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The Sport of Gaming: This is how eSports make UFC fighter Angela Hill a better athlete

This is the final installation of reporter Adele Jackson-Gibson’s series on female athletes who love video games. Here are parts one and two featuring U.S. women’s national soccer team captain Becky Sauerbrunn and WNBA All-Star Jonquel Jones.

Angela “Overkill” Hill doesn’t do anything half-assed, even when her ass is on the couch.

In the the ring, the 5-foot-3 strawweight fighter claims she “brings a bazooka to fight night” as she tries to land as many kicks and punches on her opponents. And at home, she’ll spend hours staring at the TV, a controller in her hands, punching buttons to master her favorite first-person shooter games.

“Everything I do is extra,” Hill told Excelle Sports. “I get really annoying when I’m not good at something, so I’ll obsess until I get decent and then get even better. I have that same passion for video games, not as much as the passion I have for punching people in the face, but it’s a close second.”

[More from Excelle Sports: There is now collegiate varsity “esports” video gaming for women]

For a long time the public didn’t know this other side of Hill. On her fighter profile, it’s clear that she’s the reigning champion of the world’s most renowned women’s MMA organization, Invicta FC. You’ll see her 7-3 record, her fighting stats. But the 30-year-old’s inner gamer-girl has only recently emerged in a dramatically playful way—one that has stolen the hearts of many nerds.

When Hill was temporarily cut from the UFC in 2015 and signed on with Invicta for the following year, she wanted mix things up a bit. Invicta fighters are known to wear store-bought costumes during the weigh-in media events, but Hill thought she could make even better ones from scratch.

At her first weigh-in, she dressed up as a character from a post-apocalyptic role-playing game called Fallout 4. Using the skills she acquired during art school, she stitched together a blue jumpsuit and played around with foam, paint and cardboard to create the gear. For Fallout fans, the accuracy was astonishing.

“That got the gamers excited,” said Hill.

Since then, she’s made weigh-in costumes of various video game characters. Cosplay is a way for her to curb her nerves before fight night, she said. Some of her favorite costumes came from the game Street Fighter, which Hill claims is the best fighting game of all time.

“It reminds me of MMA more so than any other fighting games just because you have people representing different countries, bringing in different styles,” said Hill. “It [also] took elements from all of these different martial arts and I thought it was really creative that way.”

Now, the negative stereotypes around Cosplay lovers and game aficionados paint them as lazy couch potatoes or anti-social adults who still live in their mother’s basements. But Hill’s example shows that these stereotypes are far from the truth.

[More from Excelle Sports: EA Sports needs to add women’s teams to NHL 18]

Gaming, for example, is something that brings her even closer to her husband. When he’s around, Hill likes to rope him into playing a first-person shooter called Battlefield.

“It’s pretty cool because you squad up with people and it’s this big war,” she said. “So when me and him are squadded up, we are communicating back and forth and it’s really fun. It’s like a good team building exercise.”

Hill also claims that playing video games is another form of training that makes her a better fighter in the octagon. She’s even known strength and conditioning coaches to use touch screen targets to increase an athlete’s speed.

“It’s basically just a video game designed for hand-eye coordination,” said Hill. “All that stuff relates to training your brain to process faster and video games is another way to do that. Like if I’m playing a first-person shooter, it’s not really relaxing, but it’s training my reflexes. I’m recognizing patterns and figuring out how to problem solve.”

So does that mean playing video games is athletic in nature? I asked myself. What is the definition of “athletic” anyway?

That’s a debate that may never cease, but certainly, the sports world is beginning to revalue gaming as eSports become more lucrative. There are over 28 million eSports fans between the United States and Europe, according to recent studies, and eSports teams that win major tournaments earn millions of dollars (more than NBA and Stanely Cup champs). The eSports industry is so big now that even the Paris Olympic organizing committee is thinking about adding it to the Olympic program in 2024.

But I wondered how “traditional” athletes would react if they shared the same podium with eSport competitors.

“I feel like these [gamers] put so much time and effort into the games they play that they definitely deserve a platform that is respected,” said Hill. “It’s all really impressive when you see someone do really well in a certain game. Their brain is just working on another level.”

For previous parts of this series, I asked U.S. national soccer team captain Becky Sauerbrunn and WNBA All-Star Jonquel Jones the same question. And to my surprise, they both agreed with Hill.

“Yeah, I think gaming is a sport,” said Sauerbrunn. “It might not be as physically taxing, but it’s extremely mentally taxing and I think that should count.”

[More from Excelle Sports: WNBA teams and players will be featured in the next ‘NBA Live’ video game]

“I have no issue with video games being in the Olympics,” Jones added. “I talked to one of my teammates when I was playing in Korea and she told me that kids are able to go to school nowadays on gaming scholarships and stuff. That’s a really cool thing.”

While many people would disagree, these professional athletes do bring up good points—after all, you’d think they would know the meaning of sport better than anyone. Okay, maybe Hill, Sauerbrunn, and Jones are a little biased, but there’s no doubt that for them, playing eSports is more than just a game.

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