I attended the Red Bull Battlegrounds with my son yesterday, and will be here in Atlanta throughout the weekend… watching people play Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft II competitively on the big stage. Yeah, a video game. This is e-sports, man, and it’s a thing, complete with wildly famous sportscasters, energy drink sponsors, and international attention.
Confession: my inner Stern Parent thinks it might all be a waste of time.
I remember, though, vividly, though it was 30+ years ago, my parents asking me: what, exactly, is going to come from all of this computer stuff you’re doing? My buddies and I were running a BBS, hacking on hex-editing Wizardry on the Apple ][, writing our own games, and my own Stern Parents thought it was all a waste of time.
This was before most people understood that there WOULD be something called personal computing. It was before the Internet, before Silicon Valley, and during the days where Microsoft’s claim to fame was producing a 16K add-on board for our trusty Apple ][s. It was before anyone ever thought that a nerd called Bill Gates could be the world’s richest dude, or that mobility would change the way we work and play, … and that all of those kids who did that “useless” stuff would be making a great living and having fun 30 years later.
So. E-Sports. This is entertainment, yes. And Stern Parent is worried about Being Practical. But if I’m honest, I’m also seeing something new, interesting, and beneficial in the long term.
I think we’re seeing a refactoring similar to the personal computing age. I think we’re seeing young people map out the future in the same way that my generation did.
If you had asked folks 30 years ago whether we’d see the popular kids with their faces buried in a computer while they hung out with their friends, folks would have laughed. Yet, that’s what we see today. The computer is a smart phone and the kids are socializing while they use it, but that’s essentially what we have: the popular kids getting just as obsessed with a computer as we geeks did 30 years ago.
My point: yesterday’s geekery is today’s mainstream.
So, today’s geekery might just be tomorrow’s mainstream.
I don’t know how exactly how all of this is going to play out. Nobody does. But there are some hints, which are also reasons to let your kid participate in this particular brand of what Stern Parent considers “useless stuff”.
Hint #1. In 2012, I wrote how Kleiner Perkins executive Bing Gordon incorporated gaming culture into his business life. I have no doubt that the big money behind e-sports also incorporates this gaming culture. Gordon noted how curious gamers are, how gaming rewards cooperation, and so on.
Hint #2. Today, gamers of all stripes, from StarCraft to League of Legends “go pro”. That means that they must not only sustain a level of dexterity, but must also deal with strategy, mind games, self esteem in the face of loss, learning how to handle “fans” … on and on. In a global marketplace, these pros are micro-celebrities who learn how to navigate a multi-cultural experience bound together with a common love of the game. It’s essentially a daily job that they love and excel at.
Hint #3. A whole ecosystem is growing up around e-sports. Just taking the StarCraft II game into account, there’s a highly popular Internet TV show run by a caster called “Day9“, which teaches strategy and has a Colbert-esque comedy twist to it. There is also a cartoon called “Star Crafts” that my kids find hilarious.
Hint #4. All of these players, all of these sportscasters, all of these bloggers and live bloggers who are obsessed with the game are quite naturally learning incredible skills. I chatted with sportscaster Cameron Reed (@camd0zer) a few minutes ago, and he agreed: these folks are learning personal branding and new marketing techniques at an early age. These are critical skills at a time when the way we do business has fundamentally changed. (I recently wrote about this new-age business requirement from the IT perspective for InformationWeek.)
Hint #5. The grace under pressure that I’m seeing from these folks is outstanding. Sure, there’s trash talking, but no genuine whining. Curmudgeonly pundits bemoan how the Millennial generation thinks that “everybody’s a winner” when they all come home with ribbons from the soccer game. Not so with e-sports participants. There’s a winner and a loser in each match, and more introspection about continuous improvement than you see on the soccer field.
Again, I don’t know where this is going. But it is pretty obvious that it’s going somewhere, and probably defining our future, even if Stern Parent’s field of vision can’t quite see it yet.