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For the Love of God Stop Calling it “E-sports”

by on April 11, 2015
 

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For The Love Of God Stop Calling It e-Sports

For a dark and shameful portion of my life, I worked as a retail clerk at a major national chain (I won’t name them here, but it rhymes with vest guy).  When I’m forced to admit to as much on my resume, I don’t say I worked as a salesman, or a sales clerk.  Nope.  I was a sales associate.  It even said so on my nametag!  I called myself a sales associate because I was embarrassed to call myself a sales clerk or to say “I rang up games at Best Buy.”  When professional gamers refer to themselves as athletes, or what they do as an e-sport, it smacks of the same kind of embarrassment.  It doesn’t raise gaming, it lowers it.

Webster’s dictionary defines sports as… well, I’m not concerned with what Webster’s dictionary says.  I say that just to avoid a fruitless semantics battle.  The definition of sports was created long before gaming was around, so it may not be entirely appropriate here, and there are several definitions.  We do have a colloquial sense of what is meant by sports.  To give us something to work with, sports typically involve physical coordination, use of several muscle groups, hand eye coordination, cardio-vascular endurance, muscle strength, physical exertion, competition, and intense focus.

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Like several activities (darts, bowling, chess, shooting, fishing, competitive eating), gaming is in something of a gray area.  It certainly requires strategy, physical coordination, competition, and mental focus.  While hand eye coordination comes into play, physical coordination is iffy.  Gaming uses a relatively small amount of muscle groups, even compared to iffy sports such as bowling.  Gaming does not involve cardiovascular endurance, nor does it require muscle strength.  It does require some level of physical exertion, but so does anything we do.  What is the threshold for physical exertion?  Gaming certainly requires more from a physical perspective than chess, but far far less than something like lacrosse.  Pokémon requires less exertion than Smash Bros Brawl, which requires less than StarCraft.  Is one more of a sport than the other?  Plus, while I’m not here to mock anyone, there are many gamers who are not especially impressive physical specimens.  No offense to Justin Wong, but Jesse Owens he ain’t.

There are many elements of gaming that do not apply to any other sport.  Digital manipulation of an object of character is not applicable to any sport I can think of.  While most sports strive to create a level playing field among players with a narrow range of acceptable equipment, gaming has a wide array of digital equipment.  (The Patriots balls were a huge issue of contention.  In the meantime, competitive fighting games allow vastly different “equipment” as in characters and weapons.  In some games access to “equipment” is limited by money).  Sports all involve the direct consequences of physical activity that is not interpreted through electronics. Sports, to my knowledge, do not allow for random elements, unless you count referees, while many games do allow some element of randomness.  Sports can not have glitches, unless you count referees or we’re in the Matrix, while that is always a possibility in a game.

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Think of something like a battle of the bands.  This would require basically all of the skills required by pro-gaming.  There’s competition, physical coordination, physical exertion, and mental focus.  Like a game, it requires a great deal of practice and skill.  Yet, band members do not refer to themselves as musical athletes, or refer to their activity as music sports.  Why?

Because musicians are cool.  Rather, musicians are perceived as cool by society.  Playing music is seen as a socially acceptable activity by society.  Musicians are revered as idols.  So, there is no need for musicians to try and make their chosen hobby/career cooler by association with a cooler activity.

Calling It An E-Sport Is Holding It Back

The reason I say pro-gaming isn’t a real sport and the term cyber athlete is ridiculous is not to insult anyone, or denounce pro gamers.  As a guy who has spent a huge chunk of my life playing games, and is currently writing about gaming, that would be hypocritical.  But, when gamers refer to themselves as athletes, it smacks of desperation.  It’s like when I used to call myself a sales associate.

When you refer to pro gaming (I concede that’s not the best term either) as a sport, you’re inevitably going to draw negative comparisons to sports.  By claiming it as a sport, you’re inevitably going to make people think of what gaming lacks compared to a real sport.  You’re going to get eye rolls at best, and insults at worst from mainstream society.

Instead, how about we let pro gaming be its own thing?  Let it be its own activity, with its own skillset, its own nuances, its own value, and its own identity.  Let it be something that doesn’t need to beg for legitimacy by associating itself with gaming.  If you want it to be accepted YOU need to accept it, and stop pretending it’s something it isn’t.

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  • April 19, 2015 at 5:57 PM

    ‘Webster’s dictionary defines sports as… well, I’m not concerned with what Webster’s dictionary says. I say that just to avoid a fruitless semantics battle.’

    I’m just going to stop you right there. You clearly had a set up in your mind of how you were going to make your argument. Then realized that the definition completely went against your argument. Here let me help you out in the definition part.

    From Webster.
    5. Diversion of the field, as fowling, hunting, fishing, racing, games, and the like, esp. when money is staked.
    These players earn more money than any one of us (contributors to GotGame and affiliates) would even dream to earn. Considering the average salary is roughly $66,000. (http://www.simplyhired.com/salaries-k-professional-gamer-jobs.html) With the top paid gamers raking in roughly $200,000-$500,000 a year. Since most of the money is given to them from tournament pools, sponsors, and even fans it’s clear to see that money is staked in professional gaming.

    Wait… before you say anything. Let’s consult our good friends at Merriam-Webster. The dictionary of choice when I was in Jr. High.

    From M-W:
    a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other

    Find one video game that is played professionally that does not have a full ruling list behind them. Two prove to me that video games does not contain ‘certain physical activities.’ Activities that players practice hours and hours a day on perfecting. To the same extent a football team runs the same play over and over again in practice.

