Is esports eventually going to replace actual sports and what are the effects of COVID-19 on the games?
Kate Couch/ The Broadside
Very popular amongst the gaming community, “esports” refers to multiplayer competitive video games watched by spectators and typically played and watched by professional gamers. When did this $1 billion dollar industry become financially stable for those in gaming, sports and media?
According to Learning Hub, “Esports traces its origins back to 1972 when a Space Invaders Championship yielded 10,000 participants. Fast forward to 1998, and the legendary Starcraft 2 tournament on PC boasted more than 50 million online viewers, 17 million of those coming from Twitch. As the 2000s rolled around, esports gained serious momentum.”
By the early 2000s, esports became a hugely popular industry, and now by the early 2020s, some believe it’s rivaling actual sports.
Jonah Yunker was a star athlete at Summit High School in Bend from 2015 to 2018. Now 20, Yunker quit his promising career in sports due to physical injuries and concussions. He traded his football in for a controller and now frequently participates in esports events.
“I was scouted by Division 1 schools for football and even looked at by some schools for wrestling. I have always loved competition and when I started getting concussions I could no longer play the sports I had given so much time and practice to,” Yunker said. “At that point, I knew about fighting games and that people would have tournaments and some were even getting paid. I had no idea that a town the size of Bend would be hosting tournaments for three different fighting games,” Yunker said.
Even though Bend isn’t a large town there are numerous events for esports.
Yunker shared what it was liking going to these events, after being so used to playing in actual football games.
“My first-week playing esports was a whole new ball game. Everyone there was kind and unassuming, but once you sat down to play against them they turned into a different animal,” Yunker said.
“I lost every game I played that weekend and I couldn’t have been happier. I not only had room to improve and goals to hit but I had a community of people who just wanted to compete in something because traditional sports were not an option for them… just like me.”
Yunker now plays at many tournaments under the gamer name “Slop” he is a top 10 Smash Bros player for his region and an up-and-coming Tekken player as well.
Yunker had a lot of ideas and hopes for the future of esports but most notable was the fact that he believes it has the potential to replace live sports.
“Eventually we are going to move away from traditional sports like football and baseball. In esports you do not have to be a genetic freak to succeed. It takes skill but reaches a higher content of people,” he said. “Video games are a true example of a skill gap. In basketball you can’t control that you are 7 foot, you either have that advantage or you don’t. Even in chess, you can always control who is white and makes the first move (which is seen as an advantage in the chess community).”
“In esports fighting games you both have the same characters to choose from, you start at the same time. The only thing that determines who wins is the skill of the player. I think people are starting to realize this, that is why the NFL ratings are dropping and competitive video games are becoming more and more popular,” Yunker said.
Yunker thinks that because of how accessible esports are, they offer more of an equal opportunity available to a society.
Yunker states that he doesn’t believe we won’t play real sports anymore but rather the industry of professional sports will plummet.
There is, however, a lot of stigma around video games.
Dan Raley, a gaming partner of Yunker, and had some input on esports. He believes that the stigma of the past will go away but not the sports themselves.
“People thinking that video games are dumb or stupid is a thing of the past, sure. But, esports replacing actual sports? It’s possible, but that would be saddening in my opinion,” Raley said. “I’d much rather be an expert fencer or have something that could actually relate to the real-world besides moving my fingers around on a controller.”
Raley commented on where these games are headed.
“Videotape gaming events are probably going to be on TV with the same sponsorships as traditional sports in the near future. Even schools now are offering athletic scholarships to people who can play esports for their school. It’s cool where it’s heading but unlike (Yunker) I just don’t want it to replace the real thing.”
Both Raley and Yunker agree that esports change is happening now. Yunker thinks it’s for the better. People can’t always play “normal” sports, and Yunker strongly believe esports is the solution. Raley loves esports but doesn’t believe it takes the same skill as an actual sport.
“Whether it be because of age, injury or just pure lack of interest, physical sports are not as versatile as they used to be,” Yunker said. “When people no longer want to see steroid-infused men hit each other at high speeds, the esports community has a solution.”
Prior to the pandemic, Raley and Yunker helped run fighting game tournaments for Central Oregon. They hope when regulations lift that they will be able to start back up again.