E-sports vs. Real Sports Part 1

Hi all. I’ve been watching a lot of fighting game streams over the past few weekends and I was inspired to write about a few topics that have been on my mind. One of those topics was the seed for this essay. I wanted to do a comparative essay on e-sports and organized athletic sports, highlight the strengths and weakness, key aspects and lessons that can be shared between communities. Before we get to that, I feel an introduction of my own experience with these communities is in order. That way, you will have an idea what examples I will draw from to make my points.

I’ve been a fan of professional athletic sports for a long time. I started out with a big soccer obsession in my youth, which was then followed much later by a growing interest in football, baseball and basketball. In terms of watching the regular seasons, I tend to keep track of soccer somewhat, as well as NBA and MLB, although lately I haven’t really paid too much attention. I also catch major tennis tournaments from time to time.

As for e-sports, it really came with the territory of being a nerd. I was first introduced to the idea of playing video games for money in the middle of high school, with competitive League of Legends. Millions of dollars on the line for League? That’s just weird. It was not until early in college that I was introduced to the world of the Super Smash Brothers Melee competitive scene, which in turn led me to watching my first EVO. At that point, I was utterly hooked. I had been acquainted with games like Melee, Street Fighter and even Guilty Gear since my youth. I enjoyed myself, but never had any real knack for the games or an understanding of what it took to be good at them. It wasn’t until EVO that I truly felt compelled to try and understand what was going on in those games. To be frank, I still don’t fully understand all of the nitty-gritty of it all, but things like terminology and techniques have started to become ingrained in me.

All of this is to say that I’m not exactly an expert. I’m just a fan. So none of this stuff really comes from a place of expertise. That said, I feel that even from a spectators chair there are definitely clear points I can make that have a validity and prescience, and that are worth your time to read (or at the very least, they are worth my time to write down).

I want to also quickly mention the structure of the essay, as it is a relatively complicated topic. There will be 3 major sub-categories: Audience, Organization and Purpose. Within each, there will be a number of subsections depending on how in-depth into each I want to go. For example, I want to tackle both the general approach that both e-sports and organized sports take when it comes to interacting with their audience, the difference between younger and older audiences in both cases, and economics of their relationship.

The last thing I want to touch on before delving into the essay is the scope. In order to make a comparison between two things, you need to establish that the two things share something. It is not a similarity as it were, but rather some sort of common ground that makes the comparison meaningful. For example, comparing Catcher in the Rye with the film Shakespeare in Love is theoretically possible because they are both works of media. However, this comparison might lack much meaning because that is about the only thing similar about them. Any other similarities that are made would seem like a huge leap and there is no end to the number of differences. Therefore, before I begin a comparison of e-sports and real sports, I need to establish some meaningful level playing field as it were, to make it clear that I am not comparing apples and rocket science.

So when I say a “meaningful level playing field”, what do I mean? Well, it’s basically just where I start the comparison. How basic do I go and what lens do I look through to analyze both e-sports and real sports, such that I can say, “Here is the realm in which they both exist”. That is where we start the intellectual journey that is the comparative essay.

So where is that start? To my mind, there are three words which I believe encapsulate the “starting line” of comparison between e-sports and real sports. Those words are: “entertainment”, “enterprise” and “institution”.

First, there’s “entertainment”. There is no doubt that both e-sports and real sports are entertaining. Whether you are actively participating in a sport or game that you enjoy, or simply spectating, you are being entertained in some way. However, there are more aspects to the word “entertainment” than just the superficial meaning, as we will see later.

Second, we have “enterprise”. The growth of real sports into a dominant international industry happened long, long before I, or almost all of you, were born. The scale of sports industries is massive, from the selling of the spectacle itself, to merchandising, to external ventures, to sports-related sales and so on. E-sports on the other hand are very, very new. However, their appeal comes from several factors we will discuss in the future. While their scale in terms of the economics may not be even a drop compared to the ocean of sports money, their potential for future growth is more massive that it seems at first glance.

Lastly, we have “institution”. What is an “institution”? When I use the term, I am referring to an abstract structure or idea which people feed into and propagate through concrete means, but in the end what they receive is an abstract reward. All this talk of “abstract” and “concrete” might have you confused, so here’s an example. Marriage is often referred to as an institution. What is it though? It definitely isn’t a concrete thing. You can not eat it, smell it, pick it up or throw it (no matter how hard some have tried). It is just an idea that two people will be “together”, whether it be in the physical sense or in the obligatory sense. The institution of marriage is thus used as the roof under which two people can make an intimate and long-lasting connection. That “connection” is propagated through the families of the two married people.

So how does that relate to e-sports and real sports? Well, the reason I look at e-sports and real sports as institutions just goes back to my definition. A lot of people spend a lot of time watching e-sports and real sports. They spend money too. This is because of something intangible. There is an invisible return on investment here that defines the “institution” of e-sports and real sports. This will be made more clear when we get into the essay.

Okay, so after ALL OF THAT, what do we have? Well, we are going to look at e-sports and real sports as enterprises and institutions providing entertainment. Okay, sounds good? Sounds good. I think now is a good time to take a break. I hope this introduction was fairly clear and you can always refer back to it as you read the essay (I know I will refer back to it as I write it!). For now though, this is me signing off. Thanks for reading and have a great day.