One of the biggest developments in gaming in recent years has been the rapid development of eSports. This industry, revolving around tournaments and livestreams of video game competitions, has become one of the most lucrative and exciting aspects of the whole gaming world. With hefty amounts of prize money available for bigger tournaments, as well as an increasingly active betting scene, eSports is becoming a central part of the gaming landscape. But it hasn’t risen to this point without some issues.
Namely, though there has been progressing, the eSports business as a spectator activity is still struggling to attain full acceptance by the general public. This is due in part to people’s preferences for established entertainment and physical sport (leading to all sorts of debates about whether or not eSports is in fact a sport). However, there’s also been plenty of drama within the eSports scene itself that has made it difficult for some to latch on.
One of the biggest sources of controversy within the scene is something that fans of more traditional sports will be readily familiar with: underhandedness. Recently, controversies about cheating, throwing games, and pot splitting have rocked the eSports world and the community following it. These are not just casual problems, but rather impactful issues that affect numerous levels of the eSports world. Competitors don’t always feel like they’re getting a fair shake; fans can be disappointed; some spectators may even lose money on the inadequately regulated competition. As alluded to above, the betting side of eSports has become increasingly active, which means ordinary people have real money riding on these games and tournaments.
To provide an example of some of these foul play issues, we’ll look to the recent controversy involving the Overwatch competitive circuit, regarding a player known as Ellie
A prodigy who seemingly came out of nowhere, Ellie hit the scene with force. Her impressive performance and character mastery succeeded in gaining the attention of the professional team known as Second Wind, which announced its intent to sign her soon after her emergence. But something about her didn’t sit right with the community, and questions arose. No doubt due in part to the suddenness of her arrival on the scene, Ellie’s legitimacy was thrown into question, and a war over whether she was the real deal erupted; lines were drawn, and article after article defending or condemning her were posted. The eSports community was in turmoil.
And then, the truth came out. Ellie was in fact not the real player, but an actress pretending to play the matches. The real player was someone named Punisher, who had hired “Ellie” as a sort of personal experiment that got way out of hand. Having previously applied for competitive teams and been denied, Punisher created “Ellie” to see if a quick change in gender would change his prospects. As you might imagine, this story coming to light only intensified debate and made some wonder what else on the scene might not be as it seems.
Which Games Are Worthy?
An all-too-common response from those who first learn about eSports is the clichéd “well, it’s not a real sport” retort. This is a problem that’s faced eSports from the beginning, but it doesn’t just come from the outside. The judgment and condescension can be just as prevalent from those within the scene.
Most commonly, this kind of treatment occurs across genres. For instance, first-person shooter players might look down on fighting game players on the grounds that FPS games require more skill for knowledge; in turn, fighting game players may say the same about other genres, like MOBAs or RTS games. This circular habit of discrediting other games and gamers can actually occur even within genres. Fighting game players commonly cite titles like Super Smash Bros. as “not real fighting games,” pointing instead to the likes of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat as more authentic or “worthy” alternatives. Believe it or not, the same arguments even occur about different games within the same series!
These issues, of foul play and debates over legitimacy, don’t tell the whole story – but they do speak to many of the smaller things holding eSports back from more mass exposure.
So what is there to be done?
Intersectionality is Key
When dearly eSports teams were formed, it was typical for them to relate to individual games. Thus, the involved gamers would gain little exposure to other types of games, and have little interaction with other players – ultimately leading to misguided opinions and unnecessary competitive disagreements. However, there has lately been a shift in how teams are formed that could change this, and many of the resulting problems.
Instead of hiring players for single games, eSports teams are now diversifying their hires, bringing in players relevant to all kinds of different titles. Some teams expand into new games one player at a time. Others are brought together by mergers between their controlling parties. Regardless of the method, however, these new multi-game eSports teams are giving their players something especially valuable, even if they don’t realize it: mutual respect.
By sharing a team with players of other games, these players are getting exposure and learning about the hard work and practice hours that go into the games they’re not involved with. This kind of cross-exposure is slowly narrowing the gap between gamers, allowing the eSports industry to become more unified. That’s not to say it’s not still a very competitive environment, and this unfortunately means that issues of fair play may still come up. This kind of increasing unification, however, is at least a start. If the industry becomes friendlier and more united within, it may ultimately become more appealing to more people watching from the outside.