Competitive gaming has been around a long time on the PC with professional Starcraft leagues or tournaments for games like Quake and Counter-Strike. The Xbox 360 has made competitive gaming much more popular in recent years with the pro-gaming console league Major League Gaming, or MLG for short, and has begun to be classified as a sport by many gamers. Even sports news coverage, such as ESPN, have bought into this new fad called E-Sports (electronic sports) and now covers MLG games on their website and even sometimes mentions it on Sportscenter. But is this attention justified? Are E-Sports really sports? The answer is no and here are reasons why this is so.
Lack of wide innate skill gap
I thought I would start off with this reason so that any gamers who think this is the sole reason for this article can be settled right off. I’m not saying that I could beat a Halo 3 player such as Tsquared. He is better than me. A lack of innate skill gap means that, with dedication, almost any gamer can become a pro at the game they want to compete in. This is not true for everybody and here is an example. When I used to play SOCOM II, a friend of mine had over 2,000 hours logged onto the game online. I had less than 50 hours, but I was far and away a much better player than him. I think that no matter how much he played, I would have always been better. But, on the other hand, there are many players such as myself that are just naturally good at video games. I have a 2.5 K/D ratio on Halo 3, but I rarely play the game and do not take it seriously. I don’t even like it. I have a feeling, though, that if I played 8 hours a day or more with the intent to take it very seriously, I could probably compete at the MLG level. I have a feeling a majority of the players on Halo 3 that are dedicated to it, could compete at the MLG level.
This is not so with sports like hockey, basketball, baseball, even golf or tennis. I used to play hockey as a kid but no matter how much I played, there is a 99.999% chance I would never make it into the NHL. I think the same can be said for thousands, maybe even millions of athletes in major sports. But not gaming. You have a very good chance of being able to compete in the field of gaming simply by training and staying dedicated to it.
Perhaps I could never beat TSquared but because gaming does not involve physicality, the difference between us would be only dedication. He is a lot more dedicated than I am, and has been for a very long time. The professional gaming plays video games as his life. I chose a different career path. Just like I wouldn’t be as good a forensic investigator as someone who has 20 years experience, I wouldn’t be as good a gamer as TSquared if I competed against him right now.
There is no scouting combine
In most major sports leagues like the NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB, there are minor leagues or college level play. This is how players make it up to the majors, they play through college and then get drafted to a team or play in the minors, prove themselves, and are called up. In E-Sports, there’s no minors. You don’t have to prove yourself to compete, you just pay to enter an event. I can’t tell you the number of times I have watched a sports game on TV to hear an announcer say something along the lines of ‘You’re in the Majors, you should be able to make that play’ or something similar. There’s no prestige being an MLG player, it’s meaningless. Anybody can become one at anytime. Now, you might get badly beaten if you’re no good, but it’s because you’re competing at a level you shouldn’t be. There’s a reason when major league players in MLB are sent down to the minors on a rehab assignment or something that they dominate or that a player who might dominate at triple A or the AHL for hockey might suck in the NHL or MLB, it’s a completely different level of play.
E-Sports don’t have levels of play like this (sure there’s the CAL and CPL but it doesn’t work the same way). Either you are competing or you’re not. I think to be considered a sport, MLG should remedy this by incorporating a minor league where players are farmed from to competing in the majors. This would be the only way to get into the majors is to be invited, not simply sign up and paying a fee.
A lack of unity or organization
There are a lot of gaming leagues out there. There’s the MLG, CAL, CPL, GGL, Gamebattles (actually a branch of MLG), Starleagues, and many others, some more legitimate or popular than others. Sure there are different sports leagues, but I don’t think anybody is going to say that in America there is a football league more legitimate or popular than the NFL or a hockey league more legitimate and popular than the NHL. Why doesn’t gaming have one legitimate league? Why is it so fragmented? If it was a true sport, it should have a unity of organization. Instead, leagues are just privately owned and run which leads to so many different ones. Are players in MLG better than a player in CPL? Who knows, they are different leagues with different games. I can confidently say players in the NHL are better than players in a European League.
This brings me to another point, the organization of E-Sports is nothing like a sport. There is no regular season, there are only events and ladders. Even the leagues that pretend to have seasons are only running ladders for a specific time-frame and call it a season. Ladders don’t work like seasons because you can join or leave a ladder at any time. If you go 0-5 on Gamebattles, delete your team and remake it and you erase your bad start. Teams don’t have the same number of games played. You can challenge other teams at your whim so you never have to play a team that you know could beat you unless you reach the Playoffs. Real sports aren’t like this. There aren’t just a handful of tournament-style events throughout the season.
Making it more sports-like
Overall, E-Sports leagues seem to be trying to make gaming appear to be a sport without actually making it into one. Like the addition of coaches in MLG games like Gears of War and Halo. That seems like a completely ludicrous addition to professional gaming and one that doesn’t even make it more like a sport. Why does a gamer need a coach?
To make gaming into a sport, they should make organizational changes. Let’s continue to use MLG as an example. A Halo 3 team in MLG should have to be sponsored by a corporation or person. A sponsor doesn’t just pay for trips to Meadowlands and give you cool gaming rigs. That person should own the team and they make the roster changes. If Ogre 1 and Ogre 2 don’t like Walshy anymore, too bad. They don’t have a say, the sponsor does. Teams shouldn’t be just a group of friends that got together one day and have played together ever since. They should be solid foundations that will exist years from now, with our without it’s current player roster.
They should implement a regular season. Instead of going to a handful of tournament events or competing in some online ladder, the teams involved in the season are set at the beginning of the season. No more can teams join or leave once the season is underway. Thus, schedules are set for each team. If you are scheduled to play a team, you go to that location and play them. Real sports teams and players travel a lot. It seems gamers sit at home training for the next event. You train during the off-season in a sport, and play during the season. Why would competitive play be held online when you have network issues, potential cheating, and lag? It doesn’t make sense. So there’s no reason they shouldn’t be traveling around the country to play their next scheduled opponent.
Each team would have the same number of games played. After the season is over, playoffs would be seeded and played in the tournament-style events like Meadowlands. That should be how playoffs are done. Right now it seems they have no relevance at all other than winning you money and giving you points.
There should also be a scouting combine. You can’t simply up and join an MLG competition one day. You will have to enter into a separate league and compete there until you are invited by a team owner to join an MLG team. That would give legitimacy to the league and also probably weed out a lot of want to-be’s and posers because they aren’t going to want to compete and travel a lot.
Another idea I had for American professional gaming would be to hold state tournaments which would recognize the best players that live in each state. These players would then be eligible to compete on the main MLG or professional circuit. I think something like this would be more feasible than a minor leagues for gaming. And c’mon, who doesn’t like saying things like I went to states in 2009.’
Physicality doesn’t matter
A lot of people say gaming isn’t a sport because it’s not physical. I’m not saying this because it is debatable whether or not sports require physical activity. After all, NASCAR is considered a sport by some and the driver just sits there. Bowling is also considered a sport and that involves very little physicality. It’s also debatable whether or not gaming has no physicality in the first place. Gaming requires reaction time and motor skills as well as critical and analytical thinking, just like real sports. I think the real reasons that people say gaming is not a sport is because of the ones outlined above. It just seems more like a hobby and doesn’t conduct itself in a professional or sports-like manner.