keekerdc.com

essays and pithy thoughts

Problematic elitism in 'eSports'

in glhf

eSports needs to die if gaming is to progress.

A bold assertion, I realize – and please don’t misunderstand, it’s not the activities of the entire scene that I have a quarrel with, but rather what everyone pretends to call the scene and themselves: eSports, cyber- or e-athletes. What’s in a name? Why would I feel the need to take issue with the term used to describe the hardcore gaming scene, especially since it seems to be commonly adopted by those it’s intended to describe? My issue with the term ‘eSports’ lies within a wholy larger problem that is having and will continue to have a quite damaging effect on the scene as a whole – elitism.

The term ‘eSports’ tries to draw a broad overarching parallel between that which it only really meets halfway – the world of professional sports. Here lies the major dillema which the serious gaming scene has been trying to wrestle with for years now – what defines a sport and what qualities does a sport have over something defined as merely a game? And where does the competitive gaming scene sit on that spectrum? Lets take for sake of examining this further that football (soccer) is a sport and chess is a game. (I can’t imagine too many people taking issue with that.)

Chess involves one thing primarily and above all – mental prowess. Chess is an endeavor of the mind, focusing on planning, strategical foresight, tactical agility, careful calculation, and seeing and executing that winning combination of moves which results in victory: checkmate. However, you need only the physical ability of being able to move one piece weighing no more than a salt shaker a couple of inches every few seconds – no great display of physical agility or endurance here.

Football, in comparison, requires a great deal of mental prowess as well by all players on the field. This is also exhibited in long-term strategical planning, figuring out how they’ll manuever against certain other players, and having similar vision team-wide in seeing and acting on opportunities presented, moving themselves individually and as a unit around the field to create that opportunity for a goal: checkmate. However the physical prowess and conditioning necessary of participants in football far exceeds that of chess, and in the opinion of this writer is one of if not the key qualifier which separates sport from game.

I see sport as the true and full convergence of mind and body; all facets of a person’s being are called into employment while participating in a sport. Yes, professional athletes in any major sport are rarely noted as posessing particular eloquence or remarkable intelligence, however what they are and must be smart about is every little nuance of their sport of choice as well as how to keep their bodies in peak condition and how to best utilize their own unique physicality in the approach of their job. Conditioning, strength training, and agility are all primary concerns, but are ultimately useless if a competitor or team comes underprepared for a contest – you hear it all the time, “We just weren’t prepared enough for this game.”

Now the quandry that the term ‘eSports’ creates should lie quite exposed when viewed from this angle: the physicality involved in activites most widely recognized as sport is far and above what is required by gaming. Pushing a mouse around, clicking buttons and using a keyboard in a gaming setting demands some dexterity and a good deal of hand-eye coordination, but demands nothing towards a peak physical condition in order to achieve it at a high level. (I’ll delve no further into that point as it’d be far too easy to get blatantly offensive…) Gaming certainly requires more physically of a participant than chess does, however does that qualify it as a sport? Or does it rather lie inside a grey area between the two – and if it does, can we ignore it, call competitive gaming a sport and expect that to be swallowed by the mainstream? Within the intellectual realm, gaming certainly demands the same of participants as chess and football do of theirs; however this is where the comparison ends and, in my opinion, so does the validity of the term eSports.

Even setting all of the lofty philosophy behind the term aside, a simple pragmatic examination of the term sees it fail miserably. Those readers who consider themselves serious gamers, the next time you find yourself out getting a beer (or a soda for the kiddies) with your non-gamer buddies, please try and bring up casually that you participate in ‘eSports’ and see what kind of reaction you get. I have 1:1 odds on smirks with a 5:1 option on flat out laughter. This humor (at your expense) would be derived from the ‘air castle’ effect; quite simply and on its surface, the term just tries too hard, and at its core the term exhibits the detrimental elitism that generally (but with exceptions) plagues the upper crust of competitive gaming to the detriment of the entire scene.

This is the same elitism and arrogance which exhibits itself in sectioning off groups of teams in ‘elite’ divisions in online leagues, a pointless practice which creates cliques and cool kids clubs who use their CAL-Non-O status as a platform to piss on the heads of anyone ‘below’ them. This is the same elitism which is found every ‘postseason’ in online competitions, where all the recreational teams who could give a shit less about championships, really just want to play for the sake of playing, and comprise the majority of any game’s competitive community, are not given a scheduled match and are forced to sit out while the gaming aristocracy has their little playoff for four, five, sometimes six weeks. This is the elitism that is justified in the name of eSports, a term that gives license for individual players and teams to be exclusionary, closed off, and stifled, and that welcomes community growth not for the sake of greater competition but only to serve as a larger pedestal to scream for more prize money for themselves at LAN tournaments.

‘eSports’ says to the casual gamer that what the eSports participant does is somehow different as well as inherently more valuable than what they do. I participate in eSports, I am a ‘cyberathlete’ – you’re just a gamer. This distinction does not have a place in sports. Participants at all levels are considered ‘athletes’ – from the Hall of Famer down to the Little Leaguer, they’re all athletes. While this goes unnoticed and is simply how we all consider sports participants, its important to note that an athlete is an athlete regardless of the sport or relative proficiency. Any distinction of proficiency is not part of the term, but is left to outside qualifiers, such as ‘professional,’ ‘semi-pro,’ or ‘recreational.’ Again, regardless of level, an athlete is an athlete – it’s inclusionary and encourages participation. eSports is an exclusionary world, flat out discourages participation by the very way the scene chooses to separate and present itself as an exception to and superior to the rest of the gaming world, and is exclusionary even in the way that prominent leagues structure themselves and make new teams and new players feel incredibly second rate and excluded from the full experience.

If professional gaming has a chance in hell of existing on a stable, long term basis, ‘eSports’ and all of the elitism attached to it must be kicked to the curb without hesitation, and we all need to stop pretending that what we all participate here is somehow something greater than gaming at a high competitive level. It would be for the greater good of all involved – the casual gamer, the competitive gamer, and the mainstream onlooker – if we spent as much effort towards the sharing and the propagation of what we all enjoy so much as we do trying to make competitive gaming seem like a highly exclusive country club.

The first step towards that is getting rid of the notion of eSports and being honest and real about just what it is we do and how we define ourselves: we are gamers and we participate in gaming – nothing more, and nothing less. We can begin to build a community on that premise that has the potential to stand much stronger than one built on the faulty premise of eSports – a premise that engages both the expansive casual gaming community as well as opens the door towards encouraging wider participation at any level of gaming. Efforts towards expanding the gaming community as a whole will go further towards helping secure a solid foundation to build professional gaming on rather than trying to promote such a ridiculous notion as ‘eSports’ on it’s own weak merit.