The President of ESPN once made a remark that eSports, or the widespread phenomenon of professional video gaming which has swept the world, are not real sports, but competition. “Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition. Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports,” said ESPN’s John Skipper. People agree and disagree, citing the necessary teamwork and communication necessary in all sports as the key values of professional gaming, while others diminish the events based on their lack of physical exertion. Both sides have their redeeming arguments, but I propose a new argument; who cares?
In two days, the League of Legends World Championship Finals will occur in Seoul, South Korea. Less than a week ago, the semi-finals occurred in Busan, bringing in over 1 million concurrent viewers on just one online streaming site. One of the two teams competing in the finals is sponsored by Samsung, who you may recognize from your fancy smartphone or any other of the numerous Samsung electronics that are around your home. They will be competing live in Sangam Stadium, which some may recognize as one of the many stadiums used to host the 2002 Fifa World Cup, for a prize of one million dollars. The players live in group homes with their teams and practice upwards of 8 hours a day, not counting meetings for strategy, planning, and scrimmages with other teams.
League of Legends isn’t the only game either. LoL, the shorthand most players used, is just one game in a new and popular genre of games known as MOBAs, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas. Other games in this genre include Dota 2, whose major tournament, the International 4, gave the victors a prize pool of over ten million dollar. Now, professional gamers are recognized as athletes by the United States government, and are given visas to live and work in the United States. There is now an industry built around professional gaming, and its here to stay.
This brings me back to my first point; who cares? Why does it matter that the sports world is hesitant to accept professional gaming as a “real sport?” ESPN is showing highlights of the League of Legends World Championships semi-finals on their website. Professional gamers make more than some professional athletes. Even the government recognizes playing video games as legitimate sources of income. So let ESPN have their opinions. We’ll just keep playing our games.