Lock, Stock, and Draw: The Musings of an Addled E-sport’s Fan
Video games are a sport. A seemingly innocuous phrase with the added benefit of burning friendships to the ground. The other day me and my friends we talking about video games and ended up having a blood feud over sports.
Firstly, yes, us gamers know what sports are, and yes we play them from time to time, even if we are not exactly fond of running or jumping, or sweating, or now that I think of it, any of the things sports seem to heavily involve. Nevertheless, a few buddies and I began to talk, during a quick second breakfast, about whether or not professional videogames can be classified as a sport. I mean if E-Sports are a multi-million dollar industry; then there must be no questioning their place as a form of competitive entertainment, right?
The problem is, Mr. Noah Webster does not agree. By definition sports require:physical exertion, pursuit of entertainment, thigh high short shorts and a neon colored sweat band. Sports revolve around the pursuit of physical prowess and expertise for the sole purpose of becoming a consumable form of entertainment. The wording is very, almost painfully clear, that to be classified as a sport participants must use their bodies to perform. There is no such thing as sport by proxy.
In other words, video games cannot be sports because the only physical aspect of the process involves shifting around to stretch and maybe, if no one’s listening, farting.
Of course this definition does not sit well with me.I believe that video games are a sport. I am a gamer. Video games are more than a hobby or pastime; they are a passion for me. They were the hot babysitter I never had, the one that let you stay up late cussing and having fun. Which is why I wanted to create a monthly column dedicated to taking a closer look at the world of professional e-sports in hopes of shedding light on a largely underreported form of competitive entertainment.
Each piece will try to take a controversial or hot topic surrounding games and we will summarize and offer a few opinions. From the start I want to make it clear that these are not going to be multi-thousand word articles that truly and completely delve into each topic offering up wisdom and conclusions in the process. That would be the responsible thing to do, after all. What I am trying to do is instead create discussion. Ask the questions, approach the topic, and hopefully make everyone else do the heavy lifting. The idea is that maybe by discussing these things, I can change a few border straddling minds, and at least plant the seed of rebellion in the rest.
In Lock, Stock, and Draw my goal is to take a moment every month and remind people that sometimes definitions are not set in stone. Sometimes we need to take a jackhammer to the foundation and rebuild something for the new world unfolding above.
Now, back to video games as sports.
Naturally this means we need to talk about a little video game called Counter Strike: Global Offensive. One of the very reasons this all has me so confused. Currently in CSGO there are dozens of professional teams that compete in large sponsored tournaments. When I say large I mean multiple, as in five $250,000 grand prize events. I mean that the top players are salaried and receive bonuses from sponsors and merchandise, even TV appearances. And these guys are just a single set of professional players from one game, you can multiply this amount by another five or six if we include other big games like League of Legends and Dota 2 currently holding “large” tournaments able to support a living.
To be able to compete and win these events players have gone to extreme lengths to perfect their craft. Organizations have started “gaming houses” where players go to live and practice 10 hours a day with their team. They have traveled internationally to training camps and foreign tournaments.
If we look back to Mr. Webster’s definition of sports, it is important to note that other than being physical, the main points are entertainment and improving skills. In CSGO improving skill is paramount. It is why the players practice 10 hours a day. It is why they move sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles to live with their teams. CSGO is not an easy game, the skills you need to compete at a high level are painfully difficult to achieve and require time and dedication to develop. Thousands of hours of non-stop time and dedication, of doing the same things over and over till your muscle memory absorbs them.
As for entertainment, CSGO boasts the second highest video game viewership in the world. Big events, called “Majors” in the scene, draw hundreds of thousands of unique concurrent viewers. Stepping outside of CSGO, the number one highest viewed video game event ever had a staggering twenty-seven million viewers. These are numbers rivaling NBA and MLB finals and the World Series. We are talking about video games out entertaining their “physically” acceptable twin brother.
My argument in talking about all of this is not to change the definition of sports. Even if I don’t personally agree to it, there is a notable difference between training for an NFL boot camp and practicing on a computer. One is obviously more physical than the other. The same can be said for how the two differing games play out. Football undoubtedly requires ones body to be in absolute peak condition, while video games have no such limitation on a person’s health or fitness.
These things aside, the two games feel like they are accomplishing the same goals. I watch E-sports with the same fan fervor that most Raiders fans watch a football game with. I have players I consider heroes and other personalities I despise. On game night I have friends over and we get drunk and eat tons of disgusting unhealthy foods. In this way sports and E-sports are identical.
I feel like the difference lies in our society’s apprehension towards all things digital. Change in the modern world is hard-fought and uncomfortable. Look at the big video game violence scare of the 1990s where Grand Theft Auto 3 was heralded as the end of the world’s youth as we knew them. Or even before that the fear that comic books could warp a child’s mind. The difference between sports and E-sports is not in what each is trying to do but rather in how society views the mediums.
Sports are a venerated hallmark of our American culture. They are a deeply ingrained part of who we are and how we define ourselves. They are a part of what we view as healthy and worthwhile in our pastimes. The culture at large thinks that video games are not.
To me the physical aspect of sports is irrelevant. The word was created during a time in which computers were not a household commodity. My argument is that the word is simply outdated. The real difference lies in the traditionally negative perception of games as mindless fun, lending no ear to the fact that in the past 10 years games have undergone a dramatic and sweeping evolution in the form of E-sports.
So to all of you out there on the Interweb, what is the difference between professional video games and sports?