This month provided me with an interesting juxtaposition. On Labor Day weekend, I had the opportunity to catch my first liveStarcraft tournament at the Toronto Qualifiers, the match featuring Flash and Snute. It was a really epic come-from-behind effort from the veteran Brood War champion, and I was amazed by how the crowd of approximately 1000 were energized by the spectacle. This was held in the middle of Toronto’s main Convention Centre, amidst the rest of a Comic-Con that gets over 100,000 visitors, and still you could hear the roars in every corner of the massive room.
A few weeks later, I was 50 feet below the ground, sitting in the Lower Bowl of Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, New York. It was third down for the visiting team, when the crowd attempts to get it’s loudest in an attempt to hamper the opposing quarterback from signaling the rest of the offence. Unable to get the play off in time due to the deafening noise emanating from the boisterous, jersey-clad spectators, a yellow flag was thrown in the air and the Miami Dolphins were charged with a Delay of Game Penalty, the direct result of myself and 70,000 other people aligned with one goal in mind.
On the trip home, I began to think (communication through speaking having become impossible, my voice having evaporated from 4 hours of screaming, Sam Adams and cigars) about these two experiences. What did they have in common, what sets them apart, and will e-sports ever reach the heights of the existing athletic sporting establishment? I’m going to try to address these questions over the next few weeks. In that vein, let’s look at a couple of things that they have in common.
Established sports and e-sports both provide the same (probably futile) wish-fulfillment fantasy
One thing I’ve found is that your age drives how you watch and follow sports. As a 10 year old, I dreamed of being able to play hockey at the level of Wayne Gretzky, as a 20 year old I thought, perhaps I still had a chance to play baseball as well as a utility infielder. When I hit 30, I knew I would never make the major leagues, and at 40 I realized that the players I referred to as ‘old and washed up’ were 5 years younger than me.
With that in mind, so much of being a fan is the idea– no matter how realistic–that one day you will be up on that stage, kicking the game-winning field goal or sinking that birdie. And that wish-fulfillment is only available if you, yourself are playing the game that you are watching. E-Sports is particularly well positioned as it may actually be cheaper and more convenient to buy your kid a gaming rig and Heart of the Swarm than it is to put them in hockey for a year.
Eventually the sad reality settles in for the vast majority of us. I can’t throw a football like Aaron Rogers, dunk a basketball like Blake Griffin or drive a golf ball like Tiger Woods. You know what else I can’t do? Play Starcraft like Taeja. No matter how hard I practice, I will never be able to compete with the professionals listed above. But even now, a small part of me still believes that perhaps one day, if I get the breaks, one day I might have a shot at a Senior PGA win – or theHearthstone World Championship.
All sports have to learn to crawl before they can run.
A $250,000 prize for the winner of the Hearthstone championship! Starcraft champions in South Korea are treated like gods! The DOTA 2 championship was broadcast on ESPN! Throw away those pads and helmets because e-sports have arrived!
Well, not quite.
Peyton Manning rolls up $250,000 and smokes it. World Cup Soccer players are treated like gods in every country. You know what else ESPN has broadcast? Cup Stacking.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not belittling e-sports, I’m just trying to put it in the context of where it stands compared to established sports, key word being established. In the grand scheme of things, e-sports is very new to the scene (to put it in perspective Tom Watson, who still competes in PGA golf tournaments and finished 2nd in the British Open as recently as 2009 turned professional the year before PONG was released). A sport needs time to grow and become part of the public consciousness.
Baseball’s National League didn’t start until 1869, 23 years after the first early recorded game. And this was with the assistance of the American Civil War, when the game was played by soldiers and spread across the country by the varied state regiments who went home in 1865 carrying bat and ball. The National Football League was founded in 1922, and despite the sports popularization during the Kennedy presidency, the first Super Bowl in 1967 did not sell out. In fact, no complete video of that game still exists because the networks didn’t think to record it – take that, all you Hearthstone players complaining about a lack of observer mode.
E-sports is still in it’s infancy, so be patient. In the meantime, think of how cool it is that we are the equivalent of those fans in 1890 watching Cy Young pitch his first game.
Next Week: How e-sports is radically different from established sports and it’s challenges to become mainstream.
Header Image Source:
Sonntag, Lawrence. “Dramatic at IEM Finals StarCraft Tourney.” One World Sports. 16 March 2014.
You can follow David on Twitter @DavidJasonToy.