I was browsing Reddit recently when I came across this post and the source article it references. The visa discussion is an interesting topic within itself, but it opens up the floor to the larger discussion of the future legitimacy of eSports in general.
What is legitimacy in terms of eSports? And what is it exactly, in terms of recognition, that we strive for?
Twitch is owned by Amazon, ESPN now has an eSports Twitter account. Every time another high profile company jumps into the fray, it seems like eSports fans are split on whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Is the future of eSports considered legitimate because we’re a recognized sport on ESPN now? Are we legitimate because eSports offers multi-million dollar prize pools and contracts for players?
Or does mainstreaming mean we lose a little of the “subversive culture” that eSports was born from?
I had a conversation last week about The International with my coworkers at my day job. We all live relatively close to Seattle, but none of them had heard anything about the previous TIs despite the fact that they were held in Key Arena. When they were a little dismissive of the event, one of them (who has previously discussed eSports with me) mentioned, “Tell them about the prize pool! Tell them how much money the winners received last year!” Name dropping “Eighteen Million” and “About 1 Million each” changed their tune a little bit. I find that when I’m trying to legitimize eSports to other people, I often end up relying on the size of the prize pool to do it.
Unfortunately this often gets repeated by others as “Yeah, a team of 5 people won $6 million for playing video games,” which turns eSports into both the subject and the punchline of a joke, but that’s another issue within itself.
I’ve had the opportunity to test out various “eSports factoids” on members of the public. While I was dining with a bunch of other scientists a couple of weeks ago, I tried dropping facts about eSports upon them and gauging their reaction (huehuehue, experiments on people who like experiments). Consistently, it seemed like others were most impressed by the size of the prize pool for large tournaments or the size/prestige of the venue. The number of concurrent Twitch viewers or the fact that eSports has leaked onto ESPN didn’t elicit the same response.
Do we even care, collectively as fans, if anyone takes us seriously? You’ll get a variety of answers to that question too. It’s important to be taken somewhat seriously, especially if it means opening up more doors for international players to get visas or attracting more sponsors who can offer stable salaries. But if some dude on ESPN still thinks it’s funny to characterize all video game fans as basement dwelling nerds, whatever. Anyone who has been playing an iota of attention to eSports knows that’s bunk. Luckily it seems like those types have been on their way out in the last year.
Sometimes I feel like fans can be a little… for lack of a better word, tsundere. We want people to recognize us but also not recognize us. We want to be a real sport but not a real sport at the same time. In terms of the visa petition, I think that’s a step in the right direction to make things a little easier on players. I’m still undecided if I like the fact that ESPN has an eSport Twitter account.