Former NFL Player, lifelong gamer, and author Chris Kluwe has had an incredibly interesting life. From setting franchise records as a punter for the Minnesota Vikings to writing Sci-Fi books and essays on social issues, we had a chance to speak with him on his relationship with Esports and taking Esports professionalism to the next level.


You’ve been gaming for a long time, what is it that got you into Esports? What was the first game you started to watch competitively?

The first one I started to watch was League of Legends. I knew that Counter-Strike and StreetFighter had competitive scenes before that, but that was when you had to really dive in deep to find streams and stuff. For me, it was when Riot started doing the LCS and made it super easy to watch. It was a combination of playing LoL at the time and understanding everything that was going on. There was a lot more emphasis on teamwork, so it felt a lot more like a team game. Ever since then I've just been watching Esports continue to grow and grow.

​So do team games appeal to you more than 1v1 games like StreetFigher and Super Smash Bros. or do you watch those as well?

​Yeah, those ones are fun to watch as well but I think there's something with a team game. Because I played football and soccer and baseball growing up and I've been around sports all my life, there's a a greater appreciation for when a team is firing on all cylinders. League of Legends especially is one of those games where an individual player can kind of take over but not really. If a team is playing better than an individual guy on the other team who's going off, then the team is gonna win, which is just more exciting to watch

​So is LoL still the main game you play or have you been spending time on something else?

​Actually, I haven't played League in about a year and a half or two years now. My reflexes are not what they used to be and I don't have quite the time to spend on it anymore, so right now I'm primarily playing Path of Exile. I've been playing it for quite a while, and it's super fun.


Do you still watch LoL?

Yeah. I still watch the LCS and keep track of whats going on. For me I never really watched sports growing up. I would never really sit down in front of the tv and watch football or baseball or anything. I played them, because I enjoyed playing them, but I just never really enjoyed watching them, but with LoL and other Esports, on Saturday and Sunday, I'll sit down and watch the LCS. That's my sports that i'll watch. 

​I'm sure you've been following the issues that have been happening with Riot and their power over the leagues as well as what's been going on with the Renegades and Chris Badawi bans. Do you have any thoughts on that and what do you think a good solution would be to publishers having all this power? Is it even possible for a 3rd party solution to come in and delegate things?

​I don't know honestly because the thing is that publishers have to approve of it, and at the end of the day they are the ones with the power. Since they're the ones making the game.

​What are some of the other issues with Esports that prevent it from getting to that next level and step away from some of the negative views outsiders may have?

​I think the problem we're seeing right now is just the atmosphere of LoL and Esports in general, is that it's still a very amateur atmosphere. It's not just Riot and League of Legends, you see what happened with DotA 2 and the Shanghai International (Delays, fired hosts, production issues)
, something like that is ridiculous to consider. If you were watching an NFL game, you would never expect things like that to happen. 

Another big example are The Evo championships that just took place. You've got the two best guys in the world playing StreetFighter on a stage with on hotel lobby reception chairs. You're telling me you can't present a better product than that for everyone who's watching? They're in the middle of a stadium. If Esports wants to grow and continue to attract more fans, then it needs to start  acting the part. It's like in football and the 60's and 70's. You have guys with cigarettes and hip flasks on the sideline because football was still kind of building it's way up. It wasn't this big thing yet. If you saw that today, someone's head would roll, because it's supposed to be a professional product. 

​What are some changes you think need to happen to change these perceptions?

​I think in terms of League of Legends specifically, Riot needs to figure out a way to sort of divest some of it's power from themselves because that will help to protect some of the teams and players and Riot itself. They need a neutral party that teams and parties can appeal to so that it doesn't seem like riot is acting capriciously. And for Esports in general, it just needs to become more professional.

​Absolutely. So do you think that's one of the things that turns it off from outside viewers, or is it more of just the stigma behind vide ogames? What would you say to someone to sort of entice them to watch or convince them to watch with you?

I think for the outside viewer now who's really not familiar with Esports, the big barrier of entry for the casual viewer who doesn't know a lot of Esports is, again, that lack of professionalism. If you tune into something there shouldn't be problems with the feed, the set and everything being presented should look like a proper sporting event.

​And B, the fact that it's still kind of viewed as a game that kids play and it's not really something serious. And that's something where Riot and any other publishers running an Esports running an Esport really need to step up on If they want to expand their player base and have the best competition out there and create sense of when people watch, they feel like they're watching an actual sport. 

