E-sports has established its place as a key entertainment option

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Photo by Dylan Hines

In 2014, the FIDE World Chess Championship attracted a viewership of more than 1.2 billion people.

That means that over 1/7th of the world’s population hit pause on their varied, normal lives to dedicate their meager attention to a series of long, straining sessions of mental combat involving a limited number of options within a field of rigid parameters.

This is the perhaps the only prestigious analogy that exists when attempting to legitimize the rise in popularity of watching strangers play video games competitively, or “e-sports”. Twitch alone, likely the most popular website to tune into these live streams, attracts the attention of over 45 million vicarious gamers each month. Viewers can search by game (from DOTA 2 to Mario Teaches Typing 2) or host to find the best stream to suit their interests.

Despite the superficial oddness of the hobby, there is an enormous community of people with an incredible interest in the intricacies of the more esoteric functions of their favourite software.  With this kind of attention, there is the opportunity to create a dissecting fork between profits and communities.

Perhaps the latter is what the rise in popularity can be best attributed to: creating an accessible place for people to build relationships. By spectating, a person is able to invest themselves in an activity by alternative and superficial means. Just as how comic book conventions create communities and interactions simply based on the virtue of liking Spider-Man, so can the able-bodied and confident or the bedridden and socially anxious create friendships and become impassioned with something from the safe-space of their desktop monitor. It’s a comprehensive hobby that has the potential for serious or casual interest.

Unfortunately, even with all the inherent good one could argue for, in legitimizing a movement, there are always going to be significant ancillary impacts. Jordon Wood, an EB Games employee for over ten years, harbours a legitimate concern with the movement and how it has influenced the industry.

“[E-sports] expanded into corporate sponsored and influential groups that now exert power over companies to decide how games function,” Wood said.

“It decentralized games from single player and couch co-op [and] placed emphasis to quick and primarily online versus.”

It’s an interesting consideration that has even more universal implications, considering how ubiquitous sponsorship is the competitive world. There is room to expose virtually anything that even barely qualifies as a sport to this type of scrutiny, whether sponsored by Under Armour Athletic Apparel or Mountain Dew and Doritos — but what is the cost?

Real qualms seem to be with its impact on the industry: are changes in gaming to facilitate for more immersive viewing actually degrading the gaming experience, or are we too caught up in our now “classical” idea of what video games are supposed to be?

It is only when we are able to reconcile the dichotomy of corporation and community that we can genuinely have an answer to that question.


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