I will always remember the first time I played goaltender for my minor hockey team. I was new to the position, but had grown up idolizing the stars on television and had a rudimentary understanding of the statistics and measurements. It was the first game of the season, so the league hadn’t balanced out the players, and our team was clearly overstocked with the best of our age group. We destroyed the opposition, and my family was ecstatic, praising me and celebrating all the way to Sunday dinner at my grandparents.
My grandmother was thrilled that we won, but my grandfather asked me a simple question: “You won 13-1. How many shots did the other team have?” I had to tell the truth, they had only taken one shot on me, and it had gotten past.
“Well, that’s not very good.”
The celebrations stopped. Sure we’d won, but I had been carried; I just didn’t know the terminology, yet.
I always identify that as the exact moment when I realized my destiny was to be a hockey fan, not a fantastic hockey player. Still, it taught me something that I take to this day. It’s not enough to win, but to also ensure that you were a positive contributor to that victory. You don’t have to be the star, but you shouldn’t be the weak link in the chain. It’s an approach I take to gaming now.
There was another similarity between my minor hockey experience and e-sports gaming. I didn’t represent my neighborhood, or school, we were sponsored by local companies. I remember our yellow jerseys-not with fondness-but detached bemusement. Waking up early in the morning and doing our best for a local carpet cleaning company. But I always thought to myself…who’s going to get bloody for carpet cleaning?
Keeping this long ago child’s tale in mind, let’s talk about how athletic sports are in a superior position to e-sports.
Who’s going to get bloody for gaming peripherals?
As a huge Buffalo Bills fan, I have come to develop antipathy for certain sports franchises (yes, I’m from Toronto, but we’re part of the Bills region, and I count us as being a natural extension of the geographic fan base even if we’re across the border, so suck it, Bon Jovi). This is born of a number of circumstances… co-habitation of the same division, history, envy, jealousy, all the seven deadly sins. But my hatred of one sports franchise transcends all others. I will not name them specifically, for they are sore losers, obnoxious winners, and extraordinary cheaters. Let’s pretend they come from a place called “Schmassachusetts”, and their leader is Rahm Grady.
I despise them, and the best thing is, when I am at the supermarket before the game, everyone in line also hates them. We talk about different ways we hate them, and all the terrible things they represent about humanity. If we are playing them this week, and I am talking to my friends, we talk about how we pray to our various deities that we will defeat them this week (spoiler alert… we never do). Though this may seem childish, it’s a big motivation for most sports fans. Bragging rights. My city is better than yours. My country is better than yours. That means I’m better than you.
If you’ve followed sports, it’s quite likely that you’ve gotten in a shouting match with some visiting fan, hopefully just playful trash talk, but maybe more. They probably got under your skin a little bit, but you probably did the same to them. I never get that feeling watching e-sports. I kind of like all the players, and don’t get emotionally upset if one of them wins. Perhaps it’s because I am not cheering for a geographical entity, or maybe because, aside from the largest tournaments, a team or player’s fans don’t come across each other outside of the internet. Either way, while I admire the skill of those playing, often I just don’t care who wins.
This isn’t to say certain athletic sports don’t suffer the same issues. Watching golf is very similar to me to watching Starcraft – whether it’s Rory McElwoods or Tiger Roy winning, I’m not going to go to sleep agonizing over a missed putt, no matter the outcome. The same goes for Auto Racing and MMA, though the sheer brutality of the latter can keep you engaged, despite your gentler natures. But Auto Racing and MMA are niche sports, and golf seems to be retreating back into its own pre-Tiger spot as an often-played, little watched pastime, compared to the big 3 of football, baseball and basketball, at least.
Until I can go to a local arena and watch the Toronto Ultralisks go up against the Boston Siege Tanks, I’m just not going to be all-in. Call me pre-modern but Team Super Awesome Gaming Mouse doesn’t inspire me the same way.
I’m never going to get a tax credit for putting my kid on a League of Legends team.
My wife and I are expecting our first baby next month and so I decided to check out all of the various tax incentives for breeding. I was surprised to find out that we get a tax break if we put our child in a fitness activity, or even an arts class. It made me wonder why the government is paying me to have my child put on a mask, strap blades to their feet and shoot rubber disks at other children. Oh, who am I kidding, I didn’t wonder… I knew why. It’s because it’s good for them!
With the rise of Hearthstone, LoL, and other e-sports powerhouses, I have heard people talk about high school gaming teams overtaking the sports teams in popularity in the next decade or two. This would be a good way to address the point I made earlier about needing an emotional connection to a team. After all, college football existed before professional football… maybe high school e-sports could give rise to high profile college gaming and then a geographic professional scene. The problem is that the majority of parents would prefer that their child go out and exercise their legs, not stay home and exercise their fingers.
When was the last time you heard a parent lament that they played so many more video games as a kid and nowadays all their sons and daughters want to do is go out and shoot hoops? The perception is that we are a society raising overweight, over-gaming, over-stimulated couch potatoes that need to be rolled out into a safely supervised park and run through wind-sprints in order to ensure they don’t anchor a TLC show one day. While gaming isn’t the only factor in all of this, it’s certainly one of the top suspects and, as such, isn’t afforded the high ground that the thousands year-old pursuit of athletic excellence occupies.
These are a couple of the challenges that e-sports face in order to become truly mainstream. But challenges can be overcome and in my next column, I will talk about how e-sports can not only minimize these, but use them to leapfrog past athletics in this century.