Idol worshiping is not nearly as cool, fun or lucrative as being a superstar yourself, and that’s a big reason why so many young people in this country are gravitating toward eSports, which is essentially competitive video game playing.
The “sport,” if you want to call it that – and there’s plenty of debate on that topic – routinely packs major sports arenas across the U.S. and is becoming increasingly mainstream. The traditional sports fan may scoff at that notion, as the “video game geek” tag often gets tossed around. But here’s a taste of how legit eSports is in 2016 – Robert Morris University in Chicago has its own varsity eSports team with scholarships (70 percent tuition for top gamers), ESPN.com now has its own eSports landing page, top pro gamers are already millionaires, and the League of Legends World Championship Final at the 17,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Arena in Germany last year sold out in three minutes.
ESports has not yet crested either, according to the man who put together the varsity eSports team at Robert Morris, associate athletic director Kurt Melcher.
“In my mind it’s mostly a recent phenomenon. There will be some people who tell you, ‘oh, there was this Space Invaders tournament in 1981’ and all that, but I think the rise of eSports really went hand-in-hand with the emergence of broadband Internet,” Melcher told Metro. “Starcraft was the first big [eSport] and it was big back in the middle 2000s and it’s grown so much since then. Broadband Internet has opened so many doors to make it a global game. It’s really escalated in the last five years and has taken off. I don’t think it’s at its peak yet, it’s just a situation of the mainstream media paying more attention to it.”
League of Legends is the massive game in 2016, and it has a team concept. Teams of five battle against one another and gamers work together to destroy the other team’s “base.” One game typically takes 35-40 minutes and there are typically best-of-three or best-of-five series’.
Gamers at Robert Morris practice Monday through Thursday each week from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the season starts in late September and runs until May. It’s easily Robert Morris’ longest-running season.
“It’s a grind,” Melcher told Metro. “There’s a lot of discipline to it as it’s such a mental game. It’s different from say, football. In football if you’re frustrated you can just hit your opponent harder. In eSports there’s not a lot of outlets for frustration or anger if things aren’t going well. It’s really a mental game of the highest level.”
Many pro eSports players now have nutritionists and you absolutely can’t be fatigued mentally to succeed in this world.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that people default to the stereotype of who is participating,” Melcher said. “It’s a default to a lazy person or a person who is fueled by Red Bull, a person who is non-competitive … basically, ‘slouchy.’ That doesn’t hold true, especially with our players. The people on our team are just as competitive as any player on any of our other traditional athletics teams.”
So, is it a “sport?”
A big part of the reluctance of the mainstream sports world to embrace eSports may be because of the fact that “sport” is actually in the name. The name alone is basically screaming at you, “hey, we’re legitimate.”
“You just have to take it at face value,” Melcher said. “There’s a reason there’s an ‘E’ at the beginning of eSports. It’s ‘electronic sport’ and it’s competitive entertainment.
“To compare it to a mainstream sport, a lot of people have a hard time understanding why someone would want to watch golf on TV. But people watch it because they can appreciate the skill of getting out of a bunker or sinking a great putt. The same holds true with eSports. There’s not a whole lot of physical exertion in golf. It’s just a great game of skill, like eSports. You just have to take it at face value. It’s not replacing football or basketball or soccer.”