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Ask Massively: Ridiculing e-sports is bad for MMOs

Bree Royce
Bree Royce|@nbrianna|November 28, 2014 12:00 PM
I don't love e-sports. I've never really been a fan. I used to enjoy spectating Guild Wars matches, but only in short bursts. Truth is, I prefer playing in PvP to watching it. I feel that way about real sports too; the ones I like, I'd rather play than watch. (Except tennis. I have no idea why, but I could watch that all day.)

And if the MMORPG community's comments are any judge, I am not alone in my indifference to e-sports. Actually, "indifference" is probably too tame a word; some MMO gamers are outright hostile to e-sports, be those e-sports jammed into proper MMORPGs or waaaaay out on the fringes of the online gamosphere.

That hostile ridicule of e-sports, however, degrades online gaming, our corner of it as much as anyone's.

Joystiq's Jessica Conditt penned an op-ed last week in which she took mainstream media to task for literally laughing at the idea of e-sports in what are otherwise serious news pieces on the rise of video gaming. As she explained, during a recent NPR broadcast "the hosts rattled off the stats: $500,000 for 30 scholarships [at Robert Morris University], similar to some football scholarships the school offers. [...] 32 million people watched the final League of Legends championship game this year, more than watched the last game of the NBA finals."

And then? "Laughter," she wrote. "There were titters and chuckles at factual information about the League of Legends scholarship."

I might not find e-sports personally appealing, but when media presenters are laughing at me -- at my fellow online gamers, at all of us, just as this hobby is finally surpassing other professional mainstream activities -- I get a little pissed off.

Like Jess, I realize that in 2014, video gaming is simultaneously something everyone does and something everyone mocks. I realize that e-sports are a relatively new professional sport still clawing at legitimacy. It should be shocking that, in a culture ostensibly ruled by money, we still grant more legitimacy to athletes duking it out in a physical contest of brawn than to e-sports champions putting their nerves and stamina and brainpower to the test, even when the latter is increasingly attracting more eyes and potentially more cash. (NASCAR, incidentally, is treated with the same snooty contempt for similar reasons. Apparently, if you're sitting down, you're not doing a sport. Unless it's riding horses. Or rowing boats. Actually, forget it. There's no logic to the pretension.)

But it isn't shocking. The world wants to cover e-sports, but with amusement and derision and a thirst for ad revenue, not respect for players or spectators or game design. As a clever tumblr writer once wrote of the seemingly pro-geek Big Bang Theory, upon close inspection of the narrative, you realize geeks aren't being represented... they're being ridiculed. This is where we rank as gamers. They're laughing at us, not with us. So it is in e-sports.

But the NPR host laughed because we laugh too. We, as online gamers, laugh at scholarships for MOBAs, we laugh when Blizzard pines for e-sports for World of Warcraft, we laugh at ArenaNet for focusing on competitive PvP, we laugh when rape culture invades tournament play, we laugh at every new MOBA that shows up with stars in its eyes and a story about how it's going to reinvent lanes and jungling and last-hitting. We grant plus-ones to ESPN when it declares e-sports not a sport even as it's cynically raking in money from the not-sport e-sports it's promoting on its sports channels. (Say that 10 times fast!)

When we, we old guard MMORPG players atop our niche of online play that's now overshadowed by MOBAs and outnumbered by MOBA players, laugh at e-sports, we look just as out of touch and snobbish as NPR's snickering hosts. If even we don't take it seriously, why should they?

I don't care about e-sports personally as a player, and I probably never will. I'm here for the virtual worlds, and PvP is for me just one slice of them. And I do understand that we're all tired of e-sports being shoehorned into MMORPGs that really weren't designed for them, detracting from the rest of the game. But as a participant in the industry personally and professionally, I care a lot about how our broader genre looks and evolves, even the parts of it that don't light my heart on fire, and even the RPG studios that insist on courting e-sporters. When we tear down e-sports from within, we make the whole gaming industry look awful, the MMO genre included, because let's face it: It's not as if NPR knows the difference between a MOBA and an MMO, let alone all the different types of MMOs and online games out there.

So I'm going to do my best to support my fellow gamers in their perfectly reasonable pursuit of fame and fortune and legitimacy. You're doing great, e-sports. You're hard work and fun. You have become a booming industry, and staggering numbers of people want to play and watch you. You're legit. The geeks are winning.

You'll still get criticism; everything does. But you don't deserve ridicule, e-sports, and you won't hear it again from me.

What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is the edit button on a timer? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every other Friday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at ask@massively.com. Just ask!
Ask Massively: Ridiculing e-sports is bad for MMOs