We’re officially entering the era of mainstream E-sports. A few months ago Heroes of the Storm had a tournament that was aired on ESPN, and while people are debating the merits of a game in beta getting its own tournament, many have been looking at whether video games are a sport or not. I believe that the gaming community, however, is having the wrong argument. The question should be more focused on whether we even want video games to be a sport, which is not something we seem to be thinking about when the gaming community vehemently pushes for video games as a sport to be popularized and publicized. They see it as the Holy Grail of video game’s lack of mainstream appeal, as if ESPN streaming events and discussions of League of Legends in the Sports section of a newspaper will somehow give video games mass-market appeal.
It’s almost like a trigger from the days when gamers were pushing for games as an art form. The moment someone says that games aren’t a specific thing, they would twitch, yell, and argue over the merits of video games being everything. The argument for games as an art has, for the most part, been won over, but still has a long way to go in the academic field. This, I feel, will develop naturally as the number of video games increases over the years, when we see Fallout 4 as being nostalgic, and Super Mario Bros. as that game that people play in retirement homes.
Now, after all those years of pushing for games as an art, the gaming community is willing to throw that away to reclassify it as a sport for the sake of video games becoming more mainstream. And, as most people realize, these two types of media are opposites. Try explaining that football is an art form and you’ll be laughed out of the gallery viewing without getting a second glass of red wine. On the other end, try explaining that ballet is a sport and you’ll be beaten up and given a swirlie by the aforementioned football team.
Most people believe that a sport has to be objective, while an art has to be subjective. The two concepts are very much separate in the average person’s eye. While aspects of a sport can be seen in an art form and vice versa, we as humans tend to label things as one way or another in an attempt to create easy to remember generalizations. If we are to give video games the sports label, we then have to throw away a fair amount of arguments on the concept that games are art, something the gaming community fought for years to attain.
By having gaming become popularized as an esport, we also purport games such as League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Starcraft II, Halo 5, and other multiplayer-focused games as the way to go for developers. This will cause most AAA developers to focus on this sort of esport game, where the end goal becomes to diminish the single-player experience in order to refine their multiplayer features. We’ve already seen Halo 5 ditch their co-op play for making the game look better, a move that made the multiplayer match that showed at Gamescom 2015 look quite nice and addicting. Thankfully, indie studios will be around to, generally, garner support and create solid single player experiences. But if more games are pushed toward being a sporting event, the desire for major publishers and developers to back and create single player games will definitely wane. Just having the conversation over whether games are sports has sparked the idea that every game needs a multiplayer component to them. Metal Gear Solid 5 now has multiplayer, although how well that will be implemented is yet to be seen.
While increased mainstream popularization of video games might create more growth in the gaming industry in terms of revenue and players, we have to ask ourselves the question of whether this kind of popularization is one that we want. Yes, video games were once a hot topic and heavily popularized by the media, but that was when they were being pounded as the reason for school shootings, depression, masochism, and worse. Video games are in a tricky situation. Whether they’ll be seen as either a sport or an art, they’ll continue to exist. It’s how the gaming community wants the general public to view video games that will be a big conversation over the next few months. At least, I hope it becomes a conversation.