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ESports mesmerize as traditional sports worry about decline

It's drawn millions of fans, its competitors get paid big money and the Olympics are considering adding it. As an industry, eSports -- professionals playing video games for spectators -- is set to gross nearly $1 billion by the end of 2018. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports from DreamHack Austin.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As traditional sports like baseball and football struggle with stalling viewership and an aging fan base, a new kind of sport has emerged with huge appeal for millions around the world.

    Economics correspondent Paul Solman has the story from Austin, Texas, where he went to a three-day event for what's known as e-sports.

    It's part of his weekly series, Making Sense.

  • Paul Solman:

    Pro sports, and they don't get any hotter than this, in the U.S, in France, in Poland. The fans are in ecstasy and sometimes despair over e-sports, electronic sports.

    That's right. They're playing video games for money, big money. Come on, you ask, this is sports? Well, the Olympics are considering adding e-sports because they have mesmerized the digital generation, while traditional sports worry about decline.

  • Mike Van Driel:

    We're not really concerned anymore about this hangup of like, is it sports or not?

  • Paul Solman:

    We're at DreamHack in Austin Texas, Canadian Mike Van Driel here from Sweden to manage the event.

    And while DreamHack Austin drew a crowd of only 30,000, $30 just to watch, $89 if you also BYOC, bring your own computer to play in the amateur pen. But you know how times many fans will tune in online?

  • Mike Van Driel:

    I mean, easily 100 million.

  • Paul Solman:

    A hundred million?

  • Mike Van Driel:

    Yes.

  • Paul Solman:

    The box office take in Austin, nearly a million dollars. But this is just one of the dozen or so events DreamHack hosts every year.

  • Mike Van Driel:

    We're doing two events in the U.S., two events in Spain. And then in two weeks from now, we will be at kind of the original event in a Jonkoping, Sweden.

  • Paul Solman:

    And how many people come to that?

  • Mike Van Driel:

    About 55,000.

  • Paul Solman:

    In Jonkoping. That's standing room only at Yankee Stadium. Moreover, while we were at DreamHack, a separate tournament was taking place at a resort in Wisconsin. And there were others all over the world.

  • Mike Van Driel:

    So many events happen on the same weekend, because there's not enough weekends.

  • Paul Solman:

    Following the fans, of course, the money. Growing at 40 percent per year, e-sports figure to gross nearly a billion dollars by the end of 2018, 40 percent or so from sponsorships, 20 percent from ads, another 20 percent from media rights.

    At DreamHack, signs of the new money were everywhere, high-tech cameras on cranes. So-call casters call the action play-by-play, streamed live worldwide, as the pro gamers play for rich prizes, in addition to their substantial salaries.

  • Shahzeb Khan:

    They're well over six figures. And then the sky's the limit with prize money.

  • Paul Solman:

    That's ShahZaM, Shahzeb Khan, a star whose pro e-sport is Counter-Strike, where five terrorists try to plant bombs and five counterterrorists try to deter them permanently.

    Whoever neutralizes the opposing team first wins.

    ShahZaM plays for compLexity Gaming, one of scores of pro e-sports teams in various leagues playing different e-sports video games, Dota 2, PUBG, Overwatch, League of Legends. They all compete for top talent, like ShahZaM.

    Last year, compLexity was bought by Dallas Cowboys football boss Jerry Jones, who's been joined by traditional sports moguls like Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots football dynasty, who's invested in a league for the video game Overwatch.

    Team compLexity, which makes its money from corporate sponsors and its cut of tournament winnings, provides plenty of support.

  • Shahzeb Khan:

    We have got a personal fitness sports psychology coach. He helps us with pretty much everything we need, in terms of like even teaching some of the players how to cook, getting advice on like fixing your posture.

  • Paul Solman:

    Hey, posture is key, if you sit as much as these guys do, practicing eight to 10 hours a day.

    But, look, says the entrepreneur who founded and then sold the compLexity team, Jason Lake.

  • Jason Lake:

    The beautiful thing about e-sports and about gaming is, you don't have to be 6'3" and 220 to have a shot. You don't have to be 6'9" to dunk. Anybody can come, male, female, any race, any gender. As long as you have some basic physical functionality, it's a level playing field.

  • Paul Solman:

    There is one physical hazard, carpal tunnel syndrome.

