PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Ben Roethlisberger plays to a crowd of more than 70,000.
Sidney Crosby plays to a crowd of more than 18,000.
And Jake Jenkins plays to a crowd of more than 55,000.
Who is Jake Jenkins, you ask? He’s a member of the Pittsburgh Knights eSports team.
eSports is competitive video gaming.
It’s currently the fastest growing industry in America, and the Knights are quickly becoming a household name with more than 450 million eSports enthusiasts worldwide.
But this is not just fun and games. There is also money to be made.
“There are competitors who are making millions of dollars a year traveling the globe and competing in eSports games”, says Steve Tanzilli, the Dean of Point Park University’s Rowland School of Business.
In fact, the Knights competed for more than $150 million in eSports prizes last year. And while other professional teams like the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates have specific sports that players specialize in, the Knights are diverse.
Teammates play all kinds of video games, everything from Fortnite to Gwent to Paladins to SMITE, but they play at a level that demands extreme skill and practice, the likes of which most at-home video game players will never achieve.
“We practice generally six to eight hours a day”, says Jenkins. He’s on the Knights’ Paladins team.
He and his teammates live together with their coach at a team-owned home in Georgia.
“We have all of our personal computers set up in the living room where we practice”, says Jenkins.
Their day begins with breakfast and a strategy session. After that, they practice against other teams online until it’s time for a game.
Then, they don their uniforms and head to a studio in Atlanta where they take on other teams in person.
The games are sent out as a live show on Mixer.com, where thousands tune in from all over the world.
“They are seven-game series and can last up to three and a half hours. So there’s a lot of stamina involved and lots of mental warfare”, says Jenkins.
The live productions come with all of the bells and whistles that you’d find in other live sporting events.
“You’ve got play by play. You’ve got replay cameramen working different banners and different graphics that are set up”, says Jenkins.
And, if that’s not enough, sometimes the league will take its play to the fans, in venues where thousands come to watch in person.
“It’s electric. It’s unbelievable. The people there are cheering. They are representing their teams. They have flags. They have posters”, says Knights Communications Manager Angelica Sirabella.
Most of the Knights players come from all over the world.
“For instance, all of our SMITE team came from Europe”, says Knights Director of Operations Jonathan Oh.
However, Jake Jenkins is a Pittsburgh area native. He’s a graduate of Deer Lakes High School and was a three-sport athlete there. Now, he’s one of the top players in the eSports world.
“I feel like I’m just as much of an athlete as Ben Roethlisberger. He might be a little more physical, but I have a big brain myself so I could take him on with mental gymnastics, I’m sure”, says Jenkins.
The Steelers and Penguins have embraced the Knights, and the team is hoping that will help boost their growing popularity even more.
In fact, this weekend, the Penguins are partnering with the Knights, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Point Park University to host a competitive gaming tournament.
“Steel City Showdown” will take over Point Park’s new Pittsburgh Playhouse, featuring three different games in three different halls.
Anyone is welcome to come and show off their skills, playing against the pros while eSports lovers cheer for them.
“We want to see, as a city, is eSports viable? Is this something that really has legs?”, says Tanzilli.
Point Park believes it does. The university already has a class in eSports in its business school, because it recognizes there are many jobs to be had in the field.
In addition to the players, eSports teams have a host of other positions including accounting, marketing, human resources, public relations, and event management.
“We are all in new territory here, but the possibilities are definitely there”, says Knights Director Online-Offline Tournaments, Rodney Lee.