Unsurprisingly, a contingent of ex-sports stars on America’s HBO channel have deemed eSports as not a real sport. Arguments go both ways, of course, and the definition between sport and competition is always contentious.
What is a little surprising, from a group of professionals, is the flagrant ignorance apparent throughout the discussion.
The Real Sport show that held this discussion featured characters from news channels and various athletes – a somewhat acceptable casting to discuss such a matter, you would assume – despite the lack of any pro-gamers, of course. But then you hear Fox News Correspondent Bernard Goldberg requesting benign statistics on how many of the people attending also go to Star Trek conventions, and Frank Deford, a writer for Sports Illustrated, insisting that the people interested in watching (some 20 million League of Legends eSports fans from around the world) must be crazier than those playing.
I mean, seriously?
I should preface this by saying that I’m no fool – I know there is still a stigma. Video gaming has been steadily integrated in modern society, however, where it’s evolved from being seen a pass-time for socially awkward youngsters and made out to be, well, what it is – something fun to do. The market for gamers is huge, and I’m certain a fair few viewers of Real Sport were scratching their heads wondering what the hell they were watching.
It’s a testament to how foolish this is that I feel foolish having to explain it. I feel as though I’m explaining this stigma in the past-tense, because it’s not something I’ve had to think about for a while – I’ve spoken to people three times my age that appreciate that video games are great. Whether they’re buying them to play for themselves, or buying them for their kids or grandchildren, or whatever – why does it need this nonsensical judgment?
I shouldn’t tar everyone on the show with the same brush mind you. Hosts Bryant Gumbel and Soledad O’Brien identified the skill necessary, and expressed that they could understand why it would be considered a sport. Hell, even Mary Carillo, a former pro Tennis player, said ‘It’s still not a sport, it’s a game.’ I can identify that some modicum of thought has gone into considering the argument, rather than spouting clichés in the interest of propagating outdated rubbish.
I’ve seen people from the gaming community commenting on various posts on gaming news networks, and the response is mixed. Some consider it a sport and, rightly, feel affronted at the poor quality of presentation on show here. Others cite sports such as curling and darts, and ask how these people can be classed as athletes when they don’t conform to this ‘athletic’ description that people have for sports players.
Naomi Ainsworth, a freelance eSports translator, told me her view on proceedings.
“They’re not athletes and they don’t claim to be, athletics and sports aren’t interchangeable – that’s why they’re called pro-gamers, not pro-athletes.
“I think that eSports and professional gaming is and should be on the same level as something such as competitive chess, or even competitive poker, both of which are accepted as professional games that require some serious skill to actually legitimately compete on a professional level.
“But this is why we don’t call these pro-gamers ‘pro-athletes’ like we would a football player – they’re pro-gamers, just like professional chess players are pro-chess players.”
I suggested that perhaps the name ‘eSports’ can be misleading to those outside of the sphere, drawing comparisons with sports like football and soccer, and drawing negative opinions as a result. “Yeah, it’s possible a misleading term” admitted Naomi.
“I suppose the term eSports can be misleading to someone outside of the sphere, but it’s a catchier term than ‘professional gaming’ at least. If you called it just ‘professional gaming’ then things like poker and chess would fall into the same category as Starcraft 2, League of Legends and DOTA.
“It’s a possibly misleading term since people just latch onto the sports part of the name, but it also sets pro-gaming apart from pro-chess and pro-poker, which I think is also important.”
Another great response, from user ‘Alex’ over at PCGamesN, speaks certainly for me and for a fair few eSports fans the world over. He points out that the community has, time and time again, organised and orchestrated the hosting and viewing of world-class competitions all over the globe. We don’t need coverage, he says, and we don’t need “glossy studios” and celebrities to “give their nod of approval to make eSports successful, popular and profitable.”
What do you guys think?