How Playing Fortnite Could Make You a Better Baseball Player

Teams might not love their players’ obsession, but the video game might actually be helping their on-field performance.

Whether it’s Baby Boomers complaining about those darn kids always staying indoors and playing video games or the media blaming David Price’s carpal tunnel syndrome on gaming (or, in this case, Fortnite specifically) video games and gamers somehow still have somewhat of a stigma surrounding them.

But it’s the Year of Our Lord 2018, and virtually all athletes are members of Generation Y, or, as they’re more derisively referred to, millennials. All millennials were born into a world in which in-home gaming was possible, and for many of them, game consoles were not a luxury but a necessity while growing up in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Now, those kids have grown up, and that means that the majority of professional athletes that you and I follow are, in fact, millennials.

And that means that they’re gonna play video games whether you like it or not — and no, they’re not going to get off your lawn, either.

Here’s something that may surprise the angry old guard: those blasted video games are likely helping your favorite athletes excel at their sports. Karl-Anthony Towns might be reacting to that potential blocked shot that much quicker. D’Aaron Fox is going to nab that steal because of his six hours a day of NBA 2k. (Now, this is the part when your grandfather will remind you that there may actually be a developing example of a prominent hockey prospect ruining his career due to a video game obsession. But for every single story like this, we have examples such as Anthony Davis preparing for upcoming matchups by playing NBA2k and Cam Newton using the Madden series to help him read coverages.)

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Baseball might just be the sport that benefits the most from the ongoing video game revolution — and Fortnite in particular. While quick-twitch athletes dominate football and basketball, reaction time in baseball is an entirely different animal. NBA 2k may very well help KAT, Fox, and The Brow and Madden help Cam read coverages, but first-person shooters and action games are apparently the way to go if you’re trying to improve your reaction time.

A study by the University of Rochester confirmed that a segment of 18 to 25-year-olds who played video games had superior reaction time to those who did not.

“Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. People make decisions based on probabilities that they are constantly calculating and refining in their heads”, explains Dr. Bavelier, who oversaw the study. “The process is called probabilistic inference. The brain continuously accumulates small pieces of visual or auditory information as a person surveys a scene, eventually gathering enough for the person to make what they perceive to be an accurate decision.”

Sounds a lot like what hitters must do when tracking a breaking ball, or a runner deciding whether or not a pitcher is delivering the ball to home plate or about to try and pick him off of first base. Seeing something, computing probabilities, and reacting all in a fraction of a second is what athletes must do on a daily basis, and it only makes sense that practicing doing just that, even in a very different environment, would train the brain to become even faster when they’re at their day job, too.

The current sensation is Fortnite, which is most commonly played by athletes in the Battle Royale mode, consisting of 100 players in a “sandbox” vying with one another to be the last player standing. There’s a co-op element, meaning that players can team up and scavenge for supplies and so forth. But the point-and-shoot and quick reaction elements are what matter to athletes, and perhaps curmudgeonly writers and observers of the game should consider the benefits of such a hobby.

That hasn’t stopped folks like John Patrick Pullen at Fortune from calling out Price, despite the fact that he concludes his article by referencing Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux’s penchant for gaming, more or less undermining his own complaint. And the Red Sox have already backed down the initial report that video games were solely to blame for Price’s injury. After all, the only truly famous example of a player suffering an injury due to a video game was former Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joel Zumaya, who strained his wrist playing Guitar Hero and missed a portion of the playoffs.

As noted by the Rays’ Matt Duffy, people are going to talk no matter what a player does — especially if it’s going to the bar for a drink. So what’s the big deal with a player letting their body relax and recover while still exercising mentally and putting their reaction time and decision-making skills to the test?

There’s something poetic about the proven benefits of playing video games benefiting baseball players the most; Major League Baseball, along with many of its fans, coaches, and players, is far and away the crustiest, most resistant to change of the major sports. We talked about this reluctance towards progress when pining for robot umpires, and it’s especially true when it comes to video games, which are simply an everyday hobby for athletes but are apparently the scourge of the earth when it comes to a certain segment of writers, pundits, and old-school fans.

But alas, the grouchiest of observers will have to admit that certain video games have a measurably positive impact on reaction time, and ultimately, on-field performance — and especially in baseball, the grouchiest sport of them all.

So, to the old guard, consider this: the next time J.D. Martinez or Xander Boegarts or Bryce Harper strikes out in a big spot or your favorite prospect can’t quite hack it in the big leagues, perhaps it’s because he didn’t play enough Fortnite.

Ben Beecken
Ben Beecken
Ben Beecken is a writer at Grandstand Central with a primary focus on the NBA, MLB, and NFL. He has spent nearly a decade working on the business side of sports including eight seasons in minor league baseball team front offices. Ben is also an editor and writer at Dunking With Wolves and a contributor across the FanSided network.


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