First Person

First Person
The Challenge of Popularizing eSports

Dennis C. Scimeca | 1 May 2012 17:00
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eSports, on the other hand, espouse strengths and values that are not nearly as universal in scope or appreciation as physical prowess. The basic skill set of an eSports player is extremely well-developed hand-eye coordination and the ability to multitask. eSports players are quick thinkers who rapidly react to changing conditions - qualities that are much more difficult to appreciate unless you have some understanding as to why they're impressive. It's telling that at the State of the Game panel at PAX East this year, the idea was raised that one of the most commonly successful ways of getting people interested in eSports is citing the APM, or Actions Per Minute, of professional Starcraft players. 300 APM has been touted as a baseline figure for competitive players. That's a combination of 300 mouse clicks and/or keyboard strikes in sixty seconds, which is an impressive display of multitasking when you consider that each of those actions is a considered and precise move as a regular part of gameplay.

Athletes are attractive in part because their skill sets are unattainable for most of us. In the case of eSports competitors this is much less so, especially in light of who the intended audience is for eSports, i.e. other gamers. Recreational gamers may not have their skills honed to nearly the same efficiency as professional gamers but they do have those skills, and in many cases have them trained to appreciable efficiency. The difference between a professional gamer and someone who plays videogames for fun is a greater sum of practice and discipline and less a factor of natural born talent. Casting eSports as sports begs the comparison between competitive gamers and professional athletes, and that comparison doesn't hold up to scrutiny very well.

Forget the attempt to entice non-gamer fans into spectating at professional videogame competitions. That strikes me as the only rational purpose in attempting to wrap competitive gaming in the cloak of traditional sports in the first place. But while overt comparisons to traditional sports might not serve the eSports community in the United States, there is one lesson the American eSports world should draw from the traditional sports community: The popularity of professional sports in America is about the players as much or more as it's about the games themselves.

eSports proponents should focus on how competitive gamers are similar to the rest of us who make videogames a part of our lives rather than try to brand competitive gamers as professional athletes who are decidedly not like the rest of us. I don't relate to the professional football or baseball player who makes millions of dollars on the field and a few million more in endorsements off it. I'm much more likely to relate to someone who loves Starcraft 2, or some other game I can relate to more readily, so much they decide to utterly master it.

Dennis Scimeca is a freelance writer from Boston, MA. You can read some of his other musings on his blog, or follow his random excitations on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.

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