Growing eSports requires accessibility

Blair Hanley Frank

Sometimes, when I’m bored, I like to watch other people play video games. I’m not alone, either: an entire community has sprung up in support of “eSports,” which is a fancy term for what most people would consider competitive video gaming. Interestingly, it’s fairly popular: Video streams of popular tournaments will often bring in tens of thousands of viewers who are following their favorite teams and players. But as far as the popular consciousness goes, eSports isn’t often discussed just because most people don’t even know it exists. For those of us who enjoy it, we really want to see it flourish. There’s a lot of talk about growing eSports and making eSports more popular, but it’s often directed at a preexisting community. If the eSports community is going to stand up and scream WE DEMAND TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY, we need to be willing to take outreach seriously.

Illustration by Bowen

One of the biggest issues I have with the current eSports scene is the unwillingness to cater to the uninitiated. A lot of the games we enjoy watching (Counter-Strike, Starcraft and League of Legends come to mind) have a higher base level of understanding than a game of football or baseball. In baseball, the objective is fairly obvious: Get more runs than your opponent by making it possible for your players to run around the bases more often than their players. Even before the game ends, the conditions for winning are pretty clear. Whoever has the bigger number on the scoreboard at the end of the game will win. Compare that to a game like Starcraft. There’s really no easy way for someone who has never played Starcraft before to look at a single frame of the middle of a game and see how it’s going. That, in and of itself, isn’t a problem. It becomes a problem when there’s also no intelligent commentary that allows people to understand what’s going on.

I’m a huge baseball statistics nerd. Being able to look at players through the lens of their numbers is something that appeals to me. But at the same time, I don’t expect commentators to wax poetic about Carlos Beltran’s wins-against-replacement rating or a certain team’s win percentage during a part of the game. I understand that’s not something that ordinary spectators are interested in. Unfortunately, eSports are really missing that mentality at the moment. I see a constant push for more and more detailed and advanced commentary, not commentary that everyone can understand. For those of us who enjoy watching a Major League Gaming tournament on the weekends, we have to be willing to give that up if we honestly want to grow gaming into something that people can watch on TV. Assuming a spectator will understand the ins and outs of a game is too great a burden of knowledge, especially with the games that are currently being played in a professional capacity.

I think there’s a great opportunity in the future for people to sit down and watch a video game played competitively and really get involved in that competitive scene. But unless we’re willing to actually make eSports accessible to people who don’t eat, sleep and breathe these games, that’s not going to become a reality. We need to drop the elitism and welcome the uninitiated because this is too much fun not to share.