Beware: Esports Is the Big New ‘Mission Field’

Beware: Esports Is the Big New ‘Mission Field’ October 9, 2020

Hi and welcome back! Sometimes, I see news that’s just too funny for words. This is definitely one of those times. Christians have wrecked their credibility in so many places that it’s getting hard for them to find new ways to prey upon the unwary. But wait! They think they’ve found one venue that has not yet been sullied by their overreach and insensitivity. Today, let me show you the newest ‘mission field’ Christians want the flocks to prowl: esports!

a nintendo game boy displaying a tetris game
Hey, my mom ROCKED this game. But games look a lot different now. (Ben.)

Christianese: ‘Mission Fields.’

In Christianese, a mission field is a venue for attempted recruitment.

Traditionally, a mission field was a country or community — somewhere that a missionary would call home for a long time. The area typically wouldn’t contain a lot of believers in the missionary’s own flavor of Christianity, and the missionary typically wouldn’t change that situation a whole lot. Mostly, their job soon devolved from active sales to living out their faith in a way that the locals would notice and eventually desire. Coincidentally, missionaries also demonstrated the strength of their flavor of Christianity by imposing themselves on the locals.

This is the mentality we noticed in that failed missionary John Allen Chau.

These days, the world becomes more interconnected, while TRUE CHRISTIANS™ become less and less motivated over time to sell their religion to others. Consequently, mission fields as a concept have evolved as well.

(Hey. You can’t expect TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to go to some foreign country and work to make sales, right? They didn’t join the tribe for that reason. After joining, they won’t spontaneously grow a desire to serve others.)

Where to Find a Mission Field.

Nowadays, a redefined mission field can look like:

Heck, a long time ago I even ran into a guy on YouTube who considered the comment sections of skept-o-sphere videos his own personal mission field. I’m sure he’s not the only one thinking that, either.

And here’s a whole forum of Christians arguing about what they think the “biggest mission field” might be.

So yes, a mission field can be literally anywhere that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ themselves see an opportunity and can easily reach. Often, they can evangelize the world (and obey their masters’ orders) without even leaving their couches!

And now, those masters have identified somewhere new they can encourage the flocks to go make sales:

Esports.

A Quick Introduction to Esports.

Esports (for “electronic sports”), is a big new-ish industry of competitive video-game playing. Professional-level players vie against each other at various popular games. They form teams, train hard, and fight against other teams for gloating rights, titles, and wads of money — just like the pro-level players of real-life (RL) sports like soccer and hockey. Fans of this sport have their own favorite players and watch these players on services like Twitch (a sort of YouTube devoted to people playing video games, usually in realtime).

It’s estimated that nearly half a billion people on the planet watch esports, with almost half of those being considered “enthusiasts” who watch these games more than once a month. As an industry, esports pulls in about a billion dollars a year, most of it from sponsorships and media rights. That link also tells us that last year, there were “885 major events” in esports.

Major sports franchises like the NBA have esports divisions, as do many colleges. One collegiate esports organization notes that their 2014 League of Legends championship tournament drew considerably more viewers (27M) than the NBA finals (15.5M), Major League Baseball’s World Series (13.8M), and the Stanley Cup Finals (5M).

And gosh, y’all, that is a whole lot of people moving through their lives unmolested by TRUE CHRISTIANS™.

The Fields Are White Unto Harvest! Or Something.

Today’s news comes to us from Christianity Today. In fact, it’s their lead story that month. Its headline reads:

The Next Mission Field is a Game
Esports opens new opportunities for evangelism, even during a pandemic.

See? See? TRUE CHRISTIANS™ can make sales anywhere!

The post’s writer, David Roach, breathlessly informs us that this one missionary, Roman Khripunov, used to prey on refugee children in Houston in person (he “ran soccer academies” for these kids as a cover for recruiting them to his church). But alas! In the wake of the pandemic, however, those in-person opportunities dwindled away to nothing.

What to do, what to do…

Aha! His “ministry” brainstormed a new way to prey upon children! And this one was probably even better because it completely cut their parents out of the picture: the coaches would play games on Twitch as a way to lure in children, and then “invite players to watch and ask spiritual questions!”

Gee, y’all, I wonder if these kids’ parents know their children are getting hard-sold fundagelicalism with their video game playing/watching? Does this guy make sure to get their parents’ permission before he seeks to change their religion?

… Cuz I’m thinkin’ probably not.

Hooray for Team Jesus!

And Roach tells us that this coach’s approach paid off bigly:

It was a hit. Teenage soccer players reluctant to spend 15 minutes discussing spiritual matters in person were willing to engage for three to four hours over video games online.

But Roach does not reveal how many of those conversations turned into tithes-paying church members. Then again, he really doesn’t need to these days. To him, as well as to his entire tribe, just engagement alone counts as a win. As he relates:

“The people that we’re starting to observe on these [gaming] platforms are actually seeking a lot of spiritual things,” Khripunov said. “They’re very hungry for the gospel.”

