E-Sports: The Fact and the Fiction

E-Sports is a really interesting term for me, as someone who is a professional in athletics. On one hand, electronic competition has little right to call it self a sport because of the lack of physical exertion (and I tend to include bowling and golf into these categories as well), but E-Competition or E-Comp doesn’t quite have the same ring to it and if bowling is a sport, well, I’m willing to let it slide. Especially because in every other way, online cooperative and competitive gaming is incredibly similar to competitive sports. I would argue that Raid Groups, PvP teams, and competitive gamers have more in common with sports teams than they realize or that they may like to admit.

I think many people would agree that sports and video games (despite the popularity of video games about sports) don’t get along all that well. Not long ago I got lost in reading some internet rage in regards to the terms nerd and geek, and it really wasn’t until then that I realized how out-of-place I was as a jock-gamer-math/science nerd. During our youth I think its fair to say that gamers/nerds/geeks don’t really get along with ‘jocks.’ It’s a shame, because as I mentioned earlier, they really have no idea how much they have in common.

I don’t really think I fit the stereotype of gamer. In fact, I seem to exist in some sort of stereotype purgatory between my professional life and my personal life. In my professional life I coach women’s basketball, and have done so in some form for the past 12 years from middle school through community college. Its my life’s passion and I have every intention of furthering my career at the college level. I belong to professional organizations, I am a representative of my area in one of these organizations, and I attend seminars and maintain an active online presence. In my personal life I enjoy reading, playing video games, and watching a select few shows that catch my fancy. I am the raid leader of a casual 10 man team in a guild that I’ve belonged to ever since I started playing WoW. I am registered with numerous websites, maintain an online presence with this blog and as a contributor on forums, and read guides to keep my expertise up to date. For me, there is virtually no difference between the personal and the professional.

Cooperative and competitive gaming has replaced the rush I used to get (and sometimes still do) from sports. Which is good, because when you are 31 and have had 2 major knee surgeries (ACL reconstructions), a multitude of ankle and shoulder injuries, and an ever-increasing daily reminder of those injuries with arthritis, going out to play basketball or hockey or volleyball isn’t necessarily a great idea. But I have World of Warcraft, and I have Starcraft 2. From an emotional standpoint the anticipation of battle, the frustration of failure, the rush of success – it’s all there. In my guild I have found my place in a team again. I belong to a group of people who can accomplish more through teamwork and communication together, than they ever could alone. In essence, this is what sports is all about too. This is what everyone makes a big deal about. Watching a group of people come together to be more than they thought they could be is exhilarating. Watching the ups and downs, the evolving strategies, it’s all part of the entertainment.

When I watch a Starcraft 2 stream and see a player with flawless timing and ruthless efficiency dismantle an opponent I am blown away with amazement. This is the same emotional reaction I have watching a player like Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) or Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins). It’s astonishing to watch these people to excel at an activity that you know is difficult, and to do it at a level that other athletes/gamers simply can’t reach.

Story time, and I’ll make it brief. When I was 17 I played in my very last organized basketball game of my career, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I had spent the entire previous year recovering from my first knee surgery, and my team was playing a superior opponent on their home court. Sometime in the first half I hurt my ankle. Bad. Really Bad. Bone chips, partially torn tendons, the whole deal. I couldn’t walk off the court. I hobbled off, looking at my family (crying), my teammates (damn close), and my coach (trying to look encouraging). I was devastated. I asked the trainer to tape it. I took Ibuprofen and tried to go out for halftime warm ups. I never made it, the pain was just excruciating. We got beat soundly (probably would have anyway). Afterwards I cried with my 2 best friends (we are still close today). I tried so hard for my teammates, those guys were my family, and I felt like I had let them down. I was miserable for weeks.

Almost exactly 10 years later and I was the main tank for my guild and experiencing my very first expansion as a raider in Wrath of the Lich King. It was exciting and fun. I enjoyed the thrill of killing new bosses, or doing particularly well on an encounter. I got annoyed at wipes and failures, always trying to figure out how to do it better next time. I read guides, changed my UI, and created macros. At some point we found ourselves at Kel’Thuzad and it was my job to tank him. It was nerve-wracking but fun in a way that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. After a few weeks of learning mechanics we were close to a kill. But I effed up a number of times. Failed to interrupt, stood in void zones because I was watching range indicators – you name it, I botched it. Basically for this one week I was the only thing standing in the way of clearing Naxxramas, and the feeling was pretty awful. The following week I was perfect, and KT died. I shouted pretty loudly and was grinning ear to ear. Loot be damned, I did my job, and helped my team get a kill. I was hooked.

It turns out that sports and gaming have quite a lot in common.

I love my guild. We aren’t perfect – we are far from it I’m sure. I love my raid team too, even when they drive me nuts. I’m a lifer. If you want to know where to find me, I’ll be on Baelgun with The Brotherhood of Kharn. After all, they’re family.

Edit: It turns out someone else recently had something to say about E-Sports! Head over to tl;dr to see an analytical perspective of the same topic.

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7 thoughts on “E-Sports: The Fact and the Fiction”

  1. Being a college athlete (who screwed up his knees, an ankle, and a wrist), and an avid gamer, I empathize, commiserate, and agree with your whole post. It’s great to still be able to get that competitive rush and camaraderie of teamwork that sports give while the body is bruised, battered, and shut down.

    1. I’m so late in getting around to reply to this, but thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I really enjoyed reading the post on your website regarding the same topic.

  2. Really interesting post! I’m glad you have such a good community in your guild. And just think – there’s no threat of injury for player characters, unless you count hacking maybe? 🙂

    1. Hmm. Hacking = injury. I can see that 🙂

      Like anything, our guild community isn’t perfect, or even great all the time. The same is true of teams. I played with many guys that I didn’t personally like, but we were united by a common goal, and that makes all the difference.

      That’s why I think of teams as families as well. I don’t ‘like’ every member of my family (and I certainly dislike a fair number of them), but we are family, we are united by relation and we look out for each because of it.

      I think both of these descriptions fit the concepts of raid/arena/rbg teams – you may not like all your teammates, but you are all trying to accomplish the same goals.

      My guild-mates and raid members drive me nuts sometimes, and can make me angry as well. But those are typically fleeting emotions. On a deeper level my guild is a virtual home, complete with crazy aunts, drunk grandfathers, and annoying cousins. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment. I try not to think of myself as a special snowflake, but I certainly feel that my experiences in life have given me a different perspective than many of my fellow gamers.

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