From professional skateboarding legend to video-game star, the one and only Tony Hawk now looks set to become an esports icon, going by his keynote interview at this year’s first-ever digital-only Esports BAR+ Americas event.
After almost 40 years in an awe-inspiring career in the entertainment business, Hawk’s newly solid esports credentials emerged when he spoke about his growing popularity within the international competitive-gaming world.
Chatting to Michelle Bresaw, Vice President of Product Management & Marketing at games-publishing giant Activision, for a session called Esports. A Driving Force, Tony Hawk addressed his fast-rising fanbase among the 21st-century generation of competitive gamers.
“The excitement I am seeing online right now has definitely lined it up to be part of the esports community,” he replied, when asked how he felt about the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (THPS) series of video games being played competitively 20 years-plus after its original release. “We’ve finally come of age.”
He even plays competitively online.
“I just did my first live tweet stream a couple of weeks ago because of the game. So, I think that shows how far it has come,” he said.
“I think it is really cool that we’ve come of age and been able to bring this excitement to an online community because THPS was one of the first games to be online. It was ahead of its time in that respect.”
Tony Hawk – skateboarding veteran/esports innovator
For those in the esports industry who are not necessarily gamers or skateboarders, Tony Hawk’s luminary status in mainstream entertainment should not be underestimated.
The American became a professional skater when he was a teenager in the 1980s. As a trend in popular culture in that decade, the aesthetics and athleticism of skateboarding were introduced to that generation in Hollywood’s Back to the Future sci-fi movie franchise. And Hawk, who was piling up skateboarding-championship trophies on his shelf, soon became a household name.
This prompted games-publishing behemoth Activision and its subsidiaries to invite him to help create a game around his gravity-defying skills, including the heart-stopping vertical airborne jump known as the ‘900’.
The first THPS game came out in 1999. Since then, it has evolved into a revolutionary franchise of 18 titles, generating more than US$1.4bn in sales, according to The Guardian newspaper.
The most recent title, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, is a remastered version of the first two games. It was released in September 2020 and has become the fastest-selling title in the franchise, creating a buzz within today’s global esports sphere.
“It is just crazy to be riding this wave again,” he said.
Why THPS is esports-friendly
As Activision’s Bresaw herself observed:
“This game has all the right components for esports. It is competitive in nature; the players are always wanting to one up on each other; there is the racking up of those big-point combo scores; it is so watchable and enjoyable.”
She explained that Activision chose to reactivate THPS because a survey among gamers revealed that they wanted it back.
Tony Hawk spoke about how inspired he felt knowing Gen Z and Millennial esports fans have discovered the recently revived THPS.
“I think the game opens their eyes to how prolific skating has become. And if you weren’t taking notice before, you definitely are taking notice now,” Hawk stated.
Moreover, the older fans who played the console version of the game and are now parents of today’s young gamers have become keen on esports by association. This became entrenched when the current Covid-19 shutdown forced many to work from home and learn how their children had embraced competitive gaming as a favourite pastime.
His inter-generational appeal means Hawk’s high-profile media personality enables him to help broaden the mainstream element of esports audiences. Thanks to the game’s phenomenal popularity, he has 4.3 million Twitter followers, 6 million on Instagram, and 6 million-plus Facebook fans.
Olympics + THPS = more esports fans
That reach could be enhanced even more now that skateboarding, long considered an underground teenage leisure activity, is officially recognised as a mainstream sport.
It is going to debut as a medal event at the next Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, which has been postponed to 2021 from this year because of the Covid outbreak.
Skateboarding’s move up to Olympics status has been propelled by other international sports events like the ESPN-hosted X Games, where Tony Hawk is a multiple gold medal winner; and competitions supported by World Skate, the governing body sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee.
We all know about investments by elite physical-sports organisations like basketball’s NBA, American football’s NFL and European soccer’s Premier League in competitive-gaming ventures and events.
And now, it looks as if the THPS brand and skateboarding could be joining traditional sports’ connection to esports.
“The pandemic has not been a good thing, but the success of skateboarding is great timing leading up to the Olympics inclusion next year because the event will be that much more appreciated,” Hawk explained.
As old and new fans take up Activision’s remastered versions of THPS, he noted:
“They want to try it because they are stuck at home or with their family and some people are rediscovering it from their youth, some are trying it out for the first time because they have always been curious about it.”
