Eye of the Tiger
World of competitive gaming is vast and rewardingWednesday, May 02, 2012 By Tyler Hersko
Video games are a waste of time. They’re an escape for the socially unfit and encourage simple-mindedness, violence and detachment from reality. Right? Most of the negative stereotypes pertaining to gamers, (that is, people who play video games as primary hobby), are still widely recognized by many. In pop culture, gamers are primarily depicted as greasy, overweight, socially-awkward single males – quite a negative image to be associated with, yeah? But what if I told you that many miles across the Pacific, there exists a place where gamers are not only accepted, but celebrated. South Korea’s most successful gamers are treated like rock stars - dating famous Korean pop singers and earning well over $100,000 annually. Games are broadcasted live on television, not unlike American football, baseball or what have you. Thanks to big sponsors, like Pepsi, some tournaments have distributed millions of dollars to players. It sounds like a utopia for geeks, right? Competitive gaming is especially popular in eastern countries. But recent years have brought us the likes of League of Legends, Heroes of Newarth and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. These games have garnered massive popularity and recent western tournaments such as DreamHack, Major League Gaming and the IGN ProLeague have been extremely successful. While many would argue that video games as a whole are indeed a waste of time, I'm more concerned with a considerably more niche subject - the validity of competitive gaming as a whole. At a basic level, someone outside of the gaming scene will probably start by asking, "why would I ever want to watch someone else play a video game?" And at a basic level, it's a pretty reasonable question. And I, a fan of basketball and the NBA for many years, propose a counter question. Why would you want to spend several hours watching two teams of five try to throw a ball into a hoop? Obviously, there are many reasons why. If you enjoy basketball and can appreciate the intricacies behind it, it becomes entertaining to watch skilled players attempt to outmaneuver one another. Competitive video games are no different. Despite whatever else they may be, all games are....you know, games . Games such as StarCraft II, have many intricacies that would appeal to anyone’s competitive nature. StarCraft players command armies and military bases. To do so, players have to collect resources, (money) to build more army units – all the while fighting their opponent's forces, training new soldiers and researching technology. While the novelties of the game are likely to be lost on the uninterested, the point is that the game has depth. It requires multitasking, strategy and thinking. That is why StarCraft and other highly competitive games are called electronic sports (esports). Electronic sports? Even those that play video games casually balk at the notion. It's a largely meaningless issue - a label that invokes arguments over the definition of a "sport." What is a sport? To me, it's a game or activity that can be played competitively. In the case of StarCraft or League of Legends, the competitive nature of the game is pretty obvious. Progamers often post detailed guides and tutorials on the web and many offer paid tutoring and numerous people pay other people to teach them how to become really good at a video game. If one's definition of a "sport" is a solely physical activity, things become a bit more reasonable. There's obviously no denying that American football requires far more physical conditioning and endurance than Defense of the Ancients or what have you. As stated in the beginning of this article, the "gamer stereotype" conjures an image of an overweight, Cheetos-stained dude. But a brief glance at the "typical" competitive gamer suggests otherwise. Without going into extensively awkward detail, you'll notice that the vast majority of progamers are surprisingly fit. Many progamers have noted that physical fitness is an important part of maintaining one's gaming career. I wouldn't doubt you for being skeptical, but being able to click your keyboard 200 times (a rough estimate for the typical StarCraft II progamer) a minute in a 20 minute game requires an astonishing amount of physical and mental discipline. In the end, whether or not competitive gaming could be considered a sport is a moot point. Fans gather from across the world in jam-packed arenas to watch people play a game. Sport or otherwise, it's drawing people in and they're doing something right. But wait. Jam-packed arenas? Fans gathering? Isn't anything more than the most casual of Halo sessions the sign of a reclusive nerd who is out of touch with society? The social aspect of gaming in general is endlessly debated by many uninformed parents and out-of-touch teachers. I've always identified myself as a gamer. Most of my friends are gamers. And one of the ways we socialize is by - you guessed it - playing video games. I have no interest in becoming a professional gamer myself. I'm really just like the average sports fan. I'll play the game, try to improve and follow the game's competitive scene. I can talk about it with my friends and play with or against them. It's fun. It doesn't mean it dominates every aspect of my waking hours. I've bonded with people through gaming and, because of it, we more often than not end up discussing things outside of "that evil virtual world." I have friends outside of my gaming circleand I’m not five hundred pounds. Despite the fact that I play video games and have an interest in their competitive side. In the professional gaming world, socialization is ironically essential. "MOBA" style games like League of Legends and DotA don't just encourage teamwork - they absolutely require it. As StarCraft progamer-turned commentator Sean "Day" Plott once said: "Nobody holed them self up, played by them self, [and] got better than everyone else. Players played with each other, discussed with each other and formed really tight friendships." If you enjoy casually playing video games, why not check out their competitive side? It's an entertaining, deep, constantly evolving scene with a multitude of fantastic communities. And who knows? You might actually have some fun along the way.