Sports, More Sports and E-Sports

“To see the glory in sport, where somebody comes from behind and does something, sinks a shot in the last second or throws a touchdown pass or hits a home run, there is a beauty in that, and at the end of the day, that’s why we love sports more than anything else.”
Frank Deford

Sports, More Sports and E-Sports

There is an interest from Blizzard and other computer game companies to make their games into esports; viewable by fans.

This is a big deal! The Heroes of the Dorm tournament made it onto ESPN2. I can’t help but wonder why anyone would want this to happen. I am aware of some tournaments in South Korea and, I think, more where the fans love their players. Very popular.

One would not think that anyone would want to watch someone else play a fantasy computer game but TwitchTV was bought up for millions of dollars. Clearly there is a market but a market that relies on a ton of viewers.

So, where is this all going?

First of all, ESPN is one of the few possessions by Disney that isn’t making money. As cheap as cable tv can be, those fishing shows and girl’s softball and skaters and archery are not drawing a lot of viewers. To want to push esports as a spectator sport could be a desire with a limp.

In sports (in the United States, my humble landscape), the big dog is the National Football League. The popularity is driven by Fantasy Football which is a type of gambling. Fantasy Football (where you get points from an individual players points) can drive ratings even on bad games, out drawing the World Series in Baseball.

As an aside: with gambling comes the chance of people trying to skew the odds. While Las Vegas and Casinos can keep tight track of their cards, machines, dice, rules and environment; a NFL player leaves the stadium. What is to keep me from stepping on the foot of my rival player in church? With so many people gambling, I would worry about the health and safety of the players. I think the NFL is very fragile right now.

Esports will have some challenges. The fan will want to support the player more than the game itself. That player has to have a personality, charisma, back-story and more. The announcer will have to design rivalries for us to care; I doubt that they will go so far as wrestling but we want to cheer for a good guy (however that is defined).

College sports have a great history of success and that comes from cheering for the home team. Esports may not have a “home” team, they might need to create regions or zones. If not, then it will be like the NBA where (due to free agency) we follow our favorite players instead of our ever-changing home team. Roll Tide.

If esports is going to get BIG, which I assume is the motive, then they need to introduce gambling; which is a bit sickening if you ask me. Otherwise, they will limp along like Arena Football.

Human Interest stories work well for the short-term. The Survival reality show, American Ninja Warrior, game shows, singing talent shows; we all hear the story and cheer for the story we like — but that would not work year after year.

Why would I care? Or, more importantly, how can you make me care? In the few sports that I understand, I like a team that can play well; both the NBA and the NFL watered down their product with expansion and some teams can’t compete even though they are professionals. In the sports that I don’t understand, like golf or tennis or baseball, it is the individual’s story that I care about. “Setting a new record”, well, I understand wanting an achievement! I’ll follow a game with a great human interest story but I won’t watch it the next day.

Maybe we simply want acceptance? We want the world to acknowledge that what we do is valid and pure and meaningful. Could Blizzard be embarrassed at making fantasy dungeon games and now, with a big stack of cash, wants to be accepted?

I think that it will come down to an excellent announcer who is telling a story. Whether we get those great Mexican Soccer announcers who yell G-o-aaaaaaaaaal! or the hushed respectful whispering of the golf announcer or even the goofy baseball guys who can spend ten minutes side-tracked on a bit of trivia; it will come down to the guy who is telling us the story while we watch.

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