Friday, February 1, 2013

eSports, Social Stigma, and the Spirit of Competition

"I have League of Legends practice in 10 minutes, sorry I can't play with you guys."   
"I still can't believe you practice with your team of online friends, it's like you consider this a sport."  

This is a conversation I had with a friend recently and it relates to the source of a topic that really grinds my gears. This is an opinion piece or rant, for a lack of a better word, so do not expect to find the typical League of Legends educational theory-crafting that make up the majority of my posts.  

With the rise of eSports in the last couple years and the creation of a more formal league by Riot for Season 3 today, I feel like eSports is really becoming more mainstream. More and more people are discovering that video games are no longer something to do over the weekend or an interactive form of entertainment, but actually competitive games. However, as with many shifts in contemporary culture there are many who find these shifts hard to understand. The issue at hand is that many people fail to understand the basic concepts of sport and competition. As with many sports, one always considers the sport they enjoy most to be the most competitive, strategic, and dominant of all sports. Why has it become so difficult to accept other forms of culture and the general spirit of competition? 

After using the word 'sport' over and over again, I feel like I should really bring forth a definition of sport. A formal definition of sport as defined by Wikipedia is as follows: sport is all forms of competitive physical activity which through casual or organised participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical ability and provide entertainment to participants. 

At first glance, one considers the most important defining difference between the definition of 'sports' and 'eSports' is the term 'physical activity' and 'physical ability.' The traditional relation to physical activity and ability that most individuals have would be the connection towards the stereotypical aspects of strength, agility, and endurance. The term athlete has been intertwined with the term sport for far too long with the mainstreaming of traditional sports. What people don't understand is that professionals who play eSports have other aspects of physical activity and ability that many do not seem to understand; despite what people generally believe, eSport athletes are not randomly clicking buttons at their leisure. For ones consideration, I would like to take the example of APM in Starcraft 2. What I would really enjoy is to see the most athletically fit traditional sport professional athlete attempt to keep up with the thought process and speed of a professional Starcraft 2 player. 

At this point, you may put forth the argument that "these people have played for much longer than any traditional athlete and that given the proper amount of practice that any athlete would easily be able to imitate these players as this action requires little athletic ability. " However, this argument brings me to the root of my point - that all sports have a unique skill set that determines their physical ability which cannot be completely transferred to any other sport. In a change of topics, why is Floyd Mayweather Junior, arguably the best pound per pound boxer in the world, scared to enter the MMA ring? Because he understands that his skill set of his sport can not be completely transferred to the sport of MMA, that just because he is amazing in boxing does not guarantee he will be amazing in MMA. They are completely different sports with different skill sets. 

So, this brings us to the question of how do we accurately distinguish between games that are sports and games that are not sports. In my opinion, all forms of competitive games with a distinguishable skill set are sports. Whether it be how fast and powerful someone can punch, how fast they can shoot a hockey puck, how far they can shoot a ball through a hoop, how many moves they can think ahead of their opponent, or how fast they can react with a mouse and keyboard, these games are all classified as sports. The one distinguishing factor in sports and games is chance. Games that rely on chance and not skill can remain classified as games and do not gain the title of 'sport' because a particular skill set is no longer required to be competitive at this game. 

Boston Bruin's player Chara hoists the Stanley Cup
Obviously, if you have watched any eSport tournament you will see the similarity it has to other sporting events out there. People compete against others in a game with a premeditated set of rules where only one group of individuals can become victorious due to their natural ability over the other group of individuals. There is one clearly defined winner who is said to be better than all those who competed against him. Then they are then provided with some sort of reward for their victory. There are spectators who favor certain groups over others but enjoy the general spirit of competition and display of skill. 

Moscow 5 team hoists the IEM Series Trophy
So why has eSports been covered in a veil of social stigma and not viewed as a 'real' sport in general? The reason has originated with the birth of video games; that only nerds and geeks play video games and only nerds and geeks would ever consider video games a sport. Let me get personal and tell all those who believe in this social stigma that the world is full of nerds and geeks; however, it doesn't make them any less of a person. Just because someone is from a different culture, believe in different things, follow a different life style, looks different, behaves different, and acts different, does not mean they are worth any more or less than anyone else. History has constantly proven that those who are different are still people, try telling an African American person that they are not people just because they are different and you are bound to remember the rights of African Americans in the past and who is one of the most influential people in the world today. Social stigma is a lesser form of racism and it is, quite simply, wrong. For people to have a social stigma on eSports just because they do not understand it, nor the concept of sport and competition, is wrong. 

When people laugh, jest, and belittle the fact that I attempt to follow and play a game I enjoy, I get mad, I get angry, and I get personal. I try to play on a competitive amateur team, and that, along with every other sport in existence, requires that you play with said team, practice said sport, and learn said art. As condescending as it sounds, what one personally believes to be a sport does not actually make it the only sport - I enjoy watching pro players strategically achieve victory in League of Legends as much as another may enjoy watching five grown-ass men try to hit a circular object with sticks or throw an inflated animal skin through a net twice the size of said skin (yes, the basketball hoop is roughly twice the size of a basketball). Although I may not be a professional League of Legends player, I enjoy the game as much as another would enjoy another game and play for any other small league. What I practice in my spare time is no different from others who play in small leagues for any other sport in existence. 

Whether your game be one of the traditional sports, an eSport, a board game, competitive eating, or any other form of sport, I hope you enjoy and compete to your fullest. At the end of the day, we are all just human beings trying to make life a little more interesting with the spirit of competition. Whatever it may be, pick your poison. 

No comments:

Post a Comment