On the field, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is one of the best defensive backs in the NFL. But off the field, the Super Bowl XLVIII champion is something not many might expect from a pro athlete: a gamer. Sherman's game of choice? First-person shooter Call of Duty, a game he says he's played avidly on consoles since 2008.
"I love the competitive aspect of [Call of Duty]," Sherman tells ESPN when asked why top traditional sports players like himself and teammate Marshawn Lynch, who was featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine's esports edition in 2015, enjoy the game. "[In] every match you're getting to compete online against other players and I think that's huge for guys who kind of have that in us. It's kind of ingrained in us."
"We're competitors in every aspect of our lives and we're always looking for another opportunity to compete," he says. "I think [Call of Duty] gives everybody a chance to be good at it."
Sherman, originally from Compton, California, a suburb best known for rough lifestyles and the birth of some of hip-hop's best musicians, returned home to Los Angeles to visit the Call of Duty World Championship, which ran from Sept. 2-4. It was his first time experiencing an esports event in person. He also intends to attend the annual Seattle-based Dota 2 championship The International next year, an event that awarded over $20 million in prize money this past August. Sherman is excited by how quickly the esports space has grown.
"[Esports] has grown so rapidly over the last couple years, I think everyone is starting to [take] notice and pay attention," he says. "These guys are out here competing for $2 million [at the Call of Duty World Championships]. That's real money. That's as real as it gets. I'm looking forward to seeing how that industry grows and maybe, maybe getting more involved."
Just as The International attracted huge crowds at Seattle's KeyArena earlier this year, the League of Legends World Championship has already sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles for its October finale. Sherman says he expects the industry to continue to grow in this manner, but also has a bold prediction about the space's growth.
"I think everything is moving into the digital world," he says. "I think it's going to get even more incredible once you get more into the virtual reality space. I think PlayStation's moving into [that]. I think that's where the esports world is gonna bloom and blow up into an even bigger deal than it is right now."
Esports' current explosion economically and in popularity will allow future generations to commit to a career in competitive gaming, Sherman believes.
"I see [esports] growing rapidly," he explains. "You see young kids -- 21, 22, 23 -- making millions playing video games and playing it year-round as a profession, so anytime you have that kind of money being slung around, you're going to have more people putting in time and effort and dedicating themselves to be better at that, to make that their craft and their passion. I'm expecting, that as long as it keeps being as profitable as it is, guys are going to continue to take time out of their lives to play and become masters of the craft."
And as the industry grows, current and former pro athletes such as Los Angeles Rams offensive guard Rodger Saffold, NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal and former Los Angeles Lakers multitime champion Rick Fox continue to invest in esports teams. Sherman says for him that it's entirely possible. "I have [considered investing into a team] and I think it's still up for consideration," he states.
"It has to make money to make sense," he says. "The esports industry is starting to make a lot more money, so just like everything else, the NFL started as a small corporation with not that much support and it continued to grow into this billion dollar industry that it is. You can see how marketing and innovation can help any sport and any operation grow. I'm going to keep a close eye on [esports] and if it works out, then it works out."