Videogames 101: The Perception of Videogames as a Sport

For previous installments, look no further:
Level 1 – The Burning Question
Level 2 – Best-Selling Consoles & Games

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The Oxford English dictionary defines “sport,” the noun, as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”  Usually when people think of sports in common culture, a few of the more prominent activities come to mind, like baseball, basketball, soccer, (American) football, or (because I’m bad at all the above) there’s also stuff like bowling.  Then there’s some increasingly lesser-known examples: fencing, cricket, trampolining, racewalking, badminton, equestrian jumping, airsoft, and so, so many more.  Sports can be magnificently weird and diverse in nature, goal, ambition, and rules, and, because of all this, there are some activities which have been controversially considered sports, such as chess.  Or, and I’m just going out on a limb here, videogames.

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With the rise of videogames in mainstream culture, companies have begun utilizing the crowd’s desire and excitement for competitive play.  For a long time, videogames have been designed for some level of cooperative play, with consoles having two or four ports to plug in controllers and play with others.  This has made Local Area Network (LAN) tournaments and leagues a strong foundation for promoting the potential of e-sports or playing videogames as sport.  But we’ve come a long way from the glorified LAN parties, which offered little more than a couple sponsors and some prize money.  Nowadays, professional gaming has shown strides in being a fully-fleshed industry.  This is due largely to the internet, allowing for players to face off online, as well as for spectators to observe the matches.

Competitive gamersEarlier competitions in e-sports often revolved around a handful of 2D fighting games like Street Fighter II.  The head-to-head nature of these games make them easy to follow, pitting only two adversaries against each other in a very limited environment.  Super Smash Bros. took this same concept and modified it by adding new gameplay mechanics and more space for a higher number of combatants.  South Korea is notorious for their organized, competitive StarCraft scene, which eventually brought in corporate sponsorships and even 24-hour television broadcasting.

So who holds the deiform level of skill to participate in these competitions?  Mostly, a lot of people who never expected this to be their career at all.  One particular Dennis “Thresh” Fong specialized in Doom II and Quake, shooters that were popular in their time.  He was a rising star in the early years of e-sports, and cultivated a job out of his skills with more monetary payoff than most salaries.  Fong made about one hundred thousand dollars a year, doing nothing more than putting digital slugs into digital enemies, and maybe helping out in a promotion deal or two.  Other high-performing, (and often) high-engrossing players include but are not limited to: Lee Young Ho (“KT FLaSH,” Starcraft: Brood War), Johnathan Wendel (“Fatal1ty,” various FPS games), Danil Ishutin (“Dendi,” DotA), Lee Jae Dong (“Jaedong,” Starcraft II), and Ken Hoang (“SephirothKen,” Super Smash Bros. Melee).  Notable achievements among these individuals are, in no respective order: (1) An entry into “The Guinness Book of World Records” for most kills in an hour, (2) enough money to pay for college…several times over, (3) single-handed victory over entire professional teams, (4) placing in literally dozens of tournaments and earning even more awards, (5) being included in fully developed and supported video documentaries, and (6) being uniformly considered “the best” at what they do by an entire industry and fandom.  These are five of a much larger mass of players, all breaking history in their own ways all of the time.

Ken Hoang, "The King of Smash", as a contestant on Survivor: Gabon.

Ken Hoang, “The King of Smash,” as a contestant on Survivor: Gabon.  Because why not?

The majority of professional gamers are relegated to a team, or commissioned by a personal sponsor.  These gamers have a better understanding of how to market themselves in a very modern and personality-focused industry.  They understand and capitalize on the significance of relatability between their fans, rather than other sports which focus on a relationship between fans and a regional allegiance.  This is accomplished largely through uploads and streams via popular sites which promote those things, such as Youtube and Twitch.

Not only the players, but the industry itself has its own slew of accomplishments outside of its general growth.  South Korea, the undisputed juggernaut of professional videogames, holds larger-than-life competitions that boggle the mind.  In 2005, they orchestrated a Starcraft championship tournament, which drew in an audience of roughly 120,000 people.  Let me put that into hard words.  One-hundred and twenty-thousand.  That’s 40,000 more people than this last year’s Superbowl.

But it isn’t just South Korea.  Major League Gaming (MLG) began to flex their muscles in the early 2000’s, too, and put forth serious, hearty efforts to transform videogames from their identity as a social stigma into a bona fide cultural influence.  In the last decade, they’ve scored many victories in the name of elevating e-sports into an acceptable idea, organizing tournaments all throughout the United States and Canada, which were broadcast on live television, various broadband sites, and even ESPN.com.  MLG gave casual gamersMLG a reason to take their hobby seriously, providing substantial cash awards, trophies, public recognition, and glorified events on-par with otherwise “normal” sports.  Some games in the recent MLG repertoire include Halo 4League of LegendsStarcraft II, Tekken, and Mortal Kombat, to name only a few.  League of Legends in particular is an inferno right now, both inside and outside of the MLG, taking videogame audiences by storm.

It’s a common question as to how long these e-sports careers can last.  Most of these gamers suffer from declining skills (most prominently, reflexes), lost career opportunities, deteriorated relationships, or even something as simple as raw burnout.  This leads to pro gamers drifting away from the competitive side of things as they approach their thirties.  The average lifespan of a competitive career is typically shorter than physical sports, but many players will turn their time and experience on the professional field into a related and more sustainable position within the industry.  After all, they love videogames and have a direct outlet into that world.  On top of being a growing field, this means there are many avenues which can be taken.  “Casting,” or doing live commentary at events or for instructional videos, are common.  Some enter the marketing side of things; others organize the events and tournaments, produce games, generate content for new games, referee, or join one of the numerous broadcasting teams that are gaining their own support and appeal at these events.  Even more still, some will help generate industry-related products or companies such as Xfire or the social network Raptr.

An Esport StadiumVideogames, like any other major, professional sport, are made up of cutthroat rivalries, dedicated fans, and a swelling determination for the competitors to prove themselves against all odds.  They might not watch their nutrition like the jocks of the world, but there are few other differences between these players or the environment with which they’re surrounded.  E-sport professionals have supreme reflexes, instantaneous judgment, hyper-intuition with strategies and analyzing situations, and must operate optimally in both cooperative and individual scenarios.  They need to practice their craft for several hours a day, study up on the idiosyncrasies of each game, and constantly best not only their opponents, but also themselves.  There is very little deviation between the exalted sporting events that permeate our cultural paradigms, and the e-sports that dare to sledge their way into that same state of affairs.  If people insist on arguing against videogames’ inclusion under this term for much longer, then the term is going to have to change, because from where I’m standing, we’re already part of the family.

God bless, drink some water, and always remember to smile.

(**If any of these games struck an interest in you, most of them can be found online at Amazon.com.  The following link takes you to Starcraft II, the recent and impressive sequel to the original RTS masterpiece, with DLC available for further expansion.)

[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B000ZKA0J6]

VERSE OF THE DAY: 1 Timothy 6:11-12
“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

SONG OF THE DAY: “Salt in the Snow” by The Classic Crime

Cooper D Barham

Aspiring author, marriage and family therapist, and active behavioral health technician, Cooper fills his world with God, music, videogames, anime/manga, drawing, reading, writing, and some physical stuff in between. If you ever want to talk about the big or little things of life, fire him a message. Helping others through tough times is both his passion and way of living. 'Got it memorized?'

2 Comments

  1. Clemmie on April 4, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    I couldn’t resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!

  2. Victoria Grace Howell on October 22, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Neat post! Gaming takes a lot more skill than most people think.

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