In the world of esports, it used to seem like mainstream recognition was a pipedream. Now, with ESPN’s coverage, $12 million dollar tournament payouts and news that Blizzard is attempting to build an esports stadium, it only seems like the inevitable next step in a bright future.
I remember my first experience at a tournament. My friends and I went to APEX 2015 when I was in high school. APEX was, at the time, a large gathering of the best Super Smash Bros. players from around the globe, and I was caught up in the drama and the interesting characters.
The thing that needs to be understood about esports is that no two games are the same. Often, they reflect the ideas and styles of regular sports. Smash Bros. features out-of-this-world personalities that players grow into as they play each other in things akin to boxing and UFC, while Counter Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends include fan favorite teams, logos and jerseys that look like something out of the Big Four sports leagues.
At APEX, the narrative was all about the upcoming challenger, Leffen. Fresh off of a new sponsorship, he was eager to prove that he was one of the greats or, as they are still known today: Gods. Five players rose up through the ranks of Smash Bros. winning every major tournament, and when they did lose, it was only to each other. Leffen was the only player outside of the main five that came close to beating all of them, with only Mew2King left in his way.
While this may sound like a narrative out of a sports novel, to me and the thousand people that showed up to APEX, it was very much real. We followed the Godkiller as closely as the general population was following McGregor vs. Mayweather. Because of all the things that have been coming out of esports, the main thing that binds them all together is very simple: amazing stories told with unbelievable skill.
Now, esports are slowly being brought out into the popular realm, with professional sports clubs purchasing major teams or building their own. Our very own Philadelphia 76ers have been the proud owners of Team Dignitas since last year, among other names like Manchester City, Shaquille O’Neil, Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins. They see the crowds that esports can bring in, and not only that, but also the dreams of competitive spirit that run through each gamer’s veins.
Sure, it may not seem appealing to sit down and watch people freak out about a game you’ve never played before, but that’s how I remember getting into the Phillies, Flyers or any other Philadelphia sports team. You sit and you watch, waiting for the moves to be made, because you don’t have to be an expert to know which team is winning. Then you see the sweep, or maybe the comeback, and you start to get involved. It’s how sports are born, and it’s how competition lives on.
All of this is backed by a strange movement, both grassroots and corporate. With the rise of twitch, gamers gained an audience, and an active one at that. With the Amazon owned website allowing donations and subscriptions, all of a sudden players had prize pools, announcers were hired and people could start making a living just by playing video games. People could play Hearthstone while 100,000 people watched and participated.
It’s been two years since I went and watched those Smash Bros. players duke it out on a small projector. While that only seems like yesterday, it seems like such a long time ago now that people watch the same thing on giant screens in places like the Staples Center. My only hope is that esports continue to grow and prosper the way they have for years to come.
Eric Ryan is a fourth-year student majoring in English-writing track. He can be reached at ER821804@wcupa.edu.