Although this past weekend did signify an amazing step forward for eSports in the United States, due to the airing of Heroes of the Dorm on ESPN2, not everyone was showing support for the gaming community. This was one of the first times that the entirety of a video game championship was aired on national television, and it included two collegiate teams playing Heroes of the Storm for paid college tuition. The contest ended in a 3-2 victory for UC Berkeley over Arizona State University, which aired from 9:30 p.m. to 12:24 a.m. EDT.
Twitter feeds were overflowing with a combination of excitement, confusion and even disgust. To some people, competitive gaming is not a sport and shouldn’t be displayed on the ESPN network. Others were more accepting and found the tournament entertaining even if they didn’t quite grasp what was going on. There was obviously a great divide between non-gamers on how eSports should be handled, with many willing to accept it on occasion and others completely berating it. One such radio personality, Colin Cowherd, decided it was his duty to speak out against gaming being aired on ESPN.
“Here’s what’s going to get me off the air,” said Cowherd. “If I am ever forced to cover guys playing video games, I will retire and move to a rural fishing village and sell bait. You want me out? Demand video game tournaments on ESPN because that’s what appeared on ESPN2 yesterday. Somebody lock the basement door at mom’s house and don’t let ’em out. I will quit this network if I am ever asked to cover that. I tolerated Donkey Kong. I’ll tell you what that was the equivalent of…of me putting a gun in my mouth and having to listen to that. Unbelievable. You know what the funny thing is? Listen to how intense they are. Those guys are totally into it.”
ESPORTS COMPETITORS ARE NOT ATHLETES
One major argument against competitive gaming is that it’s not a sport and the players aren’t athletes. This is a completely valid opinion and does carry some weight. According to Meriam Webster, an athlete is someone who is trained in a contest requiring physical strength, agility or stamina. Esports are not necessarily sports, but instead are competitions. All kinds of competitions are regularly aired on so called “sports networks.” The World Poker Tour has been regularly broadcast on ESPN over the years and technically professional poker is not a sport either. Neither is chess or the National Spelling Bee. Golf and bowling barely make the cut. If we define what should be showed on ESPN by requiring specific physical skill then a large portion of their programming would already be cut.
The real issue here is likely that many people still feel video games are counterintuitive to being in good physical shape. There’s still that mindset that people who play video games are skinny nerds or kids who have never grown up and still live in their parents’ basements. Neither of these things are any truer than stereotyping other social groups. The fact is that more people are becoming gamers than ever before, and this includes athletes and women, who were both historically only associated in small numbers. Being a gamer never meant that someone was unhealthy, but instead it initially attracted those types of people because of its complex nature. Now that it’s available to everyone, in almost any fashion, it’s incredibly ignorant to stereotype “gamers.”
Another negative mark against the Heroes of the Dorm tournament is the relatively low number of viewers. According to Sports TV Ratings, Heroes of the Dorm only brought in 96,000 viewers, which was significantly less than even the 309,000 that the MLS Seattle Sounder’s game brought in. These numbers don’t explain the entire story. Heroes of the Storm, and video games in general, has an incredibly broad audience that spans the entire world. Since Heroes of the Dorm was aired on ESPN2, only viewers with specific cable packages could enjoy the show. That means that anyone in Europe who wanted to watch was out of luck and even some providers in the United States and Canada didn’t grant access.
It’s nearly impossible to estimate what the ratings would have been if opened up to all interested audiences, but it likely would have been significantly higher. What airing the Heroes of the Dorm did succeed in doing, however, was introducing an entirely new audience to competitive gaming and showing even non-gamers how entertaining it can be. I personally had dozens of texts and tweets from friends and family who had no idea what was going on but were even more excited than I was. Despite the apparently alienation of global fans, what Blizzard Entertainment did by showing the tournament exclusively on cable television was promote eSports in a way that Twitch never could. Gamers go to Twitch to watch other gamers, which means there’s very little room for the audience to expand. When non-gamers have a positive reaction to eSports it paves the way for the industry to develop.
DON’T COMPARE THE TWO
It might seem a little hypocritical for me to condemn the comparing of eSports to sports, but it’s not fair to either industry. Just because competitive gaming is referred to as “eSports” doesn’t necessarily make it a sport. Comparing baseball to League of Legends is like comparing golf to chess. They both require training a unique skillset that’s generally only relevant to that particular game. Even though professional football is heavily reliant on physical strength and agility it doesn’t mean that there aren’t incredibly intelligent players and vice versa. However, it also doesn’t take a genius to block a linebacker or a bodybuilder to coordinate a team in Counter Strike. Each game has its own specific requirements to be successful at it and one set of attributes shouldn’t be looked down upon over another.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE AUDIENCE
In the end, it really doesn’t matter what a few talking heads think about either sports or eSports. Neither one of them would exist without an audience to watch them. The biggest difference between the two, however, is that a lot of professional “athletes” have forgotten that fact and they think the game is all about them. Professional gaming also suffers from a few “personalities,” but many also give back to their fans on a daily basis. Therefore, there’s no winner between eSports and sports because they’re such different mediums for audience entertainment. The real winners are the viewers who have the freedom to choose what succeeds simply by becoming passionate about what they watch.Related: Column, Competition, eSports, Heroes of the Dorm, Heroes of the Storm, Versus