Commentary on the discourse of labels in esports

There’s lots of confusion when it comes to the word “esports.” Lots of people don’t know what it is, if it’s a sport, or even how to spell it (lower case s). Wikipedia defines esports as a “form of competition using video games.” Does that mean when my friends and I get together for spring break and play smash bros that we’re participating in esports and in that term, are esports players? Technically, yes. In my opinion, any video game that puts you against another human player to compete against, can be a part of esports. But what I want to try and convey to you in this post, is that my opinion on what classifies as an esport means jack.

There’s been a lot of discourse around what an esport game is and if esports players are athletes. Do you think it matters to Bjergsen, the star player of one of the most storied and successful league of legends teams, who has a contract worth millions of dollars, cares what people label him as? Probably not, all he cares about every day is getting better. It doesn’t matter if society considers esports players as athletes, because esports players are shaping society. Esports titles hold top positions as the most played video games in the world across all platforms. People play them for entertainment, competition, and to test themselves. Pros sacrifice college educations and move to different countries at the age of 16 to play these games. Esports is full of passionate consumers. What does it matter if people call them athletes or not? The fact is that a professional esports player is in the top .5% of all players in the world. That’s just as impressive if you were a football player, esports player, or Rubik’s cube solver.  You’re doing something better than 99% of the population, that’s pretty rad.

My point so far has been to just enjoy yourself and not worry about others. But even within esports, there’s labelling and gatekeeping, especially when dealing with who can consider themselves “good” or not. Take me for example, my main game is League of Legends. I usually play ranked until I’m high platinum rank and then stop, even when I’m maintaining a good win rate. The level that I reach in platinum has historically been home to the top 5% of players. To put it in perspective, if I performed in the top 5% of wall street traders, I’d be a millionaire 100’s of times over. In League of Legends, I would never get on even the worst professional teams in the world. Does that mean I’m bad at the game? Not really. Sure, there’s still a ton of stuff I don’t know or can’t do in the game, but I’m nowhere near being a “noob”. The learning curve is so steep in esports games even people who aren’t pros have to spend 5+ hours every day honing their craft to be able to compete at even the top 1% level of players. So why call someone bad at a game when they really only play for fun, maybe a couple games a day, and can still be better than 95% of players? It makes no sense, and it’s a problem.

Pros, high ranking players, and amateurs alike won’t consider someone “good” unless they’ve played on a professional team before. Where does this irrational behavior come from? It comes from every players worst nightmare, the bane of gamer’s existence, public enemy number one, matchmaking. Developers have the impossible task of taking players of their game who log on for multiplayer and matching them with other players of the same skill level. This is impossible to do perfectly, or even to do well at all. Pro’s need the best competition they can so that they’re constantly being challenged, even when they’re logging and playing by themselves for practice. The issue is, there’s not many pro’s and there’s a load of less skilled players. Worse players will eventually find their way onto the team of a pro and lose the game for their team. It happens all the time, even when the “less skilled” player is in the top 5%. The massive difference between pros and amateurs makes it hard for pros to find quality matchmaking in any game. Pro players really control the paradigm of all of esports, they’re the super stars. Their attitude against lesser skilled players has trickled down to everyone else. This means that it’s really only what pros consider as being “good” at the game to be what everyone else thinks. It makes sense when you’re a pro who needs to constantly be challenged, but for just the average Joe, it’s toxic.

If you’re even just slightly above average at a video game, you’re good at it. Even if some more traditional thinkers don’t consider video games a sport, who cares? Esports is about having fun and being challenged, anyone at any level can experience that. The discourse of who/what falls under what label has not only ruined diets (every diet has a name, you can’t just “eat healthy” anymore) but it’s taking the fun out of esports. Just enjoy yourself.

Published by Patrick McCarthy

An esports professional wanting to share my thoughts on this exciting space.

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