Love video games more than football
the highest paid athlete in the world
was an Argentine footballer
named Lionel Messi.
And his talent?
Dribbling a ball down a pitch
and booting it past a goalkeeper.
It’s a skill so revered by fans
and corporate sponsors alike,
that in 2019,
Messi took home 104 million dollars.
That’s almost two million dollars
for every goal he scored in season.
He’s a pretty spectacular athlete
by any standard.
But why is it Messi’s particular
skills are so valuable?
Sure, there are obvious answers.
We just have enormous respect
for athletic prowess,
we love human competition,
and sports unite generations.
You can enjoy watching soccer
with your grandfather
and your granddaughter alike.
But growing up, I admired
a different sort of athlete.
I didn’t just want
to bend it like Beckham.
I loved video games
and I was floored
by the intricate strategies
and precision reflexes
required to play them well.
To me, they were equally admirable
to anything taking place in stadia
around the world.
And I still feel that way.
Today, I still love video games,
I founded successful
companies in the space
and I’ve even written a book
about the industry.
But most importantly,
I’ve discovered I’m not alone,
because as I’ve grown up, so has gaming.
And today, millions of players
around the world
need to compete in gaming centers
like this helix,
and large gaming tournaments,
like the League of Legends
can reach over 100 million viewers online.
That’s more than some Super Bowls.
And Lionel Messi isn’t the only pro
getting [paid] for his skills.
Top gaming teams can take home
15 million dollars or more
from a single tournament
like Dota’s Invitational.
And all this is why
traditional sports stars,
from David Beckham to Shaquille O’Neal,
are investing in competitive games,
transforming our industry,
now called esports,
into a 27-billion-dollar
phenomenon, almost overnight.
But despite all this,
the skills required to be a pro gamer
still don’t get much respect.
Parents hound their gamer-loving kids
to go outside, do something useful,
take up a real sport.
And I’m not saying
that physical activity isn’t important,
or that esports are somehow better
than traditional sports.
What I want to argue
is that it takes real skill
to be good at competitive video games.
So let’s take a look at the skills
required to win in Fortnite,
League of Legends, Rocket League,
some of today’s most popular esports.
Now, all of these games
are very different.
League of Legends is about
controlling a magical champion
as they siege an opposing fortress
with spells and abilities.
Fortnite is about parachuting
into 100-person free-for-all
on a tropical island paradise
and Rocket League is soccer with cars,
which, while it may sound strange,
I promise, is incredibly fun.
And yet, all of these three esports,
despite their differences,
and most competitive games, actually
have three common categories of skill.
And I’m going to take you
through each in turn.
The first type of skill required
to master esports is mechanical skill,
sometimes referred to as micro.
Mechanical skill governs activating
and aiming in-game abilities
with pixel-perfect accuracy.
And I’d most liken mechanical skill
to playing an instrument like piano.
There’s a musical flow
and a timing to predict
in your opponent’s actions and reactions.
And crucially, just like piano,
top esports pros hit
dozens of keys at once.
Gamers regularly achieve APMs,
or actions per minute,
of 300 or more,
which is roughly one command
every fifth of a second
and in particularly mechanically
top pros achieve
APMs of 600 or more,
allowing them to literally control
entire armies one unit at a time.
To give you an idea of how
difficult this is,
imagine a classic game like
Super Mario Brothers.
But instead of controlling one Mario,
there are now two hundred,
and instead of playing on one screen,
you’re playing across dozens,
each set to a different level or stage.
And now Mario can’t just run or jump,
but he has new powers,
teleportations, cannon blast,
things like that,
that have to be activated
with split-second timing.
Yeah, it is really hard
to play mechanically demanding
esports like StarCraft well.
Now the second category
of skill required to master esports
is strategic skill,
sometimes called macro.
And this governs the larger tactical
choices gamers make.
And I’d liken and strategic skill
to mastery of chess.
You have to plan attacks
and manipulate the digital
battlefield to your advantage.
But crucially, unlike chess,
esports are constantly evolving.
A popular esport like Fortnite
can patch almost every week.