There is a lot of pushback on the legitimacy of playing games for a living​, what about Esports as a career? 

​Parents need to know that if their kids play Esports that it's a legit career path. There are parents who push their kids into football or baseball or whatever sport because they know if their kids do well, they can go to school for it and possibly play professionally. With Esports you don't really have that feel right now. When you hear stories of teams not paying their players, it becomes very difficult to say to parents and viewers that yeah this is a legit sport and a legit career path. There's no 401k, there's no post-career benefits, I don't even know if there are even health plans for players. All of those things need to be addressed. These are things that are taken for granted in an actual sports league and if Riot wants LCS to be considered as an actual professional sports league then they need to act like it as well.

Did you grow up more focused towards sports like baseball and soccer or were you always a gamer?

Growing up I would have preferred to just stay inside and play video games and read books all day because I'm a huge nerd. My parents though were of the mindset that if it's light outside you need to be outside doing something, so I discovered I was also really good at sports, and I enjoyed doing sports. I think for me it's about showing that I can do something at a very high level and compete against other people and see who's better, which is at the heart of every sport. You and your competition both train and find out who's the winner who's the loser, and it's always more fun to win than lose. 

Is there an Alternate reality where Chris KLUWE becomes an Esports professional? You mentioned you would have preferred staying inside playing games, something a lot of gamers in general can relate to. Is it something you would have considered as a career in any capacity, whether it's playing or casting or otherwise?

​Oh yeah. Had I been born 10 years later I probably would have probably been a professional Counter-Strike or League of Legends player. Growing up in my teens, which would have been the mid 90's or so, I remember playing Counter-Strike when it was a mod for Half-Life. That's my history with Counter-Strike. I was really good at it. Now, I didn't have the time to play in tournaments because I was doing sports stuff and that took up a lot of my time. But if it was an environment like today or even 5-10 years from now where I anticipate it's gonna continue getting bigger and college scholarships start becoming more available, had I been born where it's a real career path, I can easily see myself following that instead. I like to do things well, and it turns out in this lifetime it was sports, but I was also really really good at video games. I might have had more fun doing that, i probably wouldn't have made as much as being in the NFL, but I probably would have enjoyed it more.

​I'm sure you're aware of the recent wave of investors and celebrities and professional athletes that are getting into Esports and investing into teams. Would you ever consider owning or investing in a team or being the face of an organization? Or even on a different side like coaching or somthing else

Definitely. I'm actually in talks with a couple people who want to move into the Overwatch base and they want me to be involved at the CEO type level. So it's definitely something I am working towards. I think the world of Esports in general needs more people who understand what It's like to be a part of a professional sports organization and to be able to translate that to the players and other members of the organization. It's one thing if you have Rick Fox, Shaq, and say "You're great at what you did, you were fantastic athletes. but did you play Counter-Strike growing up? Do you know the difference in roles and can you speak the language of gamers and do you know what that world is like?".

There are differences between pro sports and Esports that need to be taken into account just like there are similarities. That's where I feel like I could offer a lot of value is that I've been a part of both worlds since I grew up and there aren't many other people out there who have done both. I want to bring Esports to where professional sports is now. It's going to get there eventually, but it can get there a lot sooner if people know what traps and pitfalls to avoid and how to make it work better.

Do you think there is room for franchising in Esports? Do you think we'll be moving towards that with the increase in mainstream interest and companies/investors trying to get in while they still can?

I definitely think there's room for franchising in Esports because right now when you look at the history of traditional sports it really started as local organizations. The Toledo Mud Hens or the Green Bay Packers for example when that was just a group of 12 people in Green Bay. So Esports right now is kind of going through it's regional phase where organizations kind of pop-up and disappear. You have steady ones like TSM, Cloud9 and CLG that are more stable than the ones bouncing in and out, but the scene as a whole is going to start stabilizing to the point where you're going to have organizations that aren't just there for 1 or 2 years, they're their for 10 years, 20 years, 40 years, and that's another thing that Esports needs. It needs that stability so that fans can cheer for a team that in another year is actually going to be there instead of Riot saying "oh hey we're banning Renegades, Impulse, and Dragon Knights because they didn't pay their players. 

