Why I care about eSports, and why you should too
“Ugh, why would anybody want to watch somebody play a video game when they could go play it for themselves?” said that friend/relative every eSports fan has, missing the point by a spectacularly wide margin.
Not everyone who misunderstands eSports is quite so in-your-face about it. No matter how many millions of people around the world have started tuning in to watch professional gaming events, the majority of gamers still don't understand the appeal.
I sympathize with this because I used to be one of those people. Up until about 18 months ago I barely had any understanding that eSports even exist, and it's likely I also uttered the quote above at some point.
Over time, though, I've grown to appreciate what eSports brings to my life, and I've become a big fan. Few things light up my weekend like a big StarCraft 2 tournament. At the same time, I understand why people are confused by that. I've come to care about players and tournament results, but nobody will care about that when they're first starting out. So what should inspire you to start watching?
Heart of the game
To me, the soul of eSports is about studying game design. To play a game professionally is to push a game to its limits and to probe its every possibility, and in doing so you're looking at how the game was built in order to understand what you can get away with.
For instance, fighting game players study the animations of each character's moves in order to better understand the situations where each move should be used. This is the same data that the game developer is using to balance the game. As the viewer, if you're closely observing how these people play the game, you're actually studying the way the game was built to be played.
Watching these games will give you a more firm understanding of the game's design than you could ever get by playing a thousand matches of Street Fighter by yourself.
You should still play a thousand matches of Street Fighter though. Better yet, make it 10,000. I'm serious. The gaming industry today is so endlessly inundated with content that it can become so easy to migrate from game to game, spending only a few hours with each just to keep up with the cultural zeitgeist. We rarely get to understand the games we play before moving to the next.
It's like breaking up with someone who could be the love of your life after just a few dates. Or like a wine connoisseur downing 30 different shots of fine wine in ten minutes.
eSports are an opportunity to get back to a place where we're sticking with one game and truly learning to understand and appreciate it. Truly understanding any one game is more rewarding and more enriching than dabbling in a hundred.
Think back to the games you've really loved in your life. Were they the games you played once and enjoyed? Or were they the games you delved into as a kid with endless free time? Most people I've talked to about this have fond memories of some terrible game they were forced to master as a kid, because they couldn't afford a new one. And I think that proves the point.
Even terrible games can seem amazing, or at least worthwhile, if you devote enough time to mastering their intricacies.
The games are just better
These are games that are worth studying for years, and what better way to study them than through the excitement of live events. eSports combines the thrill of a live professional sporting event with the intellectual reward of studying Chess. The combination is unique and fascinating.
But more important than any of those things is the simple fact that these are our games. Our shared cultural passtimes. These aren't the games of the Civil War like baseball. These are the games that we play at the current moment in history, and the people who succeed at them are our peers and our champions. We're building these sports, these cultures, and these traditions. Everybody who is involved, from players to viewers, has a hand in shaping that.
Getting into any eSport is a daunting task. The games are deep, the history is complex and the language can be tough to understand as a newcomer. But it's worth the time and effort to get involved, enrich your appreciation of competitive games, and be a part of this moment in gaming history. Mastery should be rewarded.