In July 2020, at the height of the pandemic, gamers gathered for an epic online competition of the popular video game Fortnight.
Not only was the virtual event a chance to watch the best gamers in the country battle for a $10,000 prize, it was also a chance to urge gamers to become more civic-minded. In between play-by-play analysis, players and the audience heard get-out-the-vote messages.
“We had pre-recorded public service announcement content where people talked about the importance of registering to vote and participating in the process,” Alpharetta esport executive Todd Harris told Atlanta Civic Circle. “There [also] was an element on the screen that would take you to the secretary of state’s website for your state.”
Harris is the founder and CEO of Skillshot Media, an esport production firm that runs online and offline video game competitions. Skillshot teamed with other Atlanta-area esport organizations, broadcasting channels and music industry partners as well as gamers.vote for the nonpartisan voter-registration event. The alliance followed up with a similar voter registration event two months later. This time, the event included online chess matches along with video games. Harris estimates the two gamers.vote InvitationATL events reached millions of gamers nationally, thousands of whom ended up at voter education and registration websites.
With this year’s municipal elections three weeks away, Harris said he intends to do more voter-awareness events to get young people to the polls. Getting young people interested in local races takes some creativity because young voters traditionally have had poor turnouts in local races.
“As much as gamers live in the virtual world, we also live, go to work and raise families in the real world,” Harris said. “Certainly taking some of that online activism and focusing it locally and paying attention to these upcoming elections is critical.”
It’s a worthy goal in a state where gaming is big business. Georgia’s gaming industry employs thousands and has a yearly economic impact totaling nearly $1 billion, according to the Georgia Game Developers Association. Gamers could be an influential bloc.
“In many ways, gamers are the canary in the coal mines. They will notice issues first that will then become mainstream issues,” the association’s executive director Andrew Greenberg told Atlanta Civic Circle.
Young people turned out in unprecedented numbers during last year’s presidential election. Half of Americans 18–29 years old voted — up 11 percent from the 2016 presidential election — according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. CIRCLE is a nonpartisan independent group that focuses on civic engagement among young people in America.
Atlanta game enthusiast Pierce Haley is majoring in game design and development at Georgia State University. He said he is planning to vote in next month’s municipal election.
“I have noticed that the game industry is not afraid to encourage voting,” the 20-year-old told Atlanta Civic Circle.
Game enthusiasts also are using the election process and social media to bring about change within their own industry, Haley noted.
Voting is just one way the gaming community is becoming engaged. Cooper Fiscus-van Rossum also sees gaming as an avenue for activism.
The 35-year-old is a former high school esport coach who now runs the Phnx (pronounced Phoenix) Gaming Foundation, a Georgia nonprofit that helps support underfunded high school esports programs. The month-old foundation has already awarded about $1,000 in grants.
As for gaming’s future influence?
Esports is just beginning to get its full recognition from the public, van Rossum said, primarily through grassroots efforts. Van Rossum, a Tucker resident, said he’s planning to vote in his local election where there’s a contested mayoral race and several city council seats up for grabs.
“It is a rare person now who is not a gamer,” gaming industry executive Greenberg said. “The majority of Americans play games, and a number of them identify themselves as gamers.”
Gaming at a Glance
Economic impact in Georgia: $925 million*
Number of Georgia-based gaming companies: 160, employing more than 4,000 people full-time.
Average gaming salary in Georgia: $70,000 a year
U.S. gaming population: 226.6 million
Average age: 31
Fun fact: Global video gaming is larger than the movie and music industries combined.
Famous gamers: Singers Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, and Usher; record executive and producer DJ Khaled
*2019 data, latest available
Sources: Georgia Game Developers Association, Entertainment Software Association, Investopedia, pocketgamer.com
Key issues for gamers:
- Access to broadband in rural areas and technology deserts.
- Internet security
- Online behavior
Source: Andrew Greenberg, Georgia Game Developers Association
Learn more about gaming and voting: