On Sunday night, US television studio ESPN (traditionally known for airing sports competitions) made both history and social media waves by televising a video game tournament on one of its main stations. The Heroes of the Storm competition was aired on ESPN2, which is usually reserved for more obscure offerings such as bull riding, snowboarding and endless talk/debate shows that surely only the hard-core enthusiasts can stomach. My bias aside, this is a somewhat surprising move by the network, considering that just a few months ago ESPN president John Skipper had quipped (when addressing a question about televising video games): “Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.”
The above comment pretty much sums up the reaction of the traditional sporting enthusiasts this weekend as gamers were attempting to elbow their way into the limelight.
Equally surprising to me, however, was defensive posture assumed by the pro-gaming crowd in my social media feeds. Perhaps this was simply a reaction. But to me, it harkened back to the days of high school, a time in our lives when labels and cliques are at their peak. A time when we tend to gravitate to/identify with groups of similar interests and, in turn, become identified with those interests. A time when characters from bad 80’s movies like “Revenge of the Nerds” didn’t really seem all that exaggerated. Specifically, I picture in my mind a group of bespectacled tabletop role-players knocking on the door of the “jock party” to request entrance, only to be laughed off the doorstep by a group of tall, chiseled alpha-males with dark tans and perfect smiles.
With this post, I’m going to address the gamers. After all, ESPN will televise competitions that people want to see. Increasingly, this will include video game competitions and tournaments as those who have participated grow into the target demographic. Others will simply age out of said demographic and eventually opt for more classic sports options between denture cleanings. To restate: gamers – you’ve already won. There’s no need to continue to seek validation from old media. According to Forbes, Twitch (the online streaming site dedicated to video game streaming) reported 100 million viewers in January of 2015. Just for comparison, the Super Bowl, which is consistently one of the most viewed television programs in the history of broadcasting, reported a record 114 million viewers this year. Granted, the football championship is a one-time event. Even so, the Twitch numbers command attention. And they’re only expected to increase as folks who’ve grown up with gaming discover this option of entertainment. ESPN’s complete about-face on the matter is evidence enough that times are a-changing.
Let the old guard rant and rave. There’s no need to justify video games as sports. There’s no need to pick apart terms, definitions and phraseology. The gamers have won, and they’re throwing their own party!
Soccer Balls by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr