A League of My Own – Why eSports Matter
Josh Knowles | On 13, Mar 2013
What does the pinnacle of professional baseball have in common with a free computer game? Over 8 million viewers. Last October, more people sat in front of their computer or television screens to watch the League of Legends’ Season 2 Championship than watched the average World Series game.
In fact, only one game of the series beat the video game event. Pretty amazing, right? Want to know something else that is absolutely amazing about an event like this? Three thirty-something adults and two guys not even old enough to buy a drink can put in time and effort to actually go toe-to-toe with the upper echelon players of the game. I should know, a few times a week, I log into a game, fire up Skype and play with four other people competitively against an untold amount of teams all over the world. While my poison is League of Legends, what makes me always want to come back, no matter how bad of a loss I may have suffered, is the draw of eSports. Will I ever make it to a level where millions of people are tuned in to watch my friends and I play against the likes of Snoopeh, Dyrus, Toyz or Edward? The magic eight ball says “Sources point to no.” However, as other people meet on a Saturday morning to play flag football in an organized league, this is my league.
While I spend my time in one game and genre, eSports as a whole is entering a renaissance period. A few years ago I attended an MLG event and watched the StarCraft II tournament. Each professional had their own form of celebrity, from the hometown (or in this case, continent) hero to the grizzled former champion, looking to show the world that they are still the best at their craft. The crowd was electric and reacted with cheers and jeers when these players played against each other. As these kids sat in soundproof booths, their fans chanted names, the classes they played or even held up signs or displayed messages painted on their bodies. The crowd wasn’t much different at all from a professional sporting event.
Then it happened. As I was walking away from the crowd after a match, I walked past the Call of Duty: Black Ops tournament area. What I saw there sticks with me still to this day: a group of young kids (certainly younger than the ESRB recommendation) with full uniforms were playing against a similar group. While watching these baby-faced youngsters shoot each other in a virtual world, I noticed something that will forever make sSports legitimate to me. Two parents, who looked like they would be more at home on a farm than at a video game tournament, were cheering their children on. These weren’t just “Go Billy! You can do it!” cheers; these were “Watch out around that corner! Dropshot, dropshot! He’s reloading, throw a tomahawk!” cheers. Then I noticed that it wasn’t just these parents, most of these kids had their parents and/or extended family and friends rooting for them. Along with Ma and Pa Kettle, I saw a dad in a power business suit with a latté in hand, cheering his son on with as much energy as I imagine he has on the stock floor. After their kids won the match, Mad Men Dad gave an exuberant hug to Pa Kettle and commented on how his son did a great job of defending his son, the flag runner. These two parents, who both probably wouldn’t know Master Chief from Master Chef, were talking like they had been playing these games for ages. It was like watching a little league game but these kids were playing a video game… No, actually they were participating in eSports.
Therein lies the beauty: anyone can get into eSports and make a name for themselves. In Massive Online Multiplayer Arena (MOBA) games, each player has an individual role and while I feel that I am a much better player at my position than my team’s ranking in our division, we win or lose based on the merits of the team itself. Everyone plays their own position, much like a football team and we develop and run drawn up plays and maneuvers. Games like Call of Duty or Halo also have their own professional scenes. The Real Time Strategy (RTS) scene is dominated by StarCraft 2 and its superstars. Fighting games like Street Fighter IV even have their own competitive arenas. Heck, I hear there is even an official Pokémon League somewhere out there. What I am getting at here is that for fans of video games, there is a facet of eSports that should appeal to them, which is something traditional sports lack.
As more people are drawn to the world of eSports, broadcast networks like CBS and ESPN have taken note.
In fact there have been rumblings of discussion to bring these events back to broadcast television but this has been a cautious endeavor at best as the last attempt at this, the World Series of Video Games, was a complete and utter failure. In fact, I’m pretty sure it did so bad that competing programs in its time slot actually had more viewers due to people avoiding it. It undeniably set back the concept of televised professional gaming. Yet with the growth of competitive gaming by Major League Gaming (MLG), IGN Professional League (IPL), ESL Master Series and events like Dreamhack, eSports is showing that it is a juggernaut that isn’t planning on slowing down any time soon.
So, while we haven’t reached the point quite yet where kids are staying after school for League of Legends practice, we are certainly getting there and as recognition grows so will the draw of the fame and fortune of playing video games as a sport. While my team, Butterfly Motifs, may never be as well-known as Counter Logic Gaming or Team Solomid, we still have a blast each week queuing up and facing off against players across the world. You never know, if we hit a streak, maybe you’ll see us rocking amber-lensed glasses and giant pro-series headphones while facing off against the biggest names in the industry. Then again, who wants to play games competitively when I you can just write about them? In the meantime, I’ll see you in the Fields of Justice!
So where do you stand on eSports? Is it part of the evolution of the gaming community and entertainment as a whole or just a passing fad?