Extra Innings: LA Times legitimizes the concept of esports

The Los Angeles Times announced yesterday that its owner Pat Soon-Shiong has invested, alongside NantWorks, in Daybreak Game Company, a video game company. The primary goal behind this investment is to improve development within the video game industry and stay competitive with other top-tier gaming companies.

Soon-Shiong joins the elite company of esports investors including 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.

NantWorks is also planning to construct the “L.A. Times Center,” which will include an event space, production studio and esports arenas built to handle the bandwidth associated with professional gaming. This space will be located adjacent to the new L.A. Times headquarters in El Segundo.

All of that is great and all, but the real news is that the Los Angeles Times sports section will soon be adding coverage of esports competitions. Words cannot describe how excited I was to hear this news. I have been a fan of esports for nearly three years. As a matter of fact, my first column at the Daily Trojan was about how colleges should adopt esports and how this new form of competition should be considered and treated as a sport.

For years, investors, players and fans have been laughed at when they try to convince people that esports are sports. These sports traditionalists are closed-minded, refusing to give esports a chance. The decision of the LA Times to cover esports in the sports section of the paper legitimizes the sport as a whole. I urge traditional sports journalists and fans to give esports a chance. So many of the qualities we love in sports are mirrored in esports: The hard work, dedication, overcoming of adversity and showings of pure physical ability all exist in esports.

“The growth of virtual sports has been explosive,” Times Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine said. “We look forward to covering all the major games companies, including Daybreak.”

The most notable U.S.-based esports league is the Overwatch League, which debuted last year and is located in Burbank. This league’s season spans more than six months in which 12 teams located across mostly the US and some foreign nations compete for a million dollar prize. Traditionally esports have only gained traction overseas in Europe and Asia. Breaking the norm, the OWL was wildly popular in its inaugural season and was a testament that esports can be successful on US turf.

Another huge step in the legitimization of esports has been the popularization of the battle royale survival game Fortnite. I also wrote a column regarding how Fortnite has helped the esports scene grow, exponentially. I want to redact one of the statements I made in that column. I claimed that Fortnite is not designed to be an esport. What I should have said is that it wasn’t designed to fit the mold of traditional esports. Epic Games has done a magnificent job of organizing their “Summer Skirmish” tournament. They have brought together hundreds of professional players to host a tournament for thousands of viewers to watch.

Bringing esports into the mainstream will not be an easy task. It will take several years for people to adapt to the changing sports landscape. The addition of esports coverage to the Los Angeles Times is a major step forward for the sport as a whole. I only hope that other publications can implement esports coverage and that sports readers will be open-minded enough to consider reading esports content and watching a tournament.

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