    Daniel Rodriguez, AKA ChuDat.

  • Daniel Rodriguez:

    If I play for about one or two hours, my fingers are pretty much — they just start to hurt.

  • Paul Solman:

    ChuDat is a star at Super Smash Bros. Melee, a mostly gun-free mano-a-mano affair released way back in 2001, but ChuDat's e-sport was shelved for a sequel, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and both he and the game appeared to be obsolete.

  • Daniel Rodriguez:

    I tried picking up the game. I tried playing. I was no good at it. So I had to kind of like drop Smash and I had to focus on like my real life, so I got a job and then I went back to school.

  • Paul Solman:

    Luckily, a 2013 nostalgia documentary revived Melee and Rodriguez's career, for the time being.

  • Daniel Rodriguez:

    People think that this game will dry up and it will just like completely disappear.

  • Paul Solman:

    Well, what do you do after that?

  • Daniel Rodriguez:

    I got to go back to school and get a job.

  • Paul Solman:

    So, unlike baseball or golf, video games go, video games come, and sometimes quickly.

    The video game of the moment, soon to become a pro e-sport with a league of its own, Fortnite, a shoot-em-up featuring a battle royal, 100 players drifting down to an island and then sniping away to emerge as sole survivor.

    With promised tournament prizes of $100 million next year, Fortnite threatens to become the biggest e-sport of them all and was plastered on screens throughout DreamHack.

    Released less than a year ago, the game already has 50 million players, in part because it's free, while a typical video game costs $50 to $60. So how can it offer $100 million in prizes? Because Fortnite has turned out to be a superb virtual merchandiser.

    Matthew Adams, playing Fortnite at the BYOC area of DreamHack, is one of its customers.

  • Matthew Adams:

    You can earn dances and buy them. Like, here's a break-dance.

  • Paul Solman:

    A break-dance.

  • Matthew Adams:

    Like in old times, like disco.

  • Paul Solman:

    And you could either earn those dances for your character or you can buy them?

  • Matthew Adams:

    Yes, or you can buy them in the shop.

  • Paul Solman:

    And how much is a dance cost roughly?

  • Matthew Adams:

    Like two dollars.

  • Paul Solman:

    Two bucks a dance.

  • Matthew Adams:

    Yes.

  • Paul Solman:

    Skins, the outfits players don, are $10 to $20 apiece. As a result, Fortnite grossed $296 million on cosmetic items and weapons upgrades in the month of April alone.

    How many hours a day do you play this?

  • Matthew Adams:

    Maybe like five. I play a lot.

  • Zac Adams:

    I think that it will be as popular as baseball, basketball, and those sports. It's just a matter of time.

  • Paul Solman:

    Matthew's dad Zac Adams is a pro athlete himself, a long-drive golfer who has hit a ball 450 yards onto a fairway. He's taken up Fortnite to spend time with his kids.

    But, now, wait a second. Maybe Fortnite is the next big e-sport. But doesn't the violence concern the father? A 2015 review by the American Psychological Association linked video games to increased aggression, though it found no link to violent crimes.

  • Zac Adams:

    I think that the parents that do allow them to play should be responsible to bring that to the top of the list.

  • Paul Solman:

    Matt's dad said he wasn't worried about a Fortnite addiction. But that was before the World Health Organization pronounced this week that such addictions can be a gaming disorder in extreme cases.

    Do you worry at all about the addiction factor?

    I asked him if he was addicted to the game. And he said yes.

  • Zac Adams:

    Right. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    I mean, it's tough to like put my finger on that, you know, because if you balance your life with exercise, proper diet, and you're — and you're doing things to keep yourself mentally healthy, you can have a hobby that maybe isn't necessarily an addiction, but it's what you do, you know, and it's what drives your life.

  • Paul Solman:

    I had one last question for Zac's son.

    Do you have any dreams of becoming a professional gamer?

  • Matthew Adams:

    Yes.

  • Paul Solman:

    You do?

  • Matthew Adams:

    Yes.

  • Paul Solman:

    Do you think you have a shot?

  • Matthew Adams:

    Maybe.

  • Paul Solman:

    For the "PBS NewsHour" in Austin, Texas, this is Paul Solman, sticking to my TV economics career, at least for now.

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