A video of Lee ‘Faker’ Sang-hyeok being mobbed by hundreds of fans at an airport upon his arrival has been making the rounds on social media for the past few days. He was flying to China to compete in the Asian games, a major esports event that has quickly become one of the most visible in the world.
His security had to clear a passage for him through the throngs of people as he entered the concourse and hundreds of cameras were shoved into his face.
It’s not the first time Faker’s dealt with a huge crowd, but it’s the most recent time that’s been recorded. Esports have become increasingly popular over the past few years, and many of the best players in the scene are unquestionably on their way to stardom.
In only a short amount of time, ‘people playing games for money’ have risen from the ranks of ordinary nerds to those of truly legendary rockstars.
Let us not forget that Faker is unique. Many people refer to him as the “Michael Jordan of esports” because of his status as the best League of Legends player of all time. First and foremost, he has one of the largest audiences of any esports competitor, with over six million people following him across Twitch, YouTube, and Twitter. He’s been everywhere, done everything, and won the World Championship three times.
TOP 10 LOL ATHLETES PLAYING THE MOST GAMES APPEARED IN WORLDS:
🥇 Faker (T1): 1236
🥈 Deft (DK): 1202
🥉 Xiaohu (WBG): 1136
4. Ruler (JDG): 913
5. Peanut (GEN): 908
6. Scout (LNG): 873
7. Yagao (BLG): 769
8. Bdd (KT): 768
9. Knight (JDG): 762
10. Hylissang (MAD): 744#WORLDS2023 pic.twitter.com/riqsU1JGIs
— Salty Lord (@Salty_Lord_2006) September 20, 2023
The fact that Faker can gather a crowd when the time is right is not uncommon among esports professionals. A similar pattern can be seen in related industries, like streaming and content production.
When Dr. Disrespect attends a baseball game, for example, the camera’s focus on him dressed in costume, and everyone in the stadium applauds.
If we look at Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, we can point to Oleksandr ‘s1mple‘ Kostyliev, and if we look at Call of Duty, we can point to Seth ‘Scump’ Abner. Dota 2’s Johan “N0tail” Sundstein comes to mind, as does the game’s first “celebrity” player, Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel.
It will take some time for esports athletes to reach the same level of fame as traditional athletes, but it’s doable. These young athletes are gaining notoriety on par with NBA stars and English Premier League players, and are receiving endorsement deals and other forms of financial support at the same rate. As the esports industry expands, so does the influence of its top players.
Despite the industry’s current difficulties with profitability and economic sustainability, esports continue to draw large audiences. Organizations are working to shift the status quo by making esports more widely available and visible, and the future of the industry seems bright.
Each day, the industry gains more “legitimization” as prominent figures like Faker serve as its public face. The days when parents scoffed at their kids’ aspirations to become competitive gamers are long gone, and now those abilities are encouraged. Universities now offer degrees in esports, and competitions ranging from the grassroots to those with prize pools in the millions are gaining popularity.
Is it only a matter of time before esports athletes eclipse traditional sports athletes in popularity in today’s hyper-digital world?
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