Thanks to my cord-cutting, no-cable ways, I didn’t watch the final round of the Heroes of the Dorm competition last night, when it aired on ESPN2. But judging by my Twitter timeline during the event, a lot of other people did, and they came from all walks of my social media circles.
I’m both a gamer and sports fan (cheap plug to something I wrote recently), so I follow a lot of gaming and sports personalities on Twitter, so it was a little disconcerting for me to see both of those spheres talking about the same thing Sunday night.
And, while some of them enjoyed it, others were not at all happy about “nerd stuff” invading the holy sanctum of sports that is ESPN… well, ESPN2. Which is like ESPN, but usually less interesting.
Among them was Major League Baseball pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who’s usually a pretty progressive and chill dude but last night turned into as salty a critic of e-sports as there is:
Which prompted some agreement amongst his followers but also some disdain, as well as the following rather sagely comment:
@BMcCarthy32 ESPN broadcasts poker. They've shown Rock-Paper-Scissors tournaments and competitive eathing. THIS is where there's an issue?
— Dylan (@Large_Tots) April 27, 2015
On the other hand, no less a name than NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton – who went to UCLA, which is in the same NCAA conference as Heroes of the Dorm champion Arizona State and chimed in with this:
Heroes of the Dorm – I have never been so proud. Go Pac12, no truck stops here. Just reporting the facts
— Bill Walton (@BillWalton) April 27, 2015
E-sports are growing, and are legitimately mainstream in other, non-English-speaking parts of the world, but for most people, p-sports (physical-sports, a term I totally just invented) are still much bigger. I’m still skeptical of e-sports becoming a major player in Western markets, at least on the level of the most popular p-sports, but with a rabid enough fan base – and their dollars, of course – it can still be at least a factor.
Too much hype? Or the right amount?
I’ve always felt that one of e-sports’ greatest strengths – its passionate fans – is also its greatest weakness, as far as gaining acceptance in the mainstream. Nowhere is this more evident than in listening to high-decibel commentary from overcaffeinated casters, shouting a mile a minute at the top of their lungs about something that, by and large, most of America doesn’t understand.
Or maybe that can work. Sports are a cultural bastion, but so is music. Through the last few decades, we’ve seen various musical movements – rock and roll at first, then heavy metal, rap, grunge, etc. – bubble up, be derided by the mainstream music lovers as brash, loud, obnoxious, “kids’ stuff,” and eventually gain acceptance and become mainstream in their own right – after a remarkably short period of time after their introduction.
I like to think there’s a common ground between the admittedly staid and droll announcing we hear at baseball games and the high-pitched screaming from e-sports, which definitely turns me off – and is, for my money, worse than any ex-jock going on in the broadcast booth about how young players these days don’t respect the game or other such tripe. If I have to deal with something obnoxious, I’d rather it be quiet and obnoxious rather than loud and obnoxious.
Unlike McCarthy, former NFL punter Chris Kluwe likes gaming just fine – he used to write League of Legends articles for the magazine I edited – but even he agrees that e-sports have a lot of work to do before they can truly compete with p-sports:
The deciding factor, of course, is money, which is based on popular appeal. If millions of people want to watch e-sports, networks will find a way to profit off of that. I don’t see any reported Nielsen numbers yet for Heroes of the Dorm, but all the positive Twitter activity in the world won’t amount to anything if ESPN (and others) don’t think they can profit off of it, no matter how much you and all your friends thought the broadcast kicked ass. The reverse is also true; if McCarthy and others thought Heroes of the Dorm was an abomination, but it drew great ratings, you can bet we’ll see more.