Marshawn Lynch Headlines ESPN The Magazine's Leap into Video Games

Print pub tests gaming waters

Lynch will be the first athlete in Call of Duty.

ESPN The Magazine is dropping an "eSports" issue this week with Seattle Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch gracing its cover. In a feature story, Lynch, who is notoriously uncooperative with the media, gives an exclusive account of his role in Activision's Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

Yes, the video game. Lynch is the first athlete to be featured in the immensely popular first-person shooter video game franchise.

"We have been wanting to do an eSports issue for several months now," ESPN The Magazine senior editor Megan Greenwell told Adweek. "We're witnessing the birth of a sport."

The world of competitive gaming, known as eSports, is a $194 million-per-year industry in which Lynch happens to be a huge fan. The industry is growing with unprecedented speed, with revenue increasing 49 percent from 2012 through the end of last year. By 2017, the projected revenue for eSports is $465 million annually. In 2014, people spent 3.7 billion hours watching eSports globally, compared to 1.3 billion hours in 2012.

"We really wanted to capture that energy around eSports at this particular moment in time," Greenwell said.

While looking to connect the interplay between the gaming world and mainstream sports, ESPN The Magazine staffers found out Lynch would be a character in the game. Despite Lynch's reputation for being difficult with the media, he was intrigued about offering a behind-the-scenes look at how his role in the game came about.

Reporter Sam Alipour was invited to Activision's studio and sat with Lynch while he was designing his character and, at times, wearing a motion-capture suit. Additionally, there will be a SportsCenter segment on the process, and it's been assured that Lynch will say something other than what he offered before the Super Bowl, when he constantly repeated the line: "I'm just here so I won't get fined."

Greenwell said Lynch "gets really excited about video games" and "genuinely sees them as a fun outlet." 

The eSports issue isn't entirely dedicated to Lynch. It also features NBA standout Kevin Durant and NFL star Patrick Peterson, offering first-person accounts about why they're such avid gamers. Also, a look at the rise of female gamers and a comprehensive breakdown regarding the growth and reach of the industry provided by FiveThirtyEight. And then there's Faker, a South Korean gamer prodigy who shares his story and explains what it's like to be considered the first global superstar of eSports.

Gamers Have Bigger YouTube Followings Than Pop Stars

Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie, is also profiled in the issue – one of only a handful of interviews he's ever given. The elusive gamer is one of the world's biggest YouTube celebrities, with more subscribers than Taylor Swift, One Direction and Sam Smith combined. PewDiePie currently has 37 million YouTube subscribers, roughly 14 million more than YouTube's own official channel.

The world of eSports is exploding in popularity, and it's probably unlike any other recreational activity in terms of the divide between people who know about it and people who don't have any clue it exists.

"A lot of of media coverage of eSports so far has read like an introduction to the subject—we really wanted to stay away from that," Greenwell said. "We didn't want to alienate people who do know a lot about this world. We also wanted to make it accessible and compelling to people who don't."

She also hopes eSports becomes an annual issue for The Magazine

"I think covering eSports is going to become more and more a priority for ESPN, and I will leave the decision part of it up to my bosses," Greenwell said. "But I think we're going to have to continue to cover it."

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