What to call ourselves?
The debate on the details of the term we should use to describe this thing we do with the video games and the tournaments and the money and the streams is as old as the scene itself. Quite frankly I’m sick of the debate. This is a question that has an objective answer, and I hope it’s the last time I or anybody feels compelled to write about it. I’ve come to a conclusion, and I’m going to share with you how I came to it.
The field has already been narrowed by Darwinian means - there’s only a handful of pretty similar terms that people use around the scene - but clearly there’s problems people have with any given front-runner that prevented a clear winner from emerging. We must first come up with a set of criteria through which we can jam all our contestants. This, to me was:
- a term that’s already in wide use. There’s little sense in pulling a new term out of thin air and try to jam it down people’s throats.
- one word is better than multiple. Honestly, the fewer syllables the better.
- it doesn’t try to shirk the sheer nerd factor implicit in what we do. Embrace it, don’t fight it.
- it doesn’t seem like a corporate brand name. Should be grammatically correct and acceptable for inclusion in a dictionary, not an application for a trademark.
- Does not make implications about the ability level of participants - is inclusive, can be applied broadly.
Our contestants, listed from worst to first:
Does not clear #5; in fact it slams right into it. If you use this, I do not think ‘professional’ means what you think it means. It has far more to do with how involved participants are - specifically their ability to devote themselves full-time to said activity because they’re making a living from it - than it does with the ability level of participants. Many people are a part of this scene who do not make a living from it; in fact I’d say you’re pretty lucky if you do.
It does not clear #2 either. Six syllables. There are far easier terms to be used that come with less explanatory baggage. This could easily be interpreted as people that get paid to just sit and play video games; and corporate games testers are nowhere near in the same boat as people in our scene.
Ok, a bit better, but still a mouthful at six syllables. If I used this term here on the blog, I’d have a keyboard shortcut built to type it out.
At the least, it does clear #5; no specific assumptions are made about the ability level of participants.
From here on out, we’ve got derivatives of this term - a contraction of electronic sports.
The main argument I’ve found for this spelling is largely historical. Some folks decided a decade ago that this is the way it should be written.
Where the justification comes from to capitalize the S, I’ve not managed to figure out. How contracting an adjective and a common noun results in the language equivalent of a camel is beyond me.
This may have come from the German-speaking folks at the ESL; but it’s still a practice that’s best left to marketing products, not giving a general label to a scene that exists organically without a singular corporate controller. Simply put, there’s no words in the English language that have medial capitals; those that exist are proper nouns that serve as a trademark or brand name.
What do you do when you’d like to use it as the first word in a sentence? How many editors around the scene have rewritten a sentence to get around the awkward problem ‘ESports’ presents?
Historical longevity does not excuse it’s continued use; it’s plainly incorrect from a grammatical sense, and there are better alternatives.
The hyphen is mildly annoying but is far more passable than a medial capital; it represents the contraction in a far more natural way, and is a common noun.
The hyphen could also be justified as a pronunciation aid; but this I think is unnecessary. There are other words that have a long ‘e’ as the first syllable of a word: evangelize, ephemeral, epiphany come to mind.
If you use this, I suppose it can be given a pass, but I think in the long run, the most logical form of this word is…
Being a single character away from ‘sports’ is a symbolism that I don’t think should be shrugged off. After all, what goes on here is just a rough approximation of sports.
No, I don’t want to dive into that debate either; one that I think is far sillier than the one I’m dissecting currently. Starcraft, Counter-strike, DotA - when undertaken in a more organized fashion, produces all the symptoms of a sport.
It’s short, it’s represented as a common noun, it’s perfectly easy to pronounce (is there really any danger in people saying ‘ehh sports’), it doesn’t chop the visual flow of a sentence with an unnecessary hyphen, and it communicates quickly just what all this is.
In most circles the hyphen in Counter-strike - one that’s part of a brand name and is very much real - is one that’s shrugged off or forgotten by a great many esports writers. Why we cling to it desperately in one term and not the other, I can’t understand.
From a grammatical standpoint, there’s plenty of words previously contracted and hyphenated that have since dropped their hyphens. As ‘english marches on’ the prognosis isn’t good for our friend, the hyphen. As progressive and forward thinking we all imagine we are being involved with this new sporting frontier, the hyphen is backwards.
You may think I’m splitting hairs here, and maybe so; but that’s what issues of grammar and typography is all about. We’re not just supposed to find any old way about communicating a thought, but we’re tasked with finding the best way of doing so, and when it comes to the noun that takes up that task for our scene, ‘esports’ is it.
So, let’s just use that and be done with it, shall we?