I have been covering eSports for a little over a year now (eight months, if you only count my tenure here at MMOGames). In that time, I have written about the DotA 2 International, the 2015 SMITE World Championship, all the eSports tournaments at Blizzcon 2014, the 2014 League of Legends World Championship, the 2014 Guild Wars 2 World Championship, the 2014 DotA 2 ESL One at Madison Square Garden, and (at the moment of this writing) the 2015 Red Bull Battle Grounds. I also work for GameGrin, GameOn Magazine, and Hi-Rez studios as a freelance writer. In about a month, I will be in Los Angeles covering e3. eSports is my living. I know everyone in the business, and the business pays my bills.
Tuesday morning, a YouTube clip of Colin Cowherd (host of The Herd on ESPN Radio and ESPNU) made its way to my desk. In it, Cowherd tears apart eSports and reduces it to nothing more than an activity for basement-dwellers.
“Here’s what’s going to get me off the air,” he says. “If I am ever forced to cover ‘guys playing video games,’ I will retire and move to a rural fishing village and sell bait.”
He continues. “Thanks to a partnership with Blishure–Blizzard–there was a ‘League of Legend’ battle for two and a half hours yesterday on ESPN2. And while many of you watched Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller call the Rocks/Mavs game on TNT, ‘artosis’ and ‘Day9’ called the Heroes of the Storm game on ESPN2 yesterday.”
First, ESPN would never force Colin Cowherd to cover eSports. He doesn’t like them, he doesn’t specialize in them, and there is a large pool of broadcasters, journalists, and pundits that would do a better job than him. ESPN would never think to approach him–in much the same way CBS would never ask John Madden to commentate on The Masters.
Second, his utter disregard for facts is insulting and unprofessional–a slap in the face to both the eSports community and journalists everywhere. Before I set out to write this piece, I made sure I got the names right. I Googled Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller. I reviewed the Heroes of the Dorm footage. I even researched Colin Cowherd himself, to make sure I knew plenty about him before I ripped him apart. Cowherd’s lack of research–from his mispronunciation of Blizzard (a billion dollar company) to his multiple mispronunciations of the tournament–is shameful.
Third, his portrayal of gamers, nerds, and eSports culture is misinformed and grossly out-dated. His statements make him look like a bigot–and he fails, at times, to even grasp his own jokes and references. They seem to come from nowhere. At 0:25, we hear a sound clip from Revenge of the Nerds, a movie about (wait for it) accepting nerds. At 2:10, he says, “Yeah. I tagged out at Harry Potter,” a statement that still puzzles me–even after about fifteen reviews. I guess the second highest-grossing book and movie series of all time (second only to Fifty Shades of Grey and Disney’s Marvel franchise) is too closeted and childish for him. And at 2:35, he aims two loose jabs at Nintendo and Namco. Preceding a clip of Pac-Man death audio, he says “I tolerated Donkey Kong, but I’ll tell you what that was the equivalent of there. [That was the equivalent] of me having to put a gun in my mouth and listen to that.” His statements are null, misguided, and offensive. He makes light of suicide and calls gamers basement dwellers from “Mom’s house.”
And he is wrong. Games and gamers are everywhere, and eSports tournaments are among the largest live events in the world. League of Legends sees at least 30 million unique players every month, and the League of Legends World Championships last year saw more viewers than the NBA Finals and the MLB World Series. The first ever SMITE World Championship saw a prize pool of over $2.6 million; the first place team received $1.3 million, almost as much as this year’s PGA Master’s winner. And the 2014 DotA 2 International held a final prize pool of $10.93 million, making it the largest video game prize ever.
Gamers are not overweight, pimply failures that live with their parents. They aren’t children. Almost everyone plays video games in some form or fashion–whether it’s Call of Duty or Candy Crush Saga. They have seeped into our social consciousness; they have replaced our summer blockbusters, and their mascots are as recognizable as Ronald McDonald or Tony the Tiger. Broadcasts of eSports tournaments are the next logical evolution for games. And people like Colin Cowherd that aggressively reject them are seemingly no better than the pundits that rejected integrated baseball in the 50s.
The Silver Lining
Last year, ESPN president John Skipper famously called eSports “not a sport” when asked about Amazon’s acquisition of Twitch. This, when coupled with Cowherd’s remarks Monday, might lead one to assume that ESPN, as a whole, is slow to embrace competitive video gaming. But this isn’t the truth. Sports media everywhere is beginning to embrace eSports, and broadcasters around the world are reeling at Cowherd’s statements. Scott Smith, a competitive gamer working with Blizzard and ESPN during the event, tweeted this Monday:
— Scott Smith (@SirScoots) April 27, 2015
And, as much as I have bashed him, Cowherd’s broadcast Monday might have helped eSports more than you might think. As an eSports journalist–someone who pays the bills writing about video games–I see a silver lining in Cowherd’s rant. True, his remarks are lazy, unprofessional, belittling, and offensive, but I don’t think they’re entirely evil. After all, Colin Cowherd is a pundit for ESPN, and any exposure from a major sports outlet is good exposure for eSports, regardless of its stance or attitude. The YouTube video I watched Tuesday had over 140k views. It will easily have over 200k views by the end of this week. And news sites everywhere–from Forbes to The Daily Dot–are talking about Cowherd’s out-of-line speech. The truth: eSports is growing, like it or not, and the more we talk about it, the more it grows. Colin Cowherd can’t stop it. He can only fan the flame.
Related: Community, eSports, Event (Real Life), Heroes of the Dorm, Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends
To date, Cowherd has neither apologized nor attempted to correct his mistakes. He has yet to further acknowledge the clip on Twitter, and he refuses to mention the tournament again on his radio show. Frankly, I don’t expect him to. He has done his job. And as long as he keeps doing it, I might be able to keep doing mine.