Taylor Fritz is leading the resurgence of the United States in the world of professional tennis. He’s one of the most talented, ambitious players to emerge from the country in years, topping the US charts and ranking in ninth place globally. He’s a favourite for Wimbledon and he’s tussled with some of the greatest players in the industry – and he’s also a dedicated gamer, die-hard esports fan, and a huge backer of the competitive gaming business.
I sat down with Taylor Fritz, speaking at length about how he balances being a lifelong gamer and one of tennis’ most stunning competitors. In our interview, we took a deep dive into the state of esports, covered the rise of content creation and streaming, and spoke about what it means to be a ‘real gamer’. This was undoubtedly one of the most insightful glimpses I’ve had into the crossovers between traditional sports and esports.
Without further ado, allow me to introduce Taylor Fritz, the man who calls himself “one of the best athlete gamers in the world”!
‘On The Road’
I started off my discussion with Fritz by getting a much-needed update on how he finds the time to appreciate games while travelling around the world. Not only does Taylor Fritz play games, but he occasionally streams them, and historically, he has taken part in charity gaming tournaments, winning more than $600,000 to date as a competitive gamer.
GTH: It was two or three years ago now that you spoke about your connections with gaming and how you like to plug in on the road and enjoy a session here and there – is that something that you’re still doing? Has that evolved at all? Or has it devolved as time has gone on?
TF: Well, I think my travelling setup has evolved over time. Originally, I’d put like a 24-inch monitor in my suitcase and then I’d travel with like, a PS4 Slim in my backpack – and that was how I’d play. I’d just find a cheap, thin monitor that I could fit in the suitcase, and then over time, I guess once games became more cross-platform and stuff like that… Now, I just travel with a gaming laptop in my backpack – mousepad, mouse, all that stuff. I’d say it has become a lot easier as well to game on the road with that type of setup.
GTH: What kind of games are you playing now? You mentioned before you like Apex Legends.
TF: I definitely go through phases. I still like Apex – I haven’t played in a while… I’m kind of on a PC game grind. I’ll play like, if I have time, I’ll play Rust. I love that game. I’ll play League of Legends sometimes, but I still get the occasional game of Call of Duty and Apex and stuff like that.
GTH: When it comes to balancing the lifestyle, do you feel that gaming – particularly competitive gaming – offers up any emotional advantage or disadvantage to your own personal lifestyle as an athlete? Let’s say you have a big win or a loss or a tough day training – anything like that… Where does gaming fit in? Does it help? Does it make you feel worse?
TF: It’s a relaxing thing, but for me, why I love gaming so much… I’ve never been into story-mode-type games. When I was younger, like on DS and stuff like that, the only games I can think of that I played where I’m not playing against people are like the classic Pokémon games. Other than that, what really excited me about gaming is competing and playing against other people. I feel like I need to be playing something nowadays that has some type of like, either a ranked system or I’m going up against other people because that’s what I love. It’s like a cooldown kind of thing that I do in my free time because after you train all day, you don’t really have the energy to go do other stuff. It’s just what I enjoy.
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‘I’m Always Consuming’
Given the rise of esports and gaming content and the growing viewership figures across the board, I thought we’d slip sideways into discussing Fritz’s viewing habits and his connections to esports events around the world.
GTH: So, that doesn’t get stressful? Competition on top of the competition?
TF: No, sometimes if I’m playing a game like League of Legends where I’m playing Ranked games and I need to be really focused, like micromanaging everything, maybe I can’t play after a long day of training. I might be a little too mentally tired to play well in League, which sounds crazy, but I take it very seriously, so – yeah… It’s really meant as a cooldown and just like, like I said, I love competing, so even when I’m not competing in tennis, I want to be competing in something else that’s not – I guess – physically exhausting. As long as I’m shutting it down at a good time and making sure I get a good nine, or ten hours of sleep, then there’s no downside to it.
GTH: And are you just playing the games or do you consume them in other ways? Are you watching streamers, esports tournaments, and so on?
TF: A ton! When I’m on the physio table, doing other stuff, I guess when I’m not playing tennis and I can’t be gaming, I’m always watching either YouTube videos of whatever games I’m really interested in or I’m watching professionals… I’ll watch a lot of professional League, I’ll watch CDL, I’m always consuming – I guess – esports content, competitive content, all that stuff.
GTH: I’m a huge fan of the CDL, so we might fall out here… Which team do you support?
TF: I was involved in an investment with ReKT Global, which is now acquired, but we had the Ravens – so I guess I’m always kind of going to lead towards the Ravens, but I also have a lot of friends and people involved in the 100 Thieves organisation, so I also – I’m always kind of rooting for them too.
GTH: That’s kind of two different ends of the competitive spectrum, recent performances considered!
TF: Exactly, exactly, exactly! I guess I can be happy for all my boys at 100 Thieves.
Taylor Fritz isn’t alone in the world of tennis – there are a few gamers involved in the industry in various ways. For instance, the Argentinian athlete, Diego Schwartzman, owns an esports organisation. There’s also a thick cloud of a gamer spirit running wild in the competitive tennis industry in the form of Medvedev, Kyrgios, Davidovich Fokina, and – as I’ve been informed – many more of the ‘top thirty players in the world’.
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‘People Are Taking It So Much More Seriously’
It was time to get down to brass tacks with Taylor Fritz. As a sports personality and professional athlete, I was interested to take on board his unique perspective of how young people are approaching their futures these days.
