I have been around sports essentially my entire life. Since I can remember I was watching sports with my dad and playing all throughout elementary and high school. During those years I was very into the Boston Red Sox. What was potentially even stronger than my love for the Red Sox was my hatred for the New York Yankees. The rivalry is quite possibly the most infamous in all of sports, and the team’s respective fans would just as easily consider themselves “Anti-Other guys” than they would consider themselves fans of their own team.
Fast forward to 2016. I’m no longer as entrenched in traditional sports as I once was and instead have transitioned to the truth of the world: esports. While a lot of aspects of traditional sports have been utilized in esports, there are a few interesting things that haven’t quite made it over. The one in particular is a real sense of team spirit and in the same vane, a sense of disdained and anguish for the opposing teams. Something like that is very commonplace in traditional sports, but is not only not in esports, but in fact is criticized!
Booing those filthy guys on the other team.
There are two instances that I’ve found to be indicative of the anti-conflict sentiment in esports. The first was a very public one that happened recently in the Rogue vs. Envyus OGN semifinals, well written about by Harsha Bandi here. Basically Rogue had the opportunity choose their opponent in the first round of the playoffs and they picked Envyus. This was an interesting choice for a few reasons: Envyus was the #1 team in the world according the the GosuGamers Overwatch Power Rankings, they were the only other “Western” team left in the event, AND Rogue’s captain Akm’s comment about Envyus. When asked why he chose Envyus, despite being considered the most powerful team in the event. Akm stated:
“They were only number one in NA.”
Shots fired. Needless to say, the comment was meant as a sort of trash talk (which I wholeheartedly endorse), but wasn’t a malicious attack on the character of any of the players. I’m not going to delve much deeper into that particular instance because Harsha’s article does that already, but what’s important here to look at is the community’s reaction to it. This line from Harsha’s article says is all:
“the Reddit community derided aKm, calling his comment “classless,” “immature,” and “off-putting.” Fans that brushed off the comment as banter were downvoted for a period of time, while others suggested that aKm failed to recognize both the time and place for such a comment.”
The community’s reaction to aKm is indicative of the second experience I eluded to earlier. This time was at Blizzcon 2016 during the Overwatch World Cup. I, as a student of traditional sports mentality, picked a team that I was rooting for (this is after USA had long since been eliminated) and that team was Sweden. I was getting hyped for them when they did well, was feeling down when they did poorly, and was just all around living vicariously through the team. It was an amazing experience for me in esports; one that I hadn’t felt since the days when I would watch nine innings of Boston Redsox baseball.
The experience I mentioned at the top of the article was not the experience of enjoying watching esports, but rather it was how other people were enjoying it. Here’s an example of what I saw throughout the entire tournament. Sweden would get a great kill and I would cheer wildly as would the other fans I was sitting around. I assumed that I was sitting with a bunch of people who were Sweden fans, but I was surprised to find that not to be the case when Sweden’s opponent would make a good play. Instead of being upset that Sweden was losing, the other fans around me
Cheered just as hard for the opposing team...
My exact reaction when I saw that happening
THIS is what was so off putting for me. It wasn’t like the other fans were watching a competition, but rather seemed more like they were watching a particularly entertaining circus act. For the other fans that I was around there were now downs, there was no friction, there was no conflict.
Why can’t there be conflict in esports? Why not trash talk? Why not booing? What it all comes down to is Passion. Players trash talk to get a rise out of people; fans boo and cheer because it’s the easiest and most effective way to portray the raw passion that they’re feeling at the time vicariously through their team. Fans feel connected to the team on more than an intellectual level. They feel as though they are part of the team.
At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to help esports grow. There aren’t millions of people tuning in weekly to watch the new Zoo exhibit, or a new circus act. Those forms of entertainment are good for what they are, but there’s nothing that creates a sense of ownership and identity like sports do. There are only ups in those mediums, but it’s both the ups AND the downs that come from professional sports and hopefully esports that make people lifelong fans.
TheBlevins is a podcaster, broadcaster and amateur voice actor. He’s normally specialized in strategy games like Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering, but has decided to shift gears into full time Overwatch. Join him as he delves head first into the wonderful new world of gaming and eSports that Overwatch will bring! You can also find all of my Overwatch related work at HighNoonPodcast.com