By Jose Castillo, sports columnist
It used to be if you had a passion for sports, but couldn’t shoot a hoop or catch a ball to save your life, you would wait until college to become a sports columnist. Never would I have imagined that if I had spent a little more time practicing my combo smashing tactics and keyboard techniques, I might have ended up receiving all-star recognition without any of the all-star work, by becoming a professional video game player. The purchase of two eSports teams by the Philadelphia 76ers organization Monday has affirmed that the path to stardom may be only a start button away. Yet, to say that it wouldn’t require hard work to play in eSport competitions, or that it just wouldn’t be worthwhile to get into eSports, undermines an industry as competitive and profitable as any professional sports league out there.
Or at least that’s what the hype wants you to believe.
I don’t think about my childhood very much (not too fond of it), but when I do, I tend to remember the smaller, more agonizing memories, such as having to wait my turn to play on Tom’s Xbox at his sleepover party, only to fall asleep before the controller came around to me. Playing video games is fun, we all know that, but watching your friend play video games is pretty boring. So why would I pay to watch 10 strangers stare at computer screens and fight each other with 3D cartoon characters when I can pay to watch 10 sweaty men play real games, like trying to throw a ball into a circle while wearing sleeveless shirts?
My point is, I am hesitant to call eSports “sports” just yet. Many of you might feel the same way, but it’s curiosity, or the promise of competition, that keeps you wondering whether or not you should call up your old man and tell him you were right about wanting to skip football practice so you could play a couple more levels of Donkey Kong Country.
But it doesn’t really matter whether I think they’re sports or not – plenty of people out there definitely do. According to intelligence firm SuperData Research, the eSports industry sustained an estimated $750 million dollars in revenue during 2015. Twelve million people went to live eSports events across North America and Europe in 2014, and Twitch, a streaming site centered around gaming, has an estimated 55 million users. All those people can’t be wrong, right?
The purchase of eSport teams by the 76ers may come as a surprise to some, but it’s actually a small part of the long history of gaming that has taken place here in the United States. The eSport industry started during the 1970s, when Stanford students competed in a Spacewar tournament for the grand prize of a year’s subscription to “Rolling Stone” magazine. Today’s eSport environment has its roots in the first computer games to have popular online communities that rose in the 90’s, such as Counter-Strike, Quake and World of Warcraft.
Professional athletes have also been vocal in their recent grouping with video game players. During the qualification rounds of first person shooter game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (characterized as CS:GO) organization ELEAGUE, TNT’s “Inside the NBA” panelist and former basketball player Kenny Smith replied “I don’t know if that’s sports” when asked whether he’s watched eSports before, which fellow panelist Shaquille O’Neil quickly rebutted by saying eSports are indeed sports. Shaq, who knows a thing or two about investing, acquired the Overwatch team Mixup over the summer, and his former teammate Rick Fox has his very own eSports team, aptly named Echo Fox.
Maybe eSports is just a sign that the future is here, and I’m a just a Neanderthal, afraid to let go of sports that require you to go outside. While, for me, the verdict is still out on whether eSports are actually sports, I do have to admit they are very fun to watch. A friend of mine had turned me on to some Rocket League tournaments, and I still felt the same rush of excitement and anxiety that I get when watching sport games. I hope it gains more traction, and becomes ubiquitous to sports culture as bandwagon fans and overpriced stadium nachos. It will be then when the nerd will truly have inherited the earth.