GTH: Do you think there are still as many young people getting involved with typical sports today, given how lucrative and accessible ‘alternative’ careers like esports, content creation, and streaming appear to be?
TF: With how much esports, streaming, and YouTube have grown as professions over the past ten years, people can take it seriously now as a profession from a young age. Let’s say my son said that’s what he wants to start doing, I would take that seriously. If that’s something that people in my generation said to their parents, it wouldn’t have been taken seriously. There’s going to be fewer people than before choosing normal, traditional… Like playing sports – physical sports – and there are going to be more people going into the esports world and seeing genuine careers.
I think it’s great to see that people are taking it so much more seriously. When I was growing up – when I was young – it was something I was interested in but I guess you could say it was much more of a risky thing to go into, and a lot fewer people probably believed in it.
GTH: Did you make the right choice? Tennis has done you well but you didn’t want to be the world’s next top-tier streamer?
TF: Yeah, yeah! Until I became older I didn’t become a more like, I guess… “serious” gamer? When I was a kid, it was more casual, just playing Xbox and Call of Duty with my friends. Now, when I see people – that’s what they do, they say “I’m a real gamer,” you know, that’s casual – like, real gamers having the whole PC setup, playing all these mouse and keyboard games as well, and like… That’s the real stuff that I feel I’ve been into recently, and when I was a kid, it was very much just more casual.
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‘They’re Esports Athletes’
With the two universes that make up traditional sports and modern, digitally-focused esports closing together more all the time, I thought it was time to touch on the concept of this grand unity. I was interested to see what Taylor Fritz thought about today’s esports competitors and how they train.
GTH: We’re learning more and more that esports athletes are matching their lifestyles with those of traditional athletes – they’re taking on rigorous training regimes, they’re working with sports psychologists and personal trainers to keep fit mentally and physically, they’re taking their diets seriously, and so on. From your unique perspective as a talented athlete, do you think that it’s fair to say that esports competitors are really genuinely ‘athletes’?
TF: I don’t know – it just depends on how you use the term ‘athlete’. Like, I’d prefer to say ‘competitors’, you know? I think some people might have the connotation of an athlete as, you know, you’re doing something extremely physical, which then, in that sense, esports athletes aren’t physically competing to the level of what professional sports players are. But, I think a better term is like, they’re esports athletes, you know what I mean?
GTH: Throw in that differentiator, you mean?
TF: Yeah – and it’s not meant to disrespect what they do, I’ve seen what they do and I think that some people, like in my space, might think it’s insane, like all the stuff you said – the dieting, all the support teams they have around them. I one hundred percent see it, and all that I’ve been through – having a great diet, being fit, doing all these things, I guess they have support teams that will one hundred percent help their performance in video games, but… Yeah, I think there’s a differentiator between esports athletes – I think you’d say esports athletes – and then physical sports athletes.
GTH: We’re seeing plenty of crossovers between esports and traditional sports personalities – Lando Norris with his Quadrant organisation, all the football players with esports involvement – Aguero, Courtois, Casemiro, and even David Beckham with his very visible connection to Guild Esports. Do you think this kind of involvement is helping to ‘legitimise’ esports and bring across an entirely new audience – do you think it goes deeper than just a simple investment opportunity?
TF: Yes, yeah – absolutely, I think anytime you have big-named people getting involved in something and putting money into something, it’s a signifier that this is a real thing that so many people believe it. I think that – outside of just athletes, there are big celebrities investing in esports as well, and I think that’s been going on for a while, I think that hopefully soon we start to see a lot of esports companies be I guess turning a profit and some very good results.
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‘It’s About Building Up These Events’
For my closing question to Taylor Fritz, I decided to dive in and see what he thought needed to be done to make the esports industry something truly special, successful, and valuable.
GTH: Speaking on a broader scale, do you personally think there’s anything that the esports industry could do better in order for it to not just survive, but grow? There have been struggles with maintaining an audience outside of hardcore fans, there are issues with profitability, layoffs, churn, and so on – what do you think might need to change for the situation to improve globally?
TF: What’s interesting is that every different esport has its own specific issues in terms of profiting. I think a big thing is the fact it’s just on Twitch – you can go watch it for free which is a great thing, but then you’re not really selling rights like you’d be selling sports to ESPN. It is very accessible, which is great, but I think it does make it a little bit tougher to be turning a profit. Like, a good example is the LCS for League of Legends – they’re struggling with viewership in the US.
I think one thing that also didn’t look good for the community is the whole FaZe on the stock market – I think esports… If they could somehow come together a bit more to market all the different games together. Because esports has so many different facets to it, so many different games, so much viewership of people that want to see… And it’s tough I guess to market all that and maintain an audience for all that, and profit from all that when you’re spending a lot of money on the support teams, the players, the contracts.
I think prize money in these events has to go up, I think the companies that are doing the best in the esports world, they’re turning more of a profit off of their brand and not so much off of the actual gaming winnings, you know what I mean? So, it is really about building up these events and the viewership and turning these esports events into bigger things that can pay more money to the players and then return profits to the organisations and not so much have to rely on the organisation’s brand and likeness to be selling and to be profiting.
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I’d like to once again thank Taylor Fritz for taking the time to answer a few questions about esports, and I wish him every success in climbing the ranks of the ATP!