Extra Innings: Colleges should embrace esports

Sam Arslanian | Daily Trojan

Why do we dedicate our lives to sports? Is it the nail-biting, last-second comebacks? The Cinderella story, that any team on any given day can upset the No. 1 seed? I think it’s the wonder — the shared experience of watching a seemingly ordinary group of people achieve seemingly superhuman feats. I praise these accomplishments so much that I aspire to dedicate my life and career to following and attempting to make sense of the performance of sport from these gladiators in their respective battle arenas. 

Our society seems to have a very rigid definition of the term “sport” and is quick to belittle any activity that deviates from the strict definition. Typically, activities that include a team or individual competing against others in a match of physical exertion, skill and strategy are deemed  sports.

While we seem to have this thin line which separates a sport from an activity, that definition is constantly changing.

Competitive video games, commonly referred to as esports, have proven themselves worthy of classification under the term “sports.” Yes, I just called video games a sport. Don’t write it off as insane just yet.

Not all video games are considered esports. For example, Super Mario Bros. — one of the greatest franchises of the last generation­­ — would not be labeled as an esport. This is because there is no competitive aspect to the game. To be classified as an esport, a video game usually has to be a multiplayer, skill-based and combative game. Similar to traditional sports, esports come in many varieties, but all reflect qualities of common sports. To illustrate some of the similarities, I will focus on one my personal favorite titles: Counter Strike : Global Offensive.

Counter Strike is a multiplayer, team-based, first-person shooter in which two teams of five players compete to win the best out of 30 rounds. In the game, the two opposing teams alternate sides in which one attempts to complete an objective while the other tries to prevent the objective from being completed. The team that succeeds in completing its respective objective is awarded the round.

E-athletes have dedicated their lives to honing their skills in the virtual world. Teams regularly practice over 10 hours a day to improve their reflexes, in-game movements, strategies and team communication. 

Think of baseball, America’s pastime. Baseball, when stripped down to its basics, closely resembles Counter Strike. It has two opposing teams alternating turns in an attempt to score more runs than the other team. Ball players spend hours upon hours in the batting cage or on the diamond perfecting their reflexes, movement, strategies and team communication. Sound familiar?

Many people claim esports lack physical exertion and therefore should not be considered sports. This claim couldn’t be further from the truth. E-athletes exhibit intense physical exertion in the form of keystrokes and mouse movement. These actions are measured in actions per minute, and the best players can easily exceed 500 APM — a feat unattainable to the average gamer.

If my comparison hasn’t convinced you that esports are a legitimate sport, realize that some of today’s most popular sports were not initially percieved as sports, either.

Thirty years ago, the very idea of MMA was absurd. Who would want to watch two grown men in a steel cage,assault each other round after round? Well, apparently, a lot of people, since MMA has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. A once trivial concept has turned into one of today’s largest entertainment spectacles.

I firmly believe that esports are the next MMA, and I am not alone. The Philadelphia 76ers, New York Yankees’  legend Alex Rodriguez and former Los Angeles Lakers Shaquille O’Neal and Rick Fox have all invested in esports organizations. Newzoo — an organization which provides market intelligence covering the global games, esports and mobile markets — has projected that by 2020, esports will be a $1.5 billion market.

A handful of universities are already taking advantage of the growing esports market and offering scholarships for e-athletes to play at the collegiate level. One of the few universities to offer a collegiate esports team, UC Irvine, has two competitive titles and its own arena. 

While USC does not have a collegiate-level team, we do have a club team. It should be up to the University’s athletics program to take a step into the modern world of sports and convert the established club into an esports team. With so few colleges currently offering a team, USC could become the first Pac-12 school to provide a home for some of the world’s greatest e-athletes.

Sam Arslanian is a freshman majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Extra Innings,” runs Mondays.

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