MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — The Olympics have dominated sports headlines, but another sport is plotting its own rise to the top. Some people are asking when we might see a gold medalist in esports.
If you ask Josh Hafkin, he would tell you video games aren’t his whole life. But, if you look around his office, it’s a bit of a different story.
Hafkin is the CEO of Game Gym.
“Game Gym is an esports training center and broadcast center,” said Hafkin. "We started with an afternoon program and private lessons, and we quickly grew to summer camps, tournaments, events, birthdays, we kind of have done it all in the industry.”
If you haven’t heard of esports, it’s competitive video games. Game Gym is kind of an all-in-one youth training center.
“In the video game world, there’s no one guiding kids, there’s no one helping kids navigate this path and that’s really dangerous,” said Hafkin.
Hafkin has won over the minds of many to show that esports is a viable industry. That includes his partner, Evan Shubin.
“I was definitely an extremely skeptical parent. I had two boys that were teenagers and very, very avid gamers, League of Legends and Overwatch, and I thought it was a big waste of time,” said Shubin.
But Shubin enrolled his kids in Game Gym’s after-school program. When one of his sons received grants to be a part of the esports program at Ohio State, he did a 180 and decided to invest in Game Gym.
“The industry is growing, no questions about it, and so there are jobs in esports and there will be more jobs. If you think about the NBA, only a tiny fraction of basketball players get paid to play basketball. But the coaches, the trainers, the general managers, the business managers, the sponsorship sales folks, all of those people are making money in the basketball industry,” said Shubin.
Game Gym hopes to be a part of the growing industry and so does the Washington Justice, a professional Overwatch League team.
“So, the same way there’s the NBA for basketball, the NHL for hockey, there’s the Overwatch League which is a professional league that has 20 teams in it,” said Grant Paranjape, the vice president of esports business with the Justice. “We are the DMV’s professional Overwatch League team."
The Justice and the Overwatch League are just one section of a growing industry. According to Newzoo, the industry is expected to produce over $1 billion for the first time this year.
While those numbers are still dwarfed by other professional sports leagues, it has some people curious if in the future we might see esports on an even bigger stage.
“I think we absolutely will see esports in the Olympics. It’s something that they’re already kind of teasing,” said Hafkin.
“Viewership is down for the Olympics. They are really struggling,” said Paranjape.
But just because it seems like esports teams could be competing for gold doesn’t mean those in the industry think it’s the best idea to grow the sport.
“We’ve kind of come around to the idea that esports doesn’t really need the Olympics. The Olympics might need esports,” said Paranjape.
“If they can make it and validate it, then it could be huge. If they just use it as a marketing tool to sell more Coca-Cola sponsorships, I’m less cool with that,” said Hafkin.
So, the jury is still out on if and how we might see esports on the international stage, but without a doubt, esports are here to stay.