“Skating will be in the Olympics. That has been in the works for a long time, almost 15 years now,” Tony Hawk said during his Esports Bar+ Americas fireside chat.
The Tokyo Olympics might have been postponed to next year because of the pandemic, but he said the resulting lockdown had also opened avenues for skateboarding and the game to thrive, creating new skaters, new game players and new esports audiences for competitive gaming.
THPS – Gen Z esports gamers discover skateboarding
Tony Hawk, who is now a skateboard-industry entrepreneur, said his Skatepark Project charity organisation helps young skateboarders in disadvantaged communities worldwide build their own skateboarding parks.
“You probably have a skatepark in your city and it is getting a lot of use. I’ve done everything I can to advocate for skateboarding, to show the positive effects it can have on youth.”
Young Gen Z gamers are taking up skateboarding, thanks to its introduction via the resurrected 21-year-old THPS original, boosting sales of skateboarding equipment.
And since it is Gen Z gamers who are the biggest adopters of esports, THPS is making a big entrance into the competitive-gaming arena too, he observed.
“I love the kids choosing to play video games as readily as they would have chosen to watch TV or to participate in some other sport that maybe they didn’t really want to because their parents were forcing them to.”
THPS – Gen Z’s parents discover esports
Meanwhile, the parents forced to work from home because of Covid quarantine restrictions are reliving the original excitement that propelled the Tony Hawk games into mainstream entertainment, he added.
“I have to give Vicarious Vision (Activision subsidiary and current developer of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2) a lot of the credit because it was a very tricky goal to get this game to feel like the original. We have a very vocal, very passionate fanbase that have been incredibly critical of anything that came out THPS-related in the past.”
He continued: “There is a sense of coming home. It reminds so many people of a great time in their life. I have had people tell me they started crying on the intro screen. They turned the game on, and it got emotional for them.”
Influence of inclusivity, diversity in esports
But as Bresaw pointed out in her conversation with Tony Hawk, Gen Z esports fans are far more inclusive when it comes to participants in their community compared to the profile of gaming fans when their parents were young.
A much-loved element of the THPS titles has been the avatars representing real-life skateboarders competing against each other in the games’ virtual worlds. They include avatars of Hawk himself and other skateboarding superstars from his era (like Andrew Reynolds and Geoff Rowley), characters esports players could be selecting as roles to play.
Among the roster’s younger 21st-century skaters are Leo Baker, the first non-binary and LGBT character, Leticia Bufoni, Riley Hawk (Tony’s son), and Tyshawn Jones.
As the statesman of skateboarding games, how important is inclusivity to Hawk?
He agreed that diversity, in personalities, characters and skateboarding styles, has been essential in the modern version of his game. He said today’s skateboarding community appreciates that aspect.
“Skating is more diverse than ever, so I wanted the game to represent that element,” he said.
“Our original roster were all skating legends. And to our credit and to theirs, they are all still relevant. The lasting power that they have is amazing, but the idea of having a whole new generation with Tyshawn, Leo Baker, and Riley, that’s what the skateboarding community appreciates more.”
He added: “That whole element is something that I felt was very important but also intuitive. It was not something that we had to go searching deeply for because there are some incredible creative skaters out there.”
The future of THPS and esports
As far as Tony Hawk was concerned, the future looks bright for THPS, which has come full circle in his career to now include Gen Z esports fans.
“I think it is just part of the curriculum now. It used to be more fringe. It used to be something that was sometimes looked down upon by parents and now it is much more embraced,” he stated.
“The parenting generation are the ones that grew up playing games. So, they would be hypocritical to not support their kids in doing it. And I agree, it is much more diverse and that is exactly how it should have been all along.”
He also asserted his optimism for the game’s future in esports.
“I feel the future is very bright for the series. There has never been as much excitement for it in terms of the transcending generations. I continue to see esports grow with this generation,” he said.
“I continue to see a lot more diversity in the types of games that are played competitively because of this generation, because they are so diverse in how they game.”
Read more about what happened at Esports BAR+ Americas by checking out our full wrap-up report here.
Keep an eye out on our blog for more in-depth articles on Esports BAR+ Americas’ sessions within the next weeks.