Chris Kluwe: eSports Enthusiast and NFL Punter

By Justin Wenzel

Chris Kluwe is not your average NFL player. To start, he’s a punter. (Kidding of course. Punters are people too.) Kluwe is a big gamer and has been throughout his entire life. While many current NFL players play titles such as Call of Duty or Battlefield, Kluwe played very different games growing up and that's carried over into his adult life.

He also is in a band. Photo by: Completenetwork.com

“I started playing Nintendo when I was young. As I grew up, I played Counter-strike, Starcraft, and Warcraft. I really like most MMO’s,” Kluwe said. “I also really enjoy watching games like League of Legends. With the evolution of Twitch TV, you can watch video games as a sports channel. It’s cool to see the evolution of eSports as it’s going on.”

Kluwe is currently playing a few different titles and League of Legends is one of them. “I actually only play ARAMs. I’m super competitive and I know I’m not good enough to play ranked and I don’t want to drag my team down. When I do play unranked 5v5s, I tend to play Vayne or another marksman.”

Kluwe also talked about how eSports is currently in a growing period. League of Legends is not to the level that the NFL is, but Kluwe says an important fact to remember is that at one point the NFL was where eSports is today.

“All sports have that transitional period of where it was something a lot of people enjoy doing, but it was never considered professionally supported. ESports is right on the cusp of that right now,” Kluwe said. “Now you’re seeing a lot more support from the companies, the players, and streaming services. When football and baseball got their big deals that’s what sort of pushed them over the edge so everyone could see it.”

Photo by Sean Hiller, PressTelegram.com

Kluwe also said he sees eSports coverage potentially becoming like the NFL or MLB. “If demand is enough where people want to know about the teams, want to know about what players are doing on their days off and time they aren't on stream, then of necessity it has to evolve. NFL fans want to know what’s going on in the locker room and want to know what the players are like. If you look at the history of the NFL, it used to just be the local beat writer giving the score and maybe a handful of interesting players. Now, you have guys like Adam Schefter who is everywhere, but it’s because the media knows that’s what people want.”

Although Kluwe thinks that eSports is growing and could become a huge industry, he thinks there might be a few things holding League of Legends back right now. "Keep doing everything they're already doing right now, but they need more exposure for amateur events, like college football, baseball, and other sports. You want to grow the pool of potential players and fans to be as large as possible, which is happening with streaming, but support with amateur events would go a long way to building additional audience." With Coca-Cola picking up the Challenger League this season, it remains to be seen how the amateur scene will grow.

Earlier in the season Curse went through some growing pains with roster changes. Players were swapped out at the last second and many eSports fans disliked the way it was handled. Kluwe thinks it’s all part of the business. “If teams aren't performing well, then fans will just stop watching that team. You have to stay competitive and do what you think is right.”

“It’s something every professional sport has to go through,” he continued. “Everyone is going to have roster changes. Ultimately only one thing matters; it’s that you win. It’s about the rings and the championships and you have to do what you feel is right for the team to win those. Divisions in a locker room or house can drive guys apart. Managers have to ask ‘How do we choose personalities that are going to mesh together and what do we do when it doesn't work?’”

Setting Kluwe apart from other NFL players is his work with the LGBT community. Throughout his career Kluwe has been vocal about his support with the LBGT community. In June 2013, Kluwe was the grand marshal for the Twin Cities Gay Pride Parade, and he has written pieces on Deadspin responding to elected US officials about LGBT equality, even using phrases such as “lustful (expletive)monsters.”

Photo by David Bowman for Out Magazine.

Currently, there are a handful of openly gay eSports players. In League, there are at least four professional or high elo players that are openly gay. Kluwe says that teammates don’t have to worry about being turned into “lustful (expletive)monsters,” and eSports equality can have an effect on a gay player in the NFL or another major sport.

“I think they are having an effect already, showing that it doesn't matter what your sexuality is but how well you play. It’s not about if you’re gay; it’s about how well you play mid lane, how do you carry, how well you catch a touchdown pass, how you block someone as an offensive lineman,” Kluwe said. “These guys in League show that they are part of their team, an intensive part, and it doesn't matter that they are gay. Hopefully professional sports take notice of that. As kids grow up and they see these players, they’ll think 'Who cares? All that matter is if I can last hit effectively.'”

League of Legends and eSports are growing at an unprecedented rate. With LCS players able to get US athlete visas and sponsors such as Coca-Cola and Nissan beginning to take notice, eSports could be on the cusp of a massive expansion period. From the World Finals at Staples Center to the LCS, eSports continues to impress and Kluwe says it's only a matter of time before everyone takes notice.

 You can follow Kluwe on Twitter, on Twitch, and check out his new book, Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies.

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