And even the most competitive esports
like Rainbow Six Siege
update every quarter,
and these changes aren’t just cosmetic.
They introduce new abilities,
new heroes, new maps.
Constant change requires adaptivity.
It asks esports pros to do more
than just practice
but to theorize and invent.
Now, gamers call this constantly
evolving suite of strategies
the meta, short for the “metagame.”
And it would be like if every few weeks
the rules of basketball
are now worth five points,
or NBA pros can dribble out of bounds.
If this happened,
basketball would permit
for new strategies to win games
and the teams that discovered
these new strategies first
would have a big, if temporary, advantage.
And this is exactly
what happens in esports
every time there’s a patch or update.
rewards its most creative
and unconventional thinkers
with free wins.
Now, the last category of skill required
to be good at esports is leadership,
sometimes referred to as shot calling.
Esports pros are constantly
in private voice-chat communications
with their teammates,
supplemented by a system
of in-game pings.
This is what allows a team
of League of Legends pros
to coordinate a spectacular
barrage of five-man ultimates,
flashing in to capitalize on a minor
mispositioning by their opponents.
And leadership skill is also what allows
game captains to rally their teammates
in moments of crisis
and inspire them to make
one last risky all-in assault
on the opposing base.
And I’d argue this is the same
type of leadership
exuded by executives
and team captains everywhere.
It’s the ability to seize opportunity,
clearly and decisively
and inspire others to follow your lead.
And all these three categories of skill,
mechanical, strategic and leadership,
they have a crucial element in common.
They’re all almost entirely mental.
Unlike my ability to have a basketball
career at five-foot-ten,
esports doesn’t care how tall I am,
what gender I identify as, how old I am.
In fact, esports controllers
can even be adapted
to pros with unique physical needs.
Look at gamers like “Brolylegs”
who can’t move his arms or legs
or “Halfcoordinated,” who has limited
use of his right hand.
And these pros don’t just compete,
they set records.
Now, I’m not here to argue that esports
is some sort of egalitarian paradise.
Our industry has real issues to address,
particularly around inclusivity for women,
marginalized groups and those without
equitable access to technology.
But just because esports
has a long way to go,
doesn’t mean its
skills don’t deserve respect.
And what particularly bugs me
is how often we ascribe
such enormous value
to traditional athletic
talents off the field.
How many times have we been
in a job interview setting, let’s say,
and heard somebody say something like,
“Well, John is a phenomenally
He was captain of his college
John is going to be
a great digital marketer
because he can hurl a ball
really far with a stick?
Come on, we would not apply
that logic anywhere else.
“Stand aside, scientists,
Sarah is my choice
to repair this nuclear reactor.
After all, she played varsity soccer.”
No, what we mean when we say
John or Sarah is phenomenally
qualified for a job
is that because of their experiences
playing traditional sports,
they have developed traits
with real value in the workplace:
diligence, perseverance, teamwork.
And think of how I’ve just
described esports to you.
Doesn’t it sound like mechanical skill,
strategic skill, leadership,
wouldn’t those develop all those
same traits too?
And more to the point,
in today’s fast-paced
I think I might rather have a pro gamer
on my team than a traditional athlete.
After all, I know they can be charismatic
and decisive over voice chat
and I’m sure doing a lot of Zoom calls
today in my business.
So maybe now I’ve convinced you
that esports and video games
deserve a little more respect.
But if not, let me try to make
one last final appeal.
Because look at it this way.
Our society is changing.
Technology is fundamentally infiltrating
every aspect of our daily lives,
transforming everything from how
we work to how we fall in love.
Why should sports be any different?
You know, I think of my own
childhood, you know.
I grew up watching
the World Cup with my family,
and I learned to love soccer in large part
because I watched it with my dad.
And I would have loved doing
anything with him.
And now I think of my own sons.
But instead of soccer,
we’re watching esports,
not the violent ones, mind you.
But I’m building the same sorts
of memories with my kids
that my father did with me.
We’re marveling at the same skill
and reveling in the same victory.
It is an identical feeling
of pure awe and excitement.
It’s just a different game.
Thank you very much.