A couple of friends recently linked me an article from The Irish Times, asking me to write a rebuttal about it.
The piece was a straight up attack on the very concept of e-sports. Recently, I made a rather honest post about the nature of competitive gaming that seems to have struck a chord with some people and perhaps in their eyes I now stand for the good side of gaming. That wasn’t really my intention. However, I think I should speak about this.
I would like to note that in the last year or so there’s been an insidious trend of old media outlets attacking gaming in a trolling manner because it’s easy clickbait – the people it rails against are likely to be internet savvy and therefore likely to see the article and share it with indignation on their social media accounts (page views are page views at the end of the day, regardless of intent). For that reason, I am reluctant to link to Brian O’Connor’s article in case that is simply giving them what they want, but you can certainly search for it.
When I decided to attempt to deconstruct the article, I considered several aspects. I thought about how the racing correspondent seemed to think gaming seeks legitimacy by acquiring the same status as sports. That is, the same status as the industry that the corrupt blights Sepp Blatter and Lance Armstrong belong to. However, I quickly decided that’s too easy and crass an argument, and actually unfair to fans of sport. They’ve been let down, and I have no desire to try and make them feel worse.
I thought about attacking his statement that this is a generational thing as I am a prime example of a man, creeping up on his forties, who travels internationally to play video games in tournaments. In fact, this is an entirely different argument; one about the stereotyping of games in the media.
I settled, in the end on this;
“Yet the trend is growing worldwide for competitive gaming to be regarded as sport, in much the same way as eating, sleeping or scratching your backside might be regarded as sport if you shoved the word “competitive” in front of it. Gaming’s different though for a very simple reason – it’s worth a fortune.”
No. Really, no. There’s much more to it than that.
I actually agree with O’Connor in other parts of his argument. E-sports is, in my mind, a horrific term. I predate it. I am a competitive gamer. I do not need to imply I am anything other than what I am. The people who need to market what I do, however, seem to think e-sports is an effective brand, so I will bow to their expertise. I don’t need to impress. I need to play and fight as hard as I can. E-sports is the term that was created to convey the concept of large scale competitive gaming. We’re all just going to have to live with it.
In Brian’s article, he states that he doesn’t want to get into an argument over words, but he doesn’t seem to see that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Gaming is not a sport. What about competitive gaming? Probably not sport.
However, the emotional highs and lows you experience watching an excellent game are the exact same. The devastation when you feel you’ve let your team down is the exact same. The elation of a hard won victory is the exact same.
To really dissect this statement – to compare competitive gaming to “scratching your backside” is disrespectful at best and horribly disingenuous at worst. I, for example, would not be world class at the game I play; however, I am able to execute movements to accuracy of under 1/60 of a second. People who are better than I spend countless hours of the day improving their game, honing their skills and studying strategy. Some people will read this and think, “What a waste of time”.
Let’s think about soccer for a moment. When you reduce it to its very core, it is 22 men using only their feet to move an inflated ball as close as possible to a rectangle. That’s all it is. Of course, a similar reduction can be made about all competitive games – but that’s the point.
Every single game, sports, e-sports or otherwise, lives or dies on passion. The rules are often arbitrary and subjective, little more than a framework to hang the heart of competition on. The story being told in the game by the players. The roar of the crowd in response. The moment when hard work pays off. The glint of inspiration. The massive comebacks. The horrible beat downs. The underdogs rising. That is why a game – any game – lives or dies.
Of course, the real reason O’Connor likely wrote this article seems to be a fear that gaming will be recognised and funded by various countries. To which I must ask, what’s wrong with that? Traditional sports do not have a monopoly on funding. They do not have an automatic right to superiority because they were simply there first. That is the kind of thinking that creates elitism and would be shouted down by right-thinking organisations. Surely the competition would simply serve to ensure that traditional sports will have to up their game?
For those reading this who are not convinced, in the last three months or so I can think of three somewhat large competitive gaming events in Ireland; “Celtic Throwdown”, “Irelan” and the upcoming “G-Lan”. Between the three of them, and without a single penny of funding from sponsors or governments outside of the gaming world, they’ll probably end up bringing a couple of hundred tourists to Ireland. These were small events. Imagine what these organisations could do with even a tiny bit of help from the government – not even on the huge scale rugby, GAA or soccer gets.
Is there not room to share? To grow together? To learn from one another? Competitive gaming streams have taken a lot from the production of sports events and believe me, sports could learn from gaming now (Q & A and sponsoring streams allows the masses access to top tier gamers and helps their personal brands grow massively. It could be something for upcoming potential players to learn, too).
This is a brand new, nascent industry and leisure activity. It is the type of thing we as a nation should jump on. Saying sport “wins” because it’s older and not the same is archaic thinking. It’s certainly not the thinking that has Ireland recovering, becoming a leader in innovation and technology. It’s the thinking of scared men.
I’d say old men, but I’m an old man in terms of gaming. I’ve been to hundreds of these events. I’ve made friends all across the world through the medium of pixels and polygons. I’ve had amazing highs and depressing lows. I’ve felt emotions and grown, and I want more.
Brian, I am not going away.
[Images: Sam Walton, Rachel Philips]