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Future Sport

Over the course of my journaling hiatus, Eileene’s sister managed to hook us both into watching League of Legends as a spectator sport. LoL is, at heart, a capture-the-base game. Five-man teams choose characters with different strengths and weaknesses, and attempt to destroy the enemy base before their own is destroyed. There’s a lot more to it than that—LoL and its genre are enormous kluges of game design, and explaining the game would be more akin to explaining baseball than soccer.

It may seem strange to call a computer game a sport. Admittedly, playing LoL is nothing like playing football or jai alai or golf or what-have-you. But watching LoL is just like watching any professional athletic event. And I defy anyone to argue that a video game is somehow less manly or athletic or sport-like for its spectators than any traditional sport is for its spectators: you sit in your chair and whoop for your team’s successes and gripe at their failures. Beer and chicken wings optional. The video athletes are considerably less fit than physical athletes, I suppose, but that doesn’t make any difference to the couch potato, and one could make a case even for the athleticism of LoL pros on the grounds that their reflexes and reaction times must surely lie at the peak of human potential. Staggering.

Indeed, I can find only three differences between watching an e-sport and a traditional sport, two meaningless and one significant.

First, the sportscasters are younger. The caster’s desk is not occupied by overweight fifty-year-old former players still yearning for their glory days. No, the caster’s desk is occupied by thirty-year-old former players, washed up at twenty-five when their reflexes are no longer insanely high. But the banter is exactly the same: the citing of meaningless statistics, the previews and reviews of the same game you could just watch yourself, the breathless way that they describe every single play as possibly deciding! The whole! Game!

Second, the audience is a lot smaller and a log geekier, although sports-jock “bro” personalities are already in evidence among the fans. I’m sure that will change with time. E-sports have one major factor to recommend themselves, namely…

Third, and this is the important one, games are a helluva lot faster than professional sports. A LoL game typically lasts around 45 minutes, with 30- or 60-minute games being noteworthy extremes. And it’s all action. A professional football or soccer game might have an hour or so on the official clock, but once you add the time-outs, the commercial breaks, the referee conferences, the penalty shots, the 7th-inning stretch, the substitutions, the half-time performances, all the tedious time between plays, professional sports last hours, most of which isn’t actually the sport in action.

Which is the biggest reason I never got into watching sports in the first place. Game? Cool. Statistics to pore over? Swell. Watch television five hours for an hour of actual game time? Forget it. E-sports are way more exciting for this reason alone. And why I expect them quickly to mushroom in popularity.

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