Column COVID-19 ESports

COLUMN: Sports Video Games Supplying Highlights

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but video games are totally saving my sanity right now.

The lack of live sporting events has left a hole in my personal and professional life, so this week I bought a used Xbox online with soccer and basketball games.

Luckily, and surprisingly, FIFA20 and NBA2K have somewhat scratched my live sports itch.

The Madden or Mario Cart tournaments with my friends and family are some of my fondest childhood memories, but I thought I had outgrown it. Then last week I watched an embarrassing amount of a simulated MLB The Show video game between the Dodgers and Giants on a fans Twitter page. It was like tasting a candy I used to enjoy, and I wanted more.

I haven’t owned a video game console in years because I’ve never had time to play it, but now that’s all I have. This week when I’m sitting at my desk wishing I was cutting a highlight video or doing fun interviews with local athletes — Esports will have to suffice.

FIFA20 is by far the most realistic looking sports video game. Even my wife, Vanessa, asked me what game I was watching when I first turned it on. The graphics are shockingly sharp and the player movement is eerily accurate. That’s why I always play with my favorite club Everton FC.

I was looking for a Premier League club to follow about 15 years ago, and I followed American goalkeeper Tim Howard to Everton. If you know the history of the oldest club in England, you know Everton is usually the plucky underdogs accustomed to epic disappointment.

Now instead of waiting all week to wake up early Saturday morning and watch my beloved Everton struggle in the middle of the Premier League table, I’m able to take the Toffees on a world tour as we beat the best teams in the top tournaments. It’s joyous.

My wife understood how much I needed the positivity a few days ago when I started singing Everton supporters songs after our striker Richarlison netted the go-ahead goal in the final minutes at Liverpool.

On NBA2K I’ve created my own player, Charlie Bucket. Because he’s a walking Bucket, get it?

Bucket is a young 6’5” slasher who finishes strong at the rim, and has a nasty step-back baseline jumper. He’s also a tireless defender who’s still learning how to play different roles.

When you create a player on NBA2K you can put that player on any team and in any game. So I’ve just been putting my guy Bucket in playoff matchups that we’d all be watching this month. Playing with the Lakers against the Clippers is my favorite, but the battles between the Celtics and Sixers have been epic.

It’s also been fascinating to feel video games tickle the same part of my brain that’s stimulated by covering athletics. Paying attention to formation shifts and ball movement patterns are key to being good at both video games and sports journalism.

I’d forgotten the value and power of sports video games, but I guess I wouldn’t know that if I weren’t sheltered in place. It’s all part of this unforgettable moment in time, and the unstoppable Esports movement online.

According to worldwide polling, an estimated 1.57 billion people were aware of Esports in 2019. That’s 13.8% growth from 2018, and many brand experts believe Esports will become one of the most lucrative new sponsorship options.

I’m so happy online gaming is a way young athletes can interact with their teammates while everyone is stuck at home. Almost all of the athletes I’ve interviewed in the past few weeks have told me about playing video games with friends to pass the time.

Last weekend, hosted a video game tournament for Long Beach high school students. Some of them have even won competitions where the top prize is scholarship money.

Even the Long Beach Poly football program is hosting a Madden tournament for current players and alums this week.

In the future, I’m going to take Esports video gaming a lot more seriously. It’s already a huge growing part of the athletic culture, and it’s helped fill the sports-sized hole in my life. I’ll repay that gift with respect.

JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.