and profile will be shown on Sports Center tomorrow in the 7 AM EST hour.”

We’ll have to forgive ESPN for the hamfisted Playstation controller icons that accompany the cover image, I suppose. The bottom line is that this ESPN cover is reflecting the popularity of pro gaming, not creating it. Ninja has recorded streams viewed by over a half a million people, putting his viewership at levels that rival smaller professional sports events. Given the adoption of eSports by younger generations, ESPN needs to cater to those interests, if only for purely business reasons.

Still, ESPN is a mainstay in the professional sports world. It’s no small thing that eSports has reached a place to be featured on the cover of its magazine. In other words, anyone waiting for this whole eSports fad to wane in popularity appears to have been waiting in vain.

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Comments on “eSports Milestone: Pro Gamer Ninja To Be The First Pro Gamer Featured On ESPN Magazine Cover”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


I understand that the gamer’s are playing sport related video games, but I have a hard time relating the actual concept of sport with the dexterity solely of ones phalanges, no matter how fast ones hand eye coordination is. Of course, the IOC expressing some interest, no matter how vapid, takes the concept down a notch for me, at least as far as considering it a sport is concerned.

I am not denigrating the activity itself. Nor the concept of one becoming a professional at that activity. The suggestion that it constitutes sport in the same way as track and field, or wrestling, or swimming, or gymnastics, or ice dancing or etc. do is another thing. Also, I would like to watch Olympic or even collegiate competitions, the way the presentations and marketing have evolved it is apparent to me, and many others, that it is more about the money than the sport. Esport does not seem to be progressing in anything that looks like an attractive manner, so far as the whole money thing goes.

Maybe I am too old and too set in my ways, but to me sport takes some sweat. Sport takes some physical effort. Sport takes something more than pushing buttons in an effective manner. Maybe when virtual reality gaming becomes more interactive, but then why not do it live and in person?

Now as an entertainment, watching someone execute a particular esport game excellently might garner some eye views. Whether that segment can generate the kind of money IRL sports do is another matter. Some of that has to do with how the coming generations wish to spend their time and money. I can think of more engaging things.

Atkray (profile) says:

Re: Sport?

OH man, you are going to get a lot of replies…..

I was more to your thinking and the general feelings that if you can hold back the crowds with a string then it isn’t a sport, or if you can drink or smoke while doing it it isn’t a sport.

I’ve changed my mind. Is sitting in a car turning left for 3 hours a sport?

I’m too old and too set in my ways, but I’m also too tired to argue what is and isn’t a sport.

I’ve played Fortnite and I’ve seen what the people who excel at it do. If they want to be called athletes, I think they have earned it.

Side note, this came up in my office a couple months ago and there as an Oakland Raiders fan who was dismissing Esports. One of the youngest team members very eloquently pointed out that to his generation watching people get brain damage was stupid and why wouldn’t they prefer to watch the very best participate in the same activities they do.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Sport?

The BBC also disagrees with you, as do many other people:

But, that’s really my point elsewhere in my thread. You’ve arbitrarily chosen parameters of what “counts”, parameters that are not agreed upon by a great number of people and presumably bend if you like the particular game in question. Oh, and when faced with something that disagrees with your predetermined boxes don’t “count” either…

So, this argument will never really be settled. People who demand that their sports require certain types of physical exertion will never admit that esport deserve the name, while people will endlessly argue about which sports on the periphery of whichever line they have drawn “count”.

It’s a rather silly argument, doubly so when people think their tired, predictable objections are somehow original.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Sport?

You’ve arbitrarily chosen parameters of what "counts"

The distinction between sports and games is a bit blurry, but it’s been around long enough that it’s not "arbitrary" when people use two words for the two different groups. Are you implying there’s no difference between "sport" and "game", or just saying "sport" fits here? (If the latter–based on what?)

One who uses a word in a way that’s not widely accepted shouldn’t be surprised at some pushback; I doubt many people are deluded enough to view their arguments as original.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Sport?

“Are you implying there’s no difference between “sport” and “game”, or just saying “sport” fits here? “

Most things that are classed as sports are also games. I can play a game of tennis or I can take part in the sport of tennis. The differentiator tends to be the professional, organised game. Whether you like it or not, non-strenuous games like darts and snooker are sports in the general parlance, and there’s rarely been any controversy until people try erecting imaginary barriers to keep out the newcomers.

