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The Strange New World of E-Sports

Youth leader warns of cultural trend of online video game viewing as a spectator.

A five-person American team made headlines recently when it won an international championship -- and captured a $6.6 million prize.

Though mainstream media outlets, from CNN to Forbes magazine, reported on the victory, it was no ordinary sporting event. It was a showdown of Dota 2, a popular online video game. Millions of viewers logged on to the live-streamed finals to see the Evil Geniuses team overcome China's CDEC.

It's the strange new world of e-sports, and observers say it's here to stay. Last year, Amazon acquired Twitch, a video game streaming site that is essentially the ESPN of the gaming world. Each month, more than 100 million users watch video games and talk about gaming on Twitch, according to the site.

"The Twitch community is the single most active, socially engaged group of gamers in the world," says Jon Carnage, live programming director of Twitch. "They have a voracious appetite."

With huge cash prizes on the line, many teens and young adults spend hours a day vying for positions or watching the drama unfold. Sumail, the screen name for a 16-year-old member of the Evil Geniuses, once sold his bicycle to buy more screen time.

"It's becoming a big deal among more and more of our millennials," says Heath Adamson, director of National Youth Ministries for the Assemblies of God. "It's indicative of a cultural trend in which we are digitally connected, but in many ways emotionally alone."

Adamson says that while watching or playing some video games can be a harmless form of entertainment, parents should be aware of what their kids are doing online.

"It's important for parents to understand that information can be exchanged over those gaming platforms," Adamson says. "Pay attention to what your kids are playing, what they're viewing and who they're talking to."

Adamson says parents should also encourage teens to seek balance by spending time in healthier, real-world activities. In South Korea, where e-sports is becoming a national pastime, the government enacted a law to keep young players from logging on between midnight and 6 in the morning. One Korean teenager recently told a reporter he spends 88 hours per week engaging with e-sports.

Some e-sports competitions are considering doping regulations to address the growing number of players who use substances to stay in the games for hours on end.

Adamson says Christians should be careful about letting any activity become more important than spending time with God and doing His will. He notes that Psalm 90:12 teaches God's followers to number their days.

"Opportunities are seductive," Adamson says. "If we're not careful, we can become successful at what is not important in the end and neglect the things that matter most. If we make it to the final level in a video game, but we haven't told anyone about Jesus, we aren't living with an eternal perspective."


Christina Quick

Christina Quick is a former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer who attends James River Church (Assemblies of God) in Ozark, Missouri.