But again, the article only includes a few anecdotes about actual sales being made and closed, signed and sealed. The anecdotes offered in the post do not make any teens or young adults sound particularly “hungry” for these mountebanks’ product (active membership in their own groups).

A Curious Omission in This Mission Report.

I’m not sure how much of this article’s subscriber-locked, but I can see the whole thing. (Thanks, patrons!)

And I count exactly one second-hand, real live success story reported to a Twitch streamer who had no way of verifying it. Here’s what it says:

At one point, [John Merritt, probably no relation to Christian journalist Jonathan Merritt] reached 20,000 viewers with his evangelistic gaming stream. Recently, a gaming friend messaged Merritt to say, “I met with a pastor today to be saved. I credit . . . you as part of my journey to this.”

Even that success report does not include what flavor of religion the convert claims to have joined or how long he stayed with it. I’d love to know what’s in those ellipses, too.

Incidentally, top Twitch streamers can boast millions of followers. Still, 20k viewers isn’t bad at all for an openly religious channel. I haven’t seen follower counts for many of these ventures — like this one, which rather confusingly talks about tripling one channel’s viewership without revealing any actual before-and-after numbers.

And Roach offers this story about all this totally for realsies success while never ever revealing exactly how successful any of these ventures are at making new sales or even retaining existing Christians. He doesn’t even offer figures about how many of these “hungry” question-askers are already Christian.

Forget It. They’re On a Roll.

Oh, but just the hope of finding kids who’ll sit still long enough to hear a sales pitch has gotten sales-minded Christians jubilant. Roach tells us about churches who host esports tournaments and entire clubs for Christians who like to play video games together. It’s the next big thing, y’all!

I think they’re super-excited because this idea combines a whole bunch of currently-trendy buzzwords flying around that end of Christianity lately:

  • It involves something “young people” like to do,
  • In a venue without their parents hovering around.
  • It’s high-tech but accessible to normies,
  • Can be done anywhere at all really,
  • Doesn’t cost much money to do,
  • And fulfills the SELL SELL SELL imperative nicely.
  • BONUS: Nobody will ever care what the actual sales metrics look like
  • Because nobody can really track the audience’s reaction anyway.

But mostly they’re excited because of those first two things. As their decline continues, evangelicals in particular have long looked to recruiting very young adults, teens, and children. Many of them now see Gen Z as their next big mission field (oh, that phrase again!).

Yes, But No.

And then we contrast that message with a recent one from Mark Dever, a well-known Calvinist leader we’ve mentioned in passing here. He wrote a post yesterday about how vitally important it is for Christians to congregate together in person. I wonder what he’d say about esports evangelism? Fine, but plug ’em into a RL church before they realize just how superfluous this BS really is?

The left hand really has no idea what the right hand’s doing, does it?

It’s worth noting, as well, that esports streamers who talk about religion get criticized mightily in that sphere. Just in July, one fundie guy got suspended for hard-selling his faith to a Muslim child — and hooboy does he ever feel self-pity over it!

For years, Twitch viewers have complained about being hard-sold religion in esports streams. I know of many esports streamers who specifically forbid discussions of religion and politics on their streams. So to me, it sure doesn’t sound like those fields are white unto harvest, as evangelicals like to say! Indeed, here’s one player on Reddit talking about their experience:

I put a rule into my stream that religion and politics is not OK to discuss. I had so many trolls come in and demonise me for leaving Islam and becoming an atheist. They kept posting stuff to me to convert me back, spammed my discord and twitter DMs… They wouldn’t leave me alone. I banned the lot of them and instituted the rules 9f no religion and politics.

Yeah, people are just so “hungry” for evangelicals’ product. So, so “hungry.”

The Takeaways.

It’d be nice if evangelicals began demanding real-world metrics for all these mission fields their leaders keep identifying. But I ain’t holdin’ my breath. The Southern Baptists won’t even tell the public much about Beach Reach! I’m betting that’s cuz these esports ventures are similarly intended more to retain the salespeople than to make new sales to others.

Oh well. The takeaway here remains:

Sales-minded Christians tend not to care about silly things like rules and ethics when oncoming invisible buses are heading their targets’ way.

Thus, parents need to be aware that Christians have begun to laser-focus on esports as a way to hard-sell religion to their children.

Young adults, as well, need to know about this new focus.

For anyone using esports streaming services, a brush-up on how to report such tactics might be in order. Offering an esports channel without announcing that it’s a cover for evangelism seems like a violation of Twitch’s “content labeling” rules, if nothing else. 

NEXT UP: Speaking of Gen Z, one of our favorite cringe sources is back with a post lauding them as the future of Christianity. We’ll check that out tomorrow — see you then!


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.

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