Tuesday, June 24

Gamers as athletes?

I thought I misread the headline, but I read it right: College recruiting gamers as athletes. And offering them scholarships.

Now this is either the best recruiting and marketing ploy ever, or this is going to set up Robert Morris University as a laughingstock. Yea, there are probably other options, like it could start to legitimize gamers as athletes, but I think that's a very long row to hoe. On the other hand. . .

I learned that professional gamers can earn up to $100K. Yes, professional gamers. Before you are too dismissive of the idea, think about riding a skateboard as a professional, or doing funky (and often death-defying) tricks on a bike or a motorcycle for a living.  Or playing chess or poker as a professional. Or shooting a basketball or kicking a soccer ball. After all, for millions of people those are recreational entertainment. But for those who are really good and really passionate, those activities are a way to make a living.

I don't know anything about the game League of Legends other than what I've read in the paper and online. Like any given day approximately 27 million play it. And that "a League of Legends championship sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles last October."

I found a link that let me watch some League of Legends competitive play, complete with commentators. I'd have to watch a lot more to figure out what the heck is going on, but yea, it's intense and requires teamwork. Is it a sport?

Dictionary.com defines "sport" as "an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc."

In 2008, someone posted that golf, bowling, curling, pole vaulting, and roller blading should not be considered sports because no defense is involved. Athletic competitions, maybe, but not sports. Interesting. But by this definition, gaming is a sport because there is defense. In fact, gaming may meet all six of the offered criteria: athletic ability, strength, endurance, strategy, competition, and defense. Perhaps not the athletic ability you might see in a football, soccer, basketball, hockey, volleyball, baseball, softball, lacrosse, or rugby player, and probably not the kind of strength you might see in any of those sports.

Another definition is "an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment."  By that definition, gaming is a sport. 

Is chess a sport or a competitive activity? Darts? Poker? It's a question that's been asked many times before and for which there seems to be no clear answer if only because of the way the participants might see themselves. 

So I don't know if Robert Morris University is on to something way ahead of the bleeding edge or if they're just going to look foolish for setting aside $450K for scholarships for three varsity gaming teams and beginning the search to hire a coach. 

I do wonder about the overall impact of legitimizing gaming in this way. Are all gamers weird and anti-social? No. Might there be concern that gamers will only encourage the kids who hunker in their rooms in the dark lit only by their monitors to retreat even further into that make-believe world which seems peculiarly marked by violence? Yes. No doubt about it. Might there be even greater need to help kids find balance between actual physical activity (like skateboarding, roller blading, bike riding, even playing on swings) and gaming? Probably. Will this invite a whole new form of bullying? Sadly, I fear so. Might this help us see more clearly the future of things if we strip away the features of the game itself and look at the skills to play the game? Perhaps. Might this help us imagine differently and more creatively as we think about the future of things as we strip away the features of the game and look to what else in inherent in the design and the play of the game? One can hope.

But is it a sport? Mmmm. I don't think so. Not yet anyway. 


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