“Get ready for the Shaq attack!” Shaquille O’Neal posted on Twitter last March.
Shaq wasn't talking about attacking a basketball court — or any other court, for that matter. (Never mind how exciting it is to picture Shaq training for Wimbledon...) He was talking about League of Legends, an online multiplayer video game. Shaq is one of many sports stars now investing in e-sports, or professional gaming.
Alex Rodriguez, Jeremy Lin, Magic Johnson and Rick Fox are among the pro athletes investing in the new industry. Most recently, the Philadlephia 76ers became the first North American sports franchise to acquire an e-sports team.
So why are big-name athletes getting involved in video games?
It’s Where the Money Is:
"The growth [in e-sports] is incredible to see. It's a $750 million business, and in a couple of years it's going to be a $2 billion industry," he told ESPN. "It mirrors everything I've experienced in my own professional sport environment, and so after doing enough research and doing my due diligence, I put together a team that's obviously bigger than just myself.”
Seattle Seahwaks cornerback Richard Sherman hasn't officially invested in the industry yet, but it's caught his eye. In an interview with ESPN, he said, "These guys are out here competing for $2 million [at the Call of Duty World Championships]. That's real money. That's as real as it gets. I'm looking forward to seeing how that industry grows and maybe, maybe getting more involved."
Similarities With Traditional Sports:
Here’s what Nets guard Jeremy Lin told ESPN about stars on the court and the on screen:
"They're doing something that everyone loves doing, but they just do it at another level and they're extremely talented. That's why you have this fanaticism, and that's why you have people lined up at midnight asking for autographs."
Here’s Lin comparing NBA players to Dota 2 characters:
When Shaq was asked in an interview about similarities between real sports and e-sports, he described an attitude you'd feel in a locker room.
"Teamwork. Five guys working together, practicing together, trusting your brother. That’s what makes a winner. It’s a grind. It takes big time dedication to be the best and build a winner."
They Love Gaming:
Richard Sherman again:
"I love the competitive aspect of [Call of Duty]. [In] every match you're getting to compete online against other players and I think that's huge for guys who kind of have that in us. It's kind of ingrained in us. We're competitors in every aspect of our lives and we're always looking for another opportunity to compete. I think [Call of Duty] gives everybody a chance to be good at it."
For Lin, he's been gaming since he was a teenager:
"I'm looking into these opportunities, and it's authentic, because I play the game three to four times a week and I have since I was 16 years old," Lin said. "I've been playing for the last 11 years, every week, several times, so it's something I love doing. So I'm definitely trying to get into this space as much as I can.”
Millennials Are The Future:
Rick Fox said gaming was important bonding time for him and his son. And when he was younger...
"It was Galaga, a lot of Midway games, Centipede — all of the games that my dad would drop me off at the bowling alley and give me $20 as a kid," he told ESPN. "That was his way of spending time with me."
Looking forward, he sees e-sports thriving on gaming with the family.
"For me, if I'm looking at myself and my relationship with my son through gaming, then I'm sure he and his son or daughter will share that love and passion, [as well]. That's why I think you see e-sports taking off.”