Written by Denayed, Originally Posted: September 3, 2021.
The rise of competitive gaming – or eSports, as it is colloquially referred to as – is largely attributed to three factors. First, as the digital age continues to rise, the entertainment industry continues to skyrocket with it. This industry is a behemoth as it is; with the additional revenue generated by competitions with prizes worth upwards of $18 million dollars, there’s no telling how lucrative the business will become. Now that major sponsors such as T-Mobile, Coca Cola, and Logitech are clamoring to throw money at professional gamers, team owners and broadcasting companies are realizing they’d better start capitalizing on this new stream of income.
Second, with the exception of the Super Bowl, competitive gaming now regularly generates more viewers than any other sporting event. The U.S. currently sits at the forefront of the eSports race, but Korea and China have begun building powerhouse teams that are so sought-after, other countries recruit from their ranks. For example, during the Overwatch League’s inaugural season in 2018, Great Britain’s team, the London Spitfire, was composed entirely of Koreans.
These professional stars of tomorrow aren’t grown in some gaming lab and released into the wild upon coming of age, either. Casual gamers who initially started Youtube channels to have fun now find themselves with over 600,000 subscribers and receiving invitations to play competitively on a global scale. For the payoff – sometimes up to $50,000 in one season – who wouldn’t accept? And the best part? Even with all this newfound fame and publicity, many gamers don’t view their supporters as “fans”. On weekends and off-seasons, you’ll catch them on their own computers playing with the same people they’ve always played with, streaming online the way they’ve always done.
The last and arguably most personal factor credited with the popularity of eSports is the validation that comes with it. The jock versus geek trope has been popular since the birth of public school. While playing a physical sport such as soccer or football has scores of benefits such as improved cardiovascular health and self-discipline, these good intentions took a dark turn into disdain for those who weren’t interested in them. How many times has the media portrayed a jock slamming a geek into a locker and cackling? Would anyone say this stereotype is unfounded? Middle and high schools lacked a respected place for kids who liked to draw, read, or play video games, and their mental health suffered for it.
With the popularization of eSports, however, things started to change. The nerds and geeks of the world now had a place to root for their heroes, right alongside the leagues of football and baseball fans. People realized that it didn’t matter that video games didn’t teach the same kind of lessons that sports did. Why should they have to? Video gaming teaches a different kind of strategy. It teaches creativity and patience and the virtue of working with a team. It hones reaction time and communication skills. It nurtures safe online communities for people to build lifelong friendships in.
There is something therapeutic about going home after a long day – whether it’s due to trouble at school, or stress at work – logging onto your console, and connecting with people too close to be considered strangers anymore. They don’t care who you are, where you came from, or what you do for a living. Video gaming is an equalizer in a way that sports can never be. A 13-year-old couldn’t hope to hold his own on a football field against the Patriots. But in the world of video gaming, it isn’t surprising to find young teenagers with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, playing at professional levels; the only reason some of them haven’t joined teams is because they’re underage.
It also doesn’t matter that eSports aren’t a “real sport”. By all rights, professional gamers donate to charity, tour and speak at high schools, host press conferences, compete on international teams worldwide, and most importantly, inspire individuals to chase their dreams. The only differences between eSports and a “real sport” are the lack of full-body coordination and athletic ability. If, going by the strictest definition of a sport, it has to include rigorous athletic prowess, perhaps eSports would not make the cut. But does it matter, in the end? Does it matter in the face of little boys and girls elated to finally have role models they can look up to, like everyone else?
American pop rock band Against the Current wrote the song “Legends Never Die” as the theme for the 2017 League of Legends World Championship. The deep synth beats are powerful enough, but coupled with the imagery of millions of children and adults alike finding role models in people who looked just like them, with interests just like them, the song works well as an anthem for the socially downtrodden. “When everything’s lost, they pick up their hearts and avenge defeat; before it all starts, they suffer through harm just to touch a dream; pick yourself up, ’cause legends never die”. It may seem melodramatic, but to the kid watching a skinny, bifocal-wearing teenager win half a million dollars on international TV for playing his favorite game, eSports is everything.