I was never a sports kid growing up. I had great friends, but I always felt limited by my lack of sports literacy. I still admittedly feel left out when a group of my close friends get on the topic of sports.
But then a close high school friend, my twin brother and I discovered “StarCraft,” an immensely complex computer strategy game that is played at a lightning-fast pace. It involves gathering resources and using them to build an army that can out-match your opponents.
Mastery of the game, like a sport, is achieved through years and years of dedicated practice. Because of its exhilarating and competitive nature, players in South Korea began playing competitively, forming teams and acquiring sponsorships from some of the largest companies in Seoul. The profession of shout-casting was created, which is the craft of commentary on professional video gaming, just as any other sports caster would at a physical sporting event.
By the time my brother Matt, my friend Kevin and I had purchased our copies, the first game in the series had already established itself as the first true eSport, a video game that is played and broadcasted like any other physical sport. In South Korea, several cable stations were created to broadcast professional “StarCraft.”
By the summer of 2010, the first “StarCraft” title had developed a small but dedicated base of spectators in the West that grew as the release of the second title in the series, “StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty,” grew closer.
In 2010, when “Wings of Liberty” was relatively new, Kevin, Matt and I would sit at our high school lunch table by ourselves and talk for hours about the game. We’d discuss our strategies, the way we operated the game’s controls—otherwise known as mechanics—and who our favorite shoutcasters were.
At this point in time, “Wings of Liberty” was a new game and even the professionals from the first title—which was now 13 years old—who competed in the sequel’s tournaments had not yet understood the nuanced mathematics behind the game. Thus, while none of us ever had prospects of being professional players, we were still part of this collective understanding of an incredibly complex and beautiful game that was slowly gaining popularity over time.
For the first time in my life, I felt empowered. It’s hard to understand how somebody can get so engrossed in a video game until you really sit down and watch a broadcast professional match. Gaming had always been an important part of my life, so when I discovered the StarCraft community, with its forums and the broadcast matches, it reaffirmed me with unwavering positivity that it was cool to be a gamer.
It was okay to be as passionate about casted videogames as it was to be passionate about televised sports, something that I constantly felt shunned for not enjoying as a child.
As college searches began to consume my time, I had to unfortunately set my game aside and focus on getting accepted into Lawrence. During this time, I stopped watching casted matches. When I finally picked up my game again after a four-year hiatus, I resumed playing; since then, eSports in the western world exploded.
Between the years of 2010 and 2014, two games that were much more important for western eSports were released: “League of Legends” and “DotA 2.” These games, while similar to StarCraft, had a gentler learning curve and could be played both competitively and casually without rigorous practice and off-hour study time. As a result, “League of Legends” and “DotA 2” became immensely popular in North America and Europe and their competitive scenes dwarfed the western StarCraft world many times over.
A lot of athletes get offended by the idea that a video game can really be considered a sport. The explosion of eSports in the west is a natural consequence of the fact that video games are an established social norm amongst young people today.
Rather than view eSports as an insult to physical sports, we should celebrate eSports as a cultural institution that positively reaffirms our generation’s passion for video games as both a form of competition and art.
While our parents may hold reservations, the explosion of eSports is starting to be noticed by non-gamers. Recently, the “League of Legends” World Championship was broadcasted on ESPN 3. Meanwhile, as live streaming services like Twitch begin to become more popular, watching competitive gaming will become more accessible than ever.
For many, eSports is a crazy concept to come to grips with. It challenges us to think beyond our reverence for physical sports and asks us to admire the beauty and thrill of competition in a different medium.
Nowadays, I’ve replaced much of my Facebook time, my Netflix time and all my other idle habits with my devotion to learning and mastering StarCraft. It’s something that I find intrinsic value in getting better at. It keeps me focused. It teaches me to multitask and to try and improve in other areas of life. I think of everyday occurrences as a strategic problem with a solution to be executed.
While some may wrinkle their nose and utter, “nerd,” I do my best to articulate my passion to others. That passion, the feeling of being part of a cultural trend that is growing exponentially, is exciting, empowering and something that, for the first time, I can take pride in without reservation.