    I’m sure you’re stubborn and you REALLY want to prove to me that there are no possible way that a video game can be a sport. Let me drop these links for you.

    http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/07/12/us-government-recognizes-league-of-legends-lsc-as-sport

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2014/06/20/illinois-college-makes-league-of-legends-a-varsity-sport-offers-scholarships/

    http://www.p4rgaming.com/league-of-legends-now-official-olympic-sport/

    e-Sports are a thing. There is no difference between an League of Legends Pro to a Basketball Pro except for what they are spending hours practicing on to pay their bills. Players have even succumbed to stress.

    http://kotaku.com/league-of-legends-pro-attempted-suicide-after-tournamen-1542880793

    Hey there’s apparently a government body in Korea called the Korea eSports Association!

    Since you like analogies. You saying that these games shouldn’t be called e-sports is like walking up to the owner of a restaurant while cooking and saying he isn’t a chef because he isn’t wearing a big white hat.

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    • April 20, 2015 at 3:20 PM

      “I’m just going to stop you right there. You clearly had a set up in your mind of how you were going to make your argument. Then realized that the definition completely went against your argument. Here let me help you out in the definition part.”

      You do realize that my computer has a backspace key… right? If I realized my set up wasn’t going to work, why on Earth would I leave it there?

      Before you ripped my quote kicking and screaming from its context, I explained why I didn’t want to use the dictionary definition. That is an argument that is terrible and frequently used, and I wanted to smother it in the crib. But alas, I failed.

      When was the definition of sports created? Does this definition predate electronic games? If so is it still relevant? Websters is devoid of social context. But if you love the dictionary definition so much, then fine.

      “a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other”

      Now explain to me why, by that definition, Scrabble is not a sport. Rules? Check. Competition? Check. Physical activity? Check. And, if you try to tell me that moving tiles doesn’t count as physical activity, then clearly it matters how demanding the activity is, and football is certainly FAR more demanding than Smash Bros.

      Is Chess a sport? Checkers? Tic Tac Toe? Dominos? Marbles? Operation? A belching contest? Hot dog eating contest? Synchronized swimming? Darts? Rock paper scissors? Battle of the Bands? Texas Hold Em? Iron chef? A ventriloquism contest? Extreme ironing? All of those meet the incredibly broad definition you present. That definition is broad enough to include virtually any competitive activity. Yet in our society we differentiate between sports and other forms of organized competition. That is why I said the definition was not worth discussing.

      “From Webster.
      5. Diversion of the field, as fowling, hunting, fishing, racing, games, and the like, esp. when money is staked.
      These players earn more money than any one of us (contributors to GotGame and affiliates) would even dream to earn. Considering the average salary is roughly $66,000. (http://www.simplyhired.com/salaries-k-professional-gamer-jobs.html) With the top paid gamers raking in roughly $200,000-$500,000 a year. Since most of the money is given to them from tournament pools, sponsors, and even fans it’s clear to see that money is staked in professional gaming. ”

      Context is key. You focus clearly on the money part, and completely ignore the “of the field” part. But, even if you ignore that, the argument still makes no sense at all. They make more money than me? What does that have to do with anything? A dentist makes more money than me. Does that make dentistry a sport? Are olympic athletes (who do not earn money) not athletes? Is Bill Gates the world’s biggest sports star? Totally irrelevant.

      “e-Sports are a thing. There is no difference between an League of Legends Pro to a Basketball Pro except for what they are spending hours practicing on to pay their bills. Players have even succumbed to stress. ”

      Again, irrelevant. Stand up comedy is stressful. Not a sport. SATs are stressful. Not a sport. Almost every job on the Earth is stressful. Not sports. Speaking of jobs, lots of people spend hours doing them to pay their bills. Yet, they’re not all sports. There is a difference between a League Player and a basketball pro. The difference is that they are engaging in different activities. Doesn’t make one better or worse, but it makes them different.

      The government can recognize esports as sports. Doesn’t make it so. The government also recognizes tomatoes as vegetables, but they are definitely not.

      In the link you posted, the Olympic committee clearly gives their rationale as a way to attract younger audiences. It potentially makes them money to say it’s a sport. Doesn’t make it so.

      The activities of playing football or basketball or boxing and the activity of gaming are so extremely different that it is ludicrous to view them as the same kind of activities. Even with sports as different as Judo and Football, many of the skills involved in one clearly transfer over to the next, because the activities are similar The actual physical activity involved in gaming and football intersect in only the most minute details.

      Can you think of some similarities? Yeah. But the similarities you present are too broad to be useful. Lots of activities require practice, make money, or are stressful. Yet the vast majority are not sports.

      Your analogy is deeply flawed. I’ll give a better one. It’s like going to a chef in a restaurant and saying, this isn’t a sport and you’re not an athlete. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t work hard at his craft, that his skill is less valuable, that he isn’t well compensated, that he is lazy, or that he shouldn’t be doing it. It doesn’t mean what he is doing is any lesser than what an athlete does. It just means that it is a different kind of activity.

      Of course, the chef is not likely to be offended, because he is not in the least bit insecure about what he does. It is an acceptable job, so he doesn’t need to latch onto something more socially acceptable to gain credibility.

      Edit: And, the point was not to insult professional gaming or professional gaming. The point was that if we call it a sport, people are going to judge it as a sport. People are going to focus on what gaming lacks that other sports have. Doing this invites negative comparisons. People are going to react negatively, because you are trying to sell it as something it isn’t.

      It’s like if you try to tell people Zelda is an RPG. Is it a game? Yes. Does it involve playing a role? Yes. So, you can define it as a role playing game. However, it lacks many of the traits that are common to what we call RPGs. Zelda is an awesome game, but if you judge it as an RPG, it would suck. Similarly, pro gaming may be awesome, but as a sport, it’s sorely lacking.

      ReplyReport user

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