​And that's one of the issues presented to someone looking invest in the space as well and what makes them more hesitant to enter because of things like that. They can lose a bunch of money because they're no longer allowed to partake in the league.

Right, so I think Franchising is definitely the way to go in the future for Esports, it's just going to be a matter of how do you make it work, and is it for only one game? Do you have an Esports franchise in major cities that says "Ok here's our facility for playing Counter-Strike, Overwatch, DotA 2 and whatever else comes out? Kind of how football teams have their practice facilities. There's no reason Esports couldn't do the same.

​Do you think it's better to have this more local setup rather than say a team of 5 players from 3 different countries that play online together or move in together in a gaming house? Not everyone wants to live where they work, and being around the same people all the time can be a bit much no matter how much you like each other. What are your thoughts on gaming houses?

​I think Esports needs to move away from the gaming house idea, because again, it's amateur, not professional. One of the things football players hate is training camp because for 3 weeks, you have to stay in the same dorm as all the other guys and all you're doing is football and guys get so burnt out so quick, and that's a problem in Esports too. If you spend your entire day around these other people and that's all you do, you may like them, but eventually you're going to need time to yourself. There's no getting around it. I think it would be more beneficial for Esports to start transitioning away from that gaming house model. 

Sure, a Gaming house is cheaper because it's both your practice space and your room and board, but you're doing it at the risk of burning your players out, which doesn't lead towards stability. People want to follow their favorite players and teams, not just for this year but for the next decade, the rest of their life. That's what true fan involvement is and that's why traditional sports have become so popular. You then have parents who pass down their family allegiances to their children and they keep that for the rest of their life. I think Esports really should move more towards "Ok, here's your job and here's where you show up to do your job", but then you go back home and you're a human being just like everyone else.

You mentioned earlier that you had an interest in getting into Overwatch, how closely have you been following Overwatch?

​I've had a couple of discussions with some people at Blizzard so I'm fairly conversant with what they want to do moving forward. It's something that looks pretty exciting and it looks like Blizzard really wants to do it right with developing Esports towards a more professional appearance. Now it's just a matter of what's going to happen. I don't think they've announced anything yet but until then it's more of a holding pattern until we know exactly what Blizzard's plans are. 

​Are you watching the game at all right now or are you waiting to see where it goes?

​Waiting to see where it goes. One of my friends recently had a LAN party and we pretty much only played Overwatch. I bastioned the hell out of some people. Super skilled character. For me, the hurdle that Overwatch has to overcome is the fact that since it is a six person game with six different viewpoints, and it's an FPS, how is blizzard going to present that to everyone? 

​The thing with League of Legends is that since it's top down, you can just pan the camera around and go to the action spots, and it's fairly easy to recognize what's happening. From a first person perspective, especially if players are twitching fast and going through maneuvers very very quickly, it can be disorienting to a viewer and there needs to be a solution to that so that people who are watching have a coherent watching experience. 

What's your favorite Esports moment?

I took my kids to see the League of Legends World Championship in 2012 at the Staples Center and that was really cool. They loved it. My older daughter got a Rammus hat, my younger daughter got a Teemo hat. The lights were flashing, the crowd was cheering, and they were fun games to watch so they got super into it. To me, that was the moment I felt like "Hey, this is something that's going to work." You have a stadium full of people and it felt like being at a sporting event, which I am very familiar with. You feel the crowd's anticipation as a play is starting to develop and the crowd starts cheering when there's a first blood or an impressive gank happens. That was probably the best Esports experience so far.


So, you're working on quite a few projects at the moment, can you give us some insight into those?

I don't just play video games and football, I have written a couple of books and a collection of essays. My book 'Beautifully Unique Sparkle Ponies' is very good bathroom reading, or so I've been told. I have another book I co-wrote with Andy Reiner called 'Prime: A Genesis Series Event. We are finishing up the sequel to it as we speak. I don't have a firm date but we're just about done with editing it and then we'll send it over to an agent and if no one is interested in publishing it we'll self publish. Definitely out before the end of the year and hopefully before winter. 

It was great talking with you, you have an eclectic background and it's great to see someone open to so many different, often opposing ideas.

I've always tried to show that human beings are complex. You don't have to be just a jock or just a nerd, you can be anything you want to be. Don't worry about what other people think or say and just do whatever you want to do to the best of your ability.

​Photos: in2lol, kdoebler, Genevieve Ross/AP Images for Ubisoft