Video games have become more and more popular in recent years. But do the pros deserve to be called athletes?
A crowd of thirteen thousand fills the Los Angeles Staples Center to its brim. The arena is home to the Lakers, and occasionally houses concerts for artists like Taylor Swift. But tonight, the cheers are not for Kobe Bryant or Beyoncé. Today, the stars who shine on center stage are different.
Several massive LED screens broadcast their visages to all. Two teams, two logos, and ten players – five Korean and five Chinese. The quintet in red from Seoul represent SK Telecom T1, while the lineup in red and gold from Beijing play under the moniker Royal Club.
However, the thousands present in the stadium are not the only ones watching. This best-of-five series is being broadcast on televisions in Asia and on streaming websites across the globe, peaking at 8.5 million concurrent viewers. To give that number some context, the final episode of Breaking Bad drew 10.3 million viewers.
Tonight is the night of the Season Three World Finals for Riot Games’ League of Legends. Welcome, dear reader, to the world of eSports.
The field of professional video gaming has gained traction in the West thanks to popular titles like Call of Duty, Starcraft II, Defense of the Ancients, and League of Legends. Despite its increasing proximity to the mainstream, many are reluctant to classify eSports as an actual sport – or bestow pro gamers with the title of “athlete.”
The dictionary definition of a sport is “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess, often of a competitive nature,” while an athlete is “a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill.” But do professional gamers fit in these molds?
According to the United States government, yes, they do. As of August 2013, those involved in eSports are eligible for five year P1-A Internationally Recognized Athletic Visas. This means that players outside of the USA can immigrate for the sole purpose of playing video games at a competitive level. The mecca of eSports, South Korea, allows professional gamers to delay their mandatory military service to further their careers. Furthermore, brand names like Coca-Cola and American Express seem to recognize the potential ofeSports, and currently sponsor the LCS, the main branch of the League of Legends professional scene.
There are two students at AHS who possess unusually high amounts of video gaming skill. The first is Jack Hoyt, who plays Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Melee in a professional setting, and has been to numerous major tournaments since 2011. He plays under the name “Crush,” and placed 79th out of 696 entrants at EVO, the largest Smash competition of 2013. Hoyt beat out several seeded players, and also lost to “Mango,” the event’s eventual winner.
Hoyt sees a future in his Smash career, saying, “I don’t plan on playing any game other than Melee, so provided it doesn’t die, I’ll probably play it forever.” When asked about eSports, Hoyt said, “People can call it whatever they want. If poker is a sport, then Smash, DoTA, or Street Fighter should be as well.”
The second notable AHS student is David Chao, who is the highest ranking League of Legends player in the school. Chao affirmed, “I plan on playing League professionally in college. The collegiate program doesn’t require as much skill in comparison to the LCS, and I can probably exceed the requirements for any team I join with ease.” Collegiate players can earn scholarship money for placing well in tournaments – this year’s winners received $100,000. Chao added, “I would consider video games a sport to some extent. They’re in the same niche as chess.”
Unsurprisingly, Officer Dowd, staff advisor for the Video Game Club, was also aware of the existence of eSports. Dowd plays games like World of Warcraft, Magic the Gathering, DayZ, and Dungeons and Dragons. Yet, he was still hesitant to refer to those involved in eSports as “athletes,” stating, “It’s tough for me to categorize someone who might be on a 3v3 PvP team in WoW as an athlete. The word just invokes something physical, like baseball or football, but I respect the skill involved in both.” He went on to say, “I think that as eSports grows, you’ll start to see people calling gamers ‘athletes.’ Eventually, the pros are going to be just like rock stars.”
Dowd is a gaming veteran, and is most impressed by the massive growth of video games over the years. Dowd remembered the wonders of his teenage years, and noted, “If you wanted to be cool at my high school, you did not say you played video games. Nowadays, it’s accepted – I’ve got a WoW Alliance sticker on my door.”
By Dylan Zhang