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Up Next: Sports vs eSports

It’s Sunday afternoon. What do you watch? The big football match on TV, or a League of Legends LCS game on the Internet?

I have friends who hate the idea of watching sport on television, and yet they spend hours every week watching eSports like Starcraft and League of Legends online. Equally, I have friends who watch sport on TV whenever they get the chance, yet find the idea of watching eSports laughable. I love both, but what is it that makes people prefer one over the other? Is it just the name? I’m not a fan of the term “eSports”, but we’re stuck with it for now, and regardless, I think the answers lie a little deeper. I asked some of my friends about it, so let’s take a look at some particular topics they brought up.

Physicality

The most fundamental difference between the two forms of entertainment is that one is physical, while the other is mental (essentially, there are no muscles in your fingers after all). This cerebral style of gameplay appeals to some people more than others. Watching professional athletes run around is undoubtedly impressive, but is it any more impressive than watching a professional LoL player immediately size up a situation and pull off a stunning play to save the game? Ultimately it all boils down to the same thing. We like watching people do things that we know we are incapable of.

Accessibility

Barrier to entry is a tricky thing. When we get down to it though, downloading a free game and spending a few hours playing it is just easier than going to the gym for the same amount of time. (Depending on the type of player you are, you might work up just as much of a sweat though.) What this means is that you can watch a LoL match, and then jump into a game to try and recreate what you have seen without much exertion. You’re not going to be able to straight away, but at least you have the right tools at your disposal. You’re on the same map, Summoner’s Rift, with the same set of champions and abilities. What you can’t do, is watch the FA Cup Final on TV, and then ask the boys to hang around for a bit so you can head to Wembley Stadium and kick a ball around with them. Being able to watch the pros play, and then play yourself on the same terms is pretty cool.

Metagame

Variety is the spice of life. Sports have rules, and teams have found the best way to win within those boundaries. There are certainly different styles of play, and the overall game changes slowly over the years, but for the most part, real life sports remain the same. A game like League of Legends seems to change almost on a weekly basis. Sure, the basics are pretty much set in stone, you have to destroy towers and eventually the enemy team’s nexus. But with balance changes and new champions being added constantly, we get to see different characters and play styles being utilized all the time. Remember a time when you would be laughed at for running a bruiser in the mid lane? Or a time before that when you would run a solo AD champion there? This game is only a few years old, and yet it has already gone through some drastic changes, and people like to watch that happening.

Community

If you want to talk to a bunch of people about something these days, there’s a good chance you’ll be doing that on the Internet. Multiplayer games have the advantage here, as they too are on the Internet, crazy right? While MOBAs like League of Legends are notoriously unwelcoming to new players, if you can ignore the general hate that you will receive during the first few dozens games that you play, it’s not so bad after that. The LoL subreddit is buzzing with activity all day, as well as the League of Legends forums, and the Riot Games YouTube channel, and live streamers on Twitch.tv and Azubu.tv. It is possible to completely immerse yourself in this world, and pretty much every day you’ll get something different. Real life sports communities are certainly larger, but also more aggressive. You see pictures of fans swearing and making hand gestures at opposing players, while audiences at LoL events seem to just want to wear their Teemo hats and have a good time. Although there are certainly followers of certain teams, it seems like most fans just want to see an exciting match, rather than see a certain team win.

Personalities

Let’s face it, the majority of professional LoL players aren’t that good in front of a camera. There are some who are though, and it’s interesting to see them display their day to day lives on the Internet. We see sports stars talking on Twitter all the time, and eSports players are prolific Tweeters too, but we have the added bonus of being able to watch them live stream on most days. This element of transparency in their lives is something we don’t get from real life sportsmen and women, so it is interesting to watch what professional LoL players get up to. Sure, it just becomes reality TV at some point, but everyone’s allowed a guilty pleasure.

Coverage

Coverage is one area where real life sports are still ahead in for now. That being said, eSports coverage, and League of Legends in particular is certainly becoming more professional. With the introduction of LCS for this season, we are treated to loads of games on four days of each week. With so much going on, it’s only natural that coverage is going to get better. We are seeing them take cues from other professional sports, such as bringing in pundits to discuss tactics for certain teams and players, slow motion replays and interviews with the players. Hosts are getting better at getting the crowd ready to go, and casters are getting better at commentating.

Infancy

Perhaps the most exciting thing about League of Legends right now is its grassroots nature. It is the most popular game in the world right now, but it’s still very much in its infancy. With it growing all the time, it will be interesting to see where it goes from here. Being just a small part of that and watching whatever happens is a cool prospect.

If you prefer watching one or the other, let me know with some reasons why, and perhaps I’ll revisit this topic at a later date. Until then, thanks for reading.

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One comment on “Up Next: Sports vs eSports

  1. [...] I wrote an article last week attempting to determine why some people prefer watching real life sport over eSports (electronic sports – essentially playing games professionally) or vice versa. Read that to find out a bit more about it, but regardless of your opinions, the popularity of eSports is growing rapidly. For a long time, Starcraft was at the top of the competitive gaming ladder, but in the past couple of years League of Legends has taken the top rung. [...]

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