It's more than just a game
EarlyGame Talk: Esports vs Sports
Get a snack, sip on that coffee, kick back and relax. It’s time for our EarlyGame Talk.
I used to play competitive basketball and although I love the game, basketball wasn’t necessarily my first love because I only started playing at age 12 - seven years after I picked up my true first love in the form of a black game boy. Wait… that sentence sounds weird… I think I misspelled game boy. Let me rephrase:
...seven years after I picked up my first true love in the form of black Game Boy. That’s better. Yes, I was just 5 years old when I became a gamer. However, being an overly tall person of melanin-heavy descent I couldn’t escape the stereotype of hooping. Thus, I eventually found myself showing up for practice, prepuberty, with no hops and no skills, but decked out in a jersey, headband and wristbands. I thought I looked the part, which I didn’t, and thought I could play the part, which I couldn’t. I was terrible.
So terrible that, while I was playing real basketball, I was thinking about going back home and playing NBA Live 2001 on my PlayStation. Because the digital realm was mine. Back then there was no online, but I was man-handling the computer on highest difficulty and my local friends alike. This didn’t translate to the real court for quite some time, but eventually I did get more competitive about real basketball and grew into my body and some championships. It’s cool that I have medals and memories to show for it now, but I also have a permanently injured back, a screw in my ankle and I'm another injury away from a knee surgery at 29. Not so cool and NBA Live sure didn’t cause that. The physical aspect of sports did.
Now I’ve long since stopped playing basketball. My body obviously wasn’t having it and coming back from injuries is tough, especially once you hit 24+ and get your ass handed to you by 17-year-olds. I didn’t need that in my life. So with the dawn of high-speed internet, I expanded my mastery of the digital realm and took my skills online to get my ass handed to me by... 17-year-olds.
I’m not saying I game competitively, but I sure am competitively raging whenever I get beat up in Street Fighter V. I’m also a competitively engaged fan when I watch the LEC playoffs or Valorant tournaments. I take it as seriously as I do watching real sports. Is it life or death? No. But anything I dedicate a larger portion of my life to deserves to be taken seriously - at least that’s what my ex said before we split up...
Sports or esports, I see no difference, but the majority of people still do: While ‘real’ athletes are borderline gods, most people are still surprised, if not shocked, when they hear that someone is making millions playing video games competitively.
Admittedly though, I’m not one to judge nor am I an exception - I’m looking at a Kobe shirt on my wall as we speak. Yes, the black mamba’s presence graces my living room. Now, if you’re not familiar with basketball, black mamba probably sounds like the nickname of a male actor in certain types of movies - and it might just as well be because Kobe Bryant was certifiably manhandling the game of basketball. I say was because Kobe has since tragically passed away in a helicopter crash on January 26th. Now one of the shirts I’ve owned for years is hanging on my wall in memory and nobody bats an eye at it. It’d probably be different if I had a shirt of Faker, Doublelift, Olofmeister or shroud on my wall though.
When I grew up, esports was a garage or LAN event at best and far from the massive industry it is now. Basketball was there though. Kobe was there. He was there at 17 playing his first game and I was still there 20 years later, when he played his last game at 37. The fact that I played the sport myself obviously has something to do with my idolization, but the fact that it is a physical sports does not. It’s about what he inspired that turned me into a fan: The discipline, the hustle, the grit. The rollercoaster rides you go on with your favorite player and favorite teams. The rivalries they have on the court and I have in heated debates with friends. It doesn’t really matter if it’s an orange ball or a black & white checkered one or pigskin. It doesn’t matter if it’s race cars or mouse and keyboard. The nature of the competition is the same.
The average sports fan is often so far removed from playing the sports they watch, it might as well be digital, but people don’t take gaming seriously because it actually is digital and ‘not real’. Because it’s just a children’s game - you pick up the controller and play. Anyone can do it at any moment and it’s just a matter of practicing when to push which button. Well, first of all, all ball sports are literally children’s games. Also, you can just pick up a basketball and dribble, throw a football or kick the European version of it at any moment. The entry barrier and skill ceiling are the same. Just because one started in kid’s bedrooms and the other one on playgrounds doesn’t make them much different: For the average Joe making 10 consecutive three point shots on the court is as unrealistic as 10 consecutive headshots in game. The same work ethic is required in order to flourish. The same discipline to hone your craft. The crafts just require you to hone different aspects of your mind and body.
Former NBA champion and standout defensive player Rick Fox bought an esports team a couple years back. Fox had serious success as an NBA player, so I’ll excuse him for naming the esports team after himself: Echo Fox. Within Echo Fox, Rick instilled the same discipline he once had as an NBA pro:
- No more getting up at 11.
- No more scrimmaging randomly and publically and revealing tactics
- No more unhealthy eating and snacking
- No more getting to bed late
- And much, much more, physical exercise.
Rick Fox’ practices have since become industry standards. Him and anyone knowledgeable on esports knows: eAthletes are putting in hard work. Professional athlete levels of work. If you respect that at all, then eAthletes deserve that respect. Now if we’re going to have a discussion about wages and adoration for playing any sort of sports in general, then that’s a different issue altogether, but all that many admire about the spirit of competition, work ethic and the discipline of sports… it’s all there in esports too.
- Since when do ninjas have blue hair?
- I thought lol stands for laughter?
- Let's netflix the gaming industry.
If I grew up in this day and age, I’d pick up esports over traditional sports in a heartbeat. Save myself the surgeries, the accumulated 10 months I spent on crutches and the lingering pains I’ll keep on carrying with me forever. Besides, I picked up basketball way too late anyway. If my story were written on esports I’d finally be that guy: ‘Destined for greatness, at just five years old his path to esports immortality was predetermined when he got his young hands on his first black game boy.’
Wait… that sounds... damn it.
Game Boy, not game boy.
‘His path to esports immortality was predetermined when he got his young hands on his first black Game Boy.’