Video games: sport or past time?

This column is devoted to a topic of great personal interest: the professional sport of video gaming. Professional video gamers can be divided into two categories: those who play for the entertainment of others and those who play for money, often in tournaments.

The sport of video gaming is a frequently misunderstood topic. Many may find competitive video gaming ridiculous. Late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel went so far as to refer to the YouTube gaming channel as the “We Should All Be Very Ashamed of Ourselves for Failing as Parents Channel” and then went on to compare watching a professional play video games to watching someone else eat your food at a restaurant. Many simply do not understand the scope of professional video gaming and its fan base. A current student at the College told me that she felt it was unusual for her entrymates to watch others play video games on YouTube. These criticisms of professional video gaming largely result from ignorance about the true size and scope of the video game community

Kimmel, while speaking partly in jest, simply does not recognize the draw of video games or their potential as a sport. He fails to understand that video games represent the ultimate combination of toys and technology. Video games are not just mindless time sinks for bored teenagers. Many games are educational and multiplayer games foster social interactions between gamers (see “Smashing Friendships,” November 19, 2014). Kimmel’s point on eating at a restaurant is partially correct in that video games, unlike athletic sports, already contain some sort of vicarious experience. To be clear, if I watch baseball I may be attempting to live vicariously through a player, but if I watch a professional game of, say, League of Legends, I may be attempting to live vicariously through a player who is attempting to live vicariously through a video game character. However, this particular point proves nothing except that Kimmel does not understand the appeal of video games.

All I can say is that the popularity of professional video gaming is astounding. League of Legends, the most popular video game (excluding apps), attracts 27 million players each day and has 67 million active players active each month. The world’s largest video game tournament, The International 2015, the world championship for DOTA 2, had a prize pool of nearly $18.5 million. To put that into perspective, the major tournaments of the PGA tour have prize pools of about $10 million.  You might ask: Where does this money come from? It is derived from an enormous community of fans. Effectively, this means that if you are reading this article, you probably have many friends who watch others play video games. They may do it to improve their play or just for fun, but ultimately they form a large but fast-growing fan base for the most modern of professional sports.

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