To all the parents, significant others, siblings, and friends of those who share my passion:
There is something real going on here. We are not using these games as an excuse to hide from the world, a hole in which to bury our heads. We don’t pursue them because we can’t make friends, or because we are lazy, or because we have nothing better to do.
We participate for the same reason so many people watch the World Cup, the same reason they play catch in the front yard, and the same reason humans have been engaging in sports for thousands of years—the love of the game.
Something inside humanity yearns for competition, for the joy of victory, for the pride that comes with perfecting a very difficult task. The entire world recognizes this aspect of our race; every four years, wars cease and nations come together to compete at the Olympics.
Millions and millions watch the events, cheering people they have never met, with whom they share nothing except a nationality. But the viewers and the competitors are united in pursuit of an arbitrary goal, a goal set years ago and agreed upon since then. These goals are not designed to further humanity, or to prove that one competitor is the best candidate for mating, or for any sort of personal gain. We set these goals because we, as humans, thrive on challenges.
And that does not make the attainment of our arbitrary goal any less real. When your swimmer’s hand slaps the wall first, when the ball hits the back of the other team’s net, when your flag is raised highest to signify that this person you never met is better than a bunch of other people you never met at an activity which produces nothing—it means something.
People jump and shout and clap their hands, spill their drinks, hug each other and cry. All because the team wearing their colors performed a seemingly irrelevant task best. This may seem a cynical depiction of sport, but it isn’t.
What this shows is that we do not care about which goal is accomplished.
We do not care about the future application of whatever skills have been shown.
We do not care that this victory in no way betters our lives or the life of our community.
We care about the game, the pursuit of perfection, the shining pride that comes from years of backbreaking work and reckless determination.
For a few short periods throughout human history, sport has been a replacement for war. Something inside of us needs to strive, to compete, to seize victory. The evolutionary desire to improve one’s standing and to prove one’s dominance has been strong throughout history, and is still with us today.
When left unchecked, the strong prey on the weak and grow even stronger because of it. But, as the Ancient Greeks demonstrated, war could be put aside for a time if that predatory energy could be redirected. Thus, every four years, wars would cease. The strongest and smartest men of all the Greek city-states would go to Olympia, and instead of killing each other they would wrestle and race and compose poetry. And for that short while, there was peace.
In Rome, there were gladiators to take the place of war, to feed that hunger which burned inside the people. Though the games were vicious and cruel, they took the place of war, for a time.
And now, in one of the greatest eras of peace the world has ever seen, sport thrives. In the developed world, sporting events are everywhere. People in Singapore follow Manchester United religiously. Americans are using their DVRs to record football so they don’t miss any of the World Series. Londoners walk around wearing Yankee caps. ESPN is providing obscene amounts of sporting content to anyone with access to the internet.
Sport is everywhere in our lives, even though a vast majority of the consumers no longer play their game.
Something inside of us needs sport. There is an energy, a drive, a desire that must manifest itself somewhere. There is the obvious need to compete, to prove oneself to peers. But more than that, there is the need to improve oneself.
If you’ve ever seen a coworker spin a pen through his fingers, or seen someone banking wadded up paper off the wall twice before putting it in the trashcan, or doing anything in a way that is unnecessary and counterproductive just because they have worked out a way that they can, you’ve seen this phenomenon. People don’t toss stuff to you behind their back because it’s efficient—they do it because they can. And we find pride in these little things. Subconscious pride, maybe. But it’s there.
In sport, that’s all we do. Ask any soccer player how useful it is to be so handy with their feet. If they’re honest, they’ll tell you it isn’t. But I will still take any opportunity I get to pop something up in the air and juggle it a few times before trying to catch it on my foot. Because I have spent years of my life getting good with my feet. We admire skill, regardless of how useful the skill might be.
That is why we love to watch the very best play. Because it’s difficult. Because we’ve tried and we know the mastery it takes to do what they do. And because there is something magical about a group of individuals coming together to achieve something they could not do alone.
In any sport, part of the draw is the pride of setting a goal and achieving it. Of proving that you can do something hard if you work at it. Which brings me to eSports (I know, about time). The public perception of video gaming in general has improved greatly over the past decades. No longer just a niche for those who couldn’t find something “real” to do, most people in the developed world have at least tried it out.
But video games are still thought of as a simple escape from reality, an interactive online book of sorts that kids these days care way too much about.
A weekend activity for when you’re just too tired to go out.
A fallback for people who can’t get the hang of the real world, a pacifier for teens and adults who can’t cut it outside.
A pleasant alternative to a movie for the lonely.
A waste of time.
eSports is not a waste of time. Let me repeat that for those of you who have watched countless hours go down the drain while your child, spouse, friend mashed buttons furiously and made hilarious noises at the screen: eSports is not a waste of time.
I fully understand why you would think it is. Watching football (American or European) without knowing the rules, the goals, the purpose behind the furor would make it seem pointless as well. A bunch of guys running around kicking a ball in an open field while screaming HERE and MAN ON at each other just seems kind of crazy. But with time comes understanding.
Football is pointless. At the end of the game, the ball goes back in the bag and the field stays the way it was. Nothing is changed. Trying to move a ball down a hundred-yard field with a bunch of arbitrary rules is not the way a valid member of society spends his or her time.
And watching this is an even bigger waste of time. But I don’t recommend saying that out loud on a Saturday in Alabama.
Just like all sports, the “goal” is not the purpose. No one is happy about moving the football from one side to the other. The ref did that during warmup. People come and watch, and bite their nails and scream and jump and hug and dance, for the love of the game.
eSports has one major advantage over all traditional sports—anyone can play. Young, old, man, woman, fat, fit; a good game makes them all equal. And you can play at any time, from anywhere with internet.
I can’t play soccer anymore because I don’t get off of work until seven. It’s dark when I leave the office. There’s nowhere I can go to feed the hunger I have for the game. But when I get home, I eat my dinner, I clean up, I get everything ready for the next day, and then I go to war.
I log in and sync up with four of my closest friends, and together we strive for perfection. The rules are made up, the game is all conducted in computer simulations, but the fire is real.
eSports create a community that jumps borders of language, nationality, and geography. I can play with people from all across the world, and the rules are the same. I can work towards a goal with a group of players I will never know.
Players meet online, form teams, and practice together. They share their passion with a group of fellow gamers. They learn to work together, to read each other’s movements and complement them, to act in tandem to achieve a goal. Cooperation, sacrifice, and unity are just as crucial to success in eSports as they are in traditional sports.
There are many drawbacks to eSports, and I in no way argue that they should replace traditional sports. The health benefits alone are enough reason to pick up a traditional sport. And there are so many games trying to dominate the eSport market that picking one to excel at means you miss out on a lot. Newer versions will be released that may or may not live up to expectations.
But eSports is growing, and will continue to grow, because it serves a purpose that other sports cannot. A lone man can plug in from anywhere and instantly be part of a thriving game full of others who share his passion. The field, the teams, the referees are all waiting for him whenever he logs in. The hunger for competition, for community, and for perfection doesn’t have to be ignored any longer.
My team and I will never get any glory from our trials. We will likely never make any money, or win any prizes.
That’s not why we play.
Like in football, we perform a variety of complex maneuvers that have little relation to the goals of our lives. But I look forward to our games every night. I feel a kinship with these other players.
I am proud of what I can do and what we can do together.
And I thirst for perfection.
- David "Regnen" Austin
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Well written! I wish Ii could have seen this in the past to show people!
Man you are talking the true, The Esport will be so mutch bigger. I hope I will enjoy the feeling to be in the Esport matches in the future!