Were you one of the estimated five hundred million people around the world who watched an esports game last year?
That’s more than the number who watched the NFL; more, in fact, than global viewership for all but seven traditional sports—and that figure is growing. One recent study found that 3 in 10 global internet users between the ages of 16 and 64 recently watched a live gaming stream. That number increases to 42% of 16 to 24-year-olds.
Esports is a catch-all term for competitions using video games. The games may involve sports, though the most popular ones (featuring names like DOTA2, League of Legends, and Fortnite) don’t. Like traditional sports, there are professional esports leagues with teams, owners, investors, and players. There are also countless more amateurs, some training in hopes of turning pro, the majority simply playing for fun. Today, virtually every career connected to traditional sports (from chaplaincy to broadcaster to public relations) is a viable vocational path in esports.
Despite the popularity of esports and digital gaming, there is a notable lack of Christian witness in the space. While scores of our neighbours are playing online video games, the church has largely abandoned this territory. In some cases, we have gone so far as to stigmatize the industry: many church-going players confess to feeling shame about gaming because of the reproach they have felt from their pastors and elders; a feeling that doesn’t translate when it comes to equivalent traditional sports like softball or golf.
Christians who have a desire to minister to the lost ought to have esports in their prayers. The possibilities for ministry are broad and deep: from incorporating elements of gaming in youth groups to leveraging common interests for intentional relationship-building. This isn’t to put pragmatism on a pedestal. Far from it. Rather, by prayer, with thoughtful, theological reflection, and bold yet winsome gospeling, we can take Jesus where He is least known. Some of these frontiers are in digital environments, surrounded by landscapes drawn and coloured using computers, but populated by human beings, made in the image of God, many who may not have one Christian friend.
Do you know a disciple-making Christian who is also and an avid gamer? (You may, without knowing it!) Please get in touch with SIM to be part of engaging the esports world, for the glory of God.