But, personally, I don’t really care, it’s just funny to watch people argue about their arbitrary lines, when in doing so they’re disparaging things that other people class as sports. The fight for an arbitrary barrier to stop esports being included in the clique without excluding other sports is quite amusing.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Sport?

“I understand that the gamer’s are playing sport related video games”

Some of them, sure. Other popular esports include Overwatch, Starcraft 2, League Of Legends and Hearthstone.

“Maybe I am too old and too set in my ways, but to me sport takes some sweat.”

Chess is recognised as a sport by the Olympic committee, are boules and bridge.

If your definition of the word “sport” excludes those things, that’s down to the definition you chose, not the one used by other people.

“Maybe when virtual reality gaming becomes more interactive, but then why not do it live and in person?”

Because something like Fortnite might be a little difficult to achieve in real life?

“Now as an entertainment”

…which, ultimately is all sports are. Someone might be choosing to operate a controller rather than kick a ball around to provide that entertainment, but that’s really all it is. I know some people for that and think it’s more important for some reason, but it’s a trivial diversion no matter which parameters you choose.

Anonymous Coward says:

Funny how we used to call them professional couch potatoes until publishing houses decided to start paying people to sit on their ass to play their games.

But on the other hand people watch what’s got to be the most boring sport (to watch) on earth, golf! On TV even! To me watching people play computer games is just about as fun as watching golf. e-gaming is the new golf.

KeillRandor (profile) says:

A general message for all concerned: (What is sport?)

Many people have a problem with sports that are non athletic etc., and this happens for a good reason, because they think that sport is defined as and by the nature of the competitive activity itself.

Which is wrong. Activities are defined by what they are, nothing more – (e.g. games, competitions, puzzles etc., in addition to being work or play.)

What defines a sport, is the regulation and organisation around and supporting it, so we can have regional, national and international sports given the nature of such regulation and organisation. (Only having one of these, regulation OR organisation is not enough – sport always needs both.)

Any competitive activity that has such regulation and organisation is therefore a sport. Computer games have long since had such regulation and organisation, just not necessarily on this scale before, and so have no problems being a sport.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: A general message for all concerned: (What is sport?)

If my first comment was controversial then they’re gonna love this.

By your definition then we could set up rules and organizations to define competitive television sports watching (International Couch Potato Events Organization or ICPEO). Points could be scored by things consumed (beer, pretzels, pizza slices, hot dogs, etc.) or by emotional output (screaming at the ref volume, creativity of scoring dances, color of face when fuming at coaching decisions, an outrage index when players screw up, distinctiveness and/or creativity of colorful language when denigrating anything happening on screen or aimed at competitive co-watchers, also etc.) and length of nap time when the game being watched is so boring that it puts one to sleep, and of course etc.. All in front of a screen.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: A general message for all concerned: (What is sport?)

Yeah, you could pretty much do that. Whether or not it would gain any traction is another thing, but if it’s a competitive activity with clear rules, organisation, etc., they can do that.

“If my first comment was controversial then they’re gonna love this.”

It wasn’t controversial, it’s the same tired “I draw the line here why is this thing that doesn’t fit into my preferred box called a sport” that comes up over and over. If you think that’s even remotely original then, ironically, you need to get out more.

PNRCinema (profile) says:

All respect to gamers...

But ESPN is hitting hard times…all that cord-cutting, I guess…I mean you have the elite of the sports networks, one of if not the first sports-dedicated networks on the air, and they’ve lately went back to their original standards of broadcast, which is “we’ll carry ANY Sport no matter if only five people are watching” which is how you explain ESPN’s recent coverage of Professional Cornhole (REALLY?) and Spikeball tournaments…now can we start covering the now very real sport of Quidditch sometime soon? 🙂 ON the other hand, I think gamers definitely deserve this honor, and it’s about time too, now let’s try getting ESPN to cover their tournaments…they’ve been around a lot longer than some of the stuff ESPN is carrying lately…

Anonymous Coward says:

The Fighting Game Community deserved it more. The FGC has been around for ages now, organizing tournaments and having championships way before eSports ever became a word; there are tons of amazing stories to tell. EVO, the main championship series that’s held in Vegas every year, is a major event with tons of insanely hype moments. ESPN’s also broadcast EVO several times before, so there’s some synergy there.

Giving Ninja the cover spot was a publicity move given the popularity of Fortnite. If they wanted stories with real heart from people with some real passion for the games they play, they should’ve covered the FGC.

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