E-Sports: a new form of athleticism

Aidan Backus, Online Editor

A keyboard pounds, a mouse clicks, a crowd cheers. At first, the idea of competitive gaming, which calls itself e-sports, might seem ridiculous, but it has been revolutionized in the past year or so, and has begun to take on traits of other American mass media: big money, endless hours of preparation, corporate endorsements and obsessive fanbases.

E-sports are competitive video games, largely shooters, such as Counter-Strike, real-time strategy games, such as StarCraft, and even some massively multiplayer games, such as World of Warcraft. Teams of players who train for hours upon hours every day face off in large tournaments for fame, cash prizes, and the ability to continue with their lifestyle.

Though e-sports has been around for almost as long as gaming itself, it first took off as “mainstream media” in South Korea where the Korean e-Sports Association (KeSPA) was established as a branch of their Ministry for Culture, Sports, and Tourism in 2000. As such, Seoul has become a mecca of gaming.

Since then, it has spread around the world with phenomena such as the World Cyber Games, tournaments as parts of larger events, such as PAX Prime and Dreamhack, and events for individual games, such as Starcraft 2’s World Championship Series.

Despite raised eyebrows from fans of traditional sports, video games have started to become accepted as sports in their own right.

“I think e-sports are sports because they require teamwork, dexterity, fast reflexes and strategy,” senior Talon Vo explained.

Yet until this past year, large-scale competitions hadn’t really taken off in the United States. In July, Dota 2’s The International raised a crowdsourced prize pool of $11 million, $5 million of which went to the winning team, Newbee. Around the same time, multi-gaming organization Cloud 9 was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

“The Air Force Reserve is very excited to start this adventure with Cloud 9,” Col. Christopher Nick, the commander of the Air Force Reserve’s Recruiting Service, said in Cloud 9’s press release. “As the cyberspace mission continues to grow … we continuously search for Citizen Airmen with certain skillsets, such as those possessed by online gamers.”

The Air Force Reserve has been searching for young men with good hand-eye coordination and reaction times to serve as pilots of planes and drones. They believe that gamers, including Cloud 9’s fans, have these abilities and more, and will be valuable resources in 21st-century warfare.

But it’s not just a question of money; talent has been flowing into North America from South Korea and China, where it’s not uncommon practice for huge media corporations, such as Samsung and Azubu, to sponsor teams and players.

In the League of Legends scene, for example, three of the five players on the hugely popular Team Solo Mid are immigrants, with Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider and Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg from Europe, and Jangsik “Lustboy” Ham from Korea. In addition, the entirety of the team LMQ has moved from China.

“I was never a fan of LMQ,” senior Manuel Barrientos said. “However, they really brought a challenge to NA [North American] players, which will hopefully make NA more intense.”

Strong distinctions remain between physical sports and e-sports, however, and these differences are not likely to go away any time soon. In particular, e-sports have drawn criticism from more “traditional” athletes for not being very physically demanding.

“We are civilized people, even though we just play video games for 20 hours a day out of 24,” laughed player Ainslie “frommaplestreet” Wyllie in an online tour of his team’s house.

In addition, students often find that they need to play the game they watch in order to understand what’s going on.

This restricts viewership of e-sports significantly; despite improvements in commentary, knowledge of in-game events is neither common knowledge nor necessarily intuitive.

However, the need for experience might not necessarily be a bad thing, as players often enjoy learning tactics from pro-level gaming. Some fans cite the emphasis on strategy as a major reason for both playing and watching video games.

“It’s the combination of skill, tactics and fun that’s exciting,” senior Harold Bettencourt said. “When I play with my friends, we work as a team and call shots to reach our objectives.”