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eSports defenders: The reason why eSports can't be sports

12:00 PM on 08.11.2011 // Jim Sterling

Earlier this week, Destructoid promoted an interesting blog from one of our community members, titled "eSports: Really??" To say that Elsa's opinion generated quite a bit of heat is to put it very lightly indeed. A whirlwind of debate struck up, as some argued that gaming can be considered a sport, while others disagreed.

The debate, inherently, proved that playing games cannot be considered a sport. Those who want to represent eSports provided the evidence themselves.

It was by sheer virtue of their reaction that they did it. The level of childish insecurity, denial and accompanying viciousness from some people demonstrated that eSports has a long way to go before it can be deserving of the same level of respect as any athletic endeavor.

Elsa's article prompted one blogger to pen a counter-piece (one of several going up), "Ignore it and it will go away," in which he did anything but ignore it. He called it "baffling troll-bait" (apparently happy to take the bait while doing so) and went so far as to accuse Elsa of having a "damaged mind" for daring to suggest that there's no risk of major injuries in gaming. 

One of the most prominent reactions came from DJ Wheat, who is something of a celebrity within the competitive gaming circuit. His reaction was as childish as it was volatile -- attacking Destructoid as a whole by tweeting, "I wish I had the energy to give a fuck about this DTOID blog ... frankly you can't cure ignorance. Learn to research you fucks."

Of course, he clearly did have the energy to give a fuck, since he followed that tweet with several more, exposing how much he cared in spite of his affected attempts to appear dismissive. It's a common thread among such people -- going to great pains to say they "don't care" what outsiders think of the industry, then launching into long, angry diatribes that betray their real emotional investment. 

These instances aren't isolated; they're just two of the most noteworthy. There are people on forums and social networks across the Internet, raging passionately at the Destructoid article and taking it incredibly seriously. But then you consider the most important fact of all ... Elsa isn't even a Destructoid writer. She's a community member. A reader. That's not to say her opinions are invalid or not worth discussing, but she's not representing anybody but herself. In essence, we have a community of eSports fans and some very prominent spokesmen for the industry, upset and angry over the opinion of a single random gamer on the Internet.

Before we promoted her article, we had a week of excellent EVO coverage by our official staff member, Jesse Cortez, a man who loves competitive gaming and paid it due respect. We promoted one less enthusiastic voice from among our community, and that's what was latched onto -- to the exclusion of all else -- as proof that Destructoid hates professional gamers now. It's pitiful.

eSports fans love to validate themselves with comparisons to real sports, so I've got one for you! The reaction to Elsa's blog from certain industry members is akin to me writing an article stating that football isn't a real sport, and having John Madden email an entire article back to explain why I'm an idiot for thinking it. It wouldn't happen, because Madden is A) Too busy with his real sport to care and B) Knows that football is so obviously a sport that he needs to do nothing but laugh and move on -- if he could even muster that much of a reaction. 

This is where we reach the crucial difference between the world of eSports and the world of sports. Until eSports spokesmen can learn to get over the criticism and fucking deal with it, gaming can never be considered a sport. A man with over 23,000 Twitter followers shouldn't be calling a random community member a "fuck" in public because she stated a contrary opinion. In a "real" sport, whoever did that would be mocked openly and regarded as a very poor example of his industry. In eSports, that level of unwarranted, infantile aggression is apparently applauded. 

It is, how you say, not very sporting of someone to attack one of our readers for her opinion.

It's not the first time this has happened, either, even in recent memory. Just type "Kotaku eSports" into Google for an afternoon's worth of reading fun. That entire site hasn't yet been forgiven for "shitting" on eSports, and as we see such articles as "eSports Community Rallies against Kotaku article," I have to ask: What is the community so afraid of? Why is eSports such a fragile and delicate little buttercup that it needs protecting so viciously? 

I used to be the same way when it came to games and art. I'd get all bent out of shape when the likes of Roger Ebert would declare that games could never be art, but then I realized... what the fuck do I care? I think games are art, so the opinion of one old man who won't be around much longer doesn't really matter. Let him think what he thinks; I'm too busy playing games to care whether or not they're respected by strangers! Sadly, there are still too many people who do get upset by the likes of Ebert, and they undermine the entire idea of games as an artistic medium by virtue of their own lack of confidence.

I'm all about like-for-like debate. If you're up against a mean-spirited individual with a significant audience who is claiming that pro gamers are all virgins who deserve to die alone, then by all means, let 'em have it. Crude attacks constructed to deliberately harm reputations definitely deserve a fight. I've argued in the name of childish behavior before when dealing with such people. There's a major difference, however, between using an opponent's childish tactics against them and responding to reasonably written material with an unwarranted, completely overindulgent level of vitriol, especially when this person is not an influential pundit on a big stage, but a gamer blogging in their spare time who simply wanted to share an opinion. There's absolutely nothing to be gained in that instance, so it shouldn't be worth that level of anger and hate. 

Someone who constantly demands respect and validation usually doesn't deserve it, and I know I definitely can't respect eSports while it's full of so many insecure little men who can't take a bit of criticism from someone who isn't even a staffed writer at any gaming outlet. Those who got angry and hateful ought to be ashamed of themselves and feel incredibly stupid. As ambassadors for eSports, they let their entire industry down and demonstrated only that things have a long way to go before they can be considered respectable. 

I appreciate that it's a long road to get competitive gaming recognized in the mainstream. Even among gamers, it's a hard sell. Some people straight-up don't like it. Others enjoy it, but can't seriously feel it's a "sport" of any kind. Insecure demands and entitled expectations of respect are not the way to get the dignity that some feel it deserves. It needs spokesmen, not demagogues or trained attack dogs. It needs celebration, not petty little counter-attacks to articles that really would have gone away by now if nobody had gotten so pathetically upset. 

There is good debate to be had over whether we can call gaming a sport or not -- but it needs to be a real debate. Infantile gibbering and screams of "IGNORANT! YOU'RE SO IGNORANT" isn't a reasonable discussion. We're planning to publish a pro-eSports article from a member of the industry this week, and he's been prepared to actually debate the matter, rather than simply repeat the same "YOU'RE STUPID" rhetoric slung around by others. They could learn from his example and engage in a discussion, rather than a blind, angsty defense. 

By all means, champion eSports to those who seek to harm it, but don't get your panties in a bunch because a person doesn't think "sport" is the right classification. Such a level of venom in an argument over fucking semantics is disgraceful, and until an unrecognized writer can criticize eSports without earning the wrath of some of its biggest supporters, it's no sport in my eyes. It might be one day, but this week, it certainly isn't. 

Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
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Destructoid reviews editor, responsible for running and maintaining the cutting edge videogame critique that people ignore because all they want to see are the scores at the end. Also a regular f... more   |   staff directory

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