So far, this column has mainly focused on professional esports and how pursuing esports as a career should not be stigmatized — but pro players are just one part of the sport.
The other prominent aspect of gaming is the streamers: people who commentate while they play video games live for thousands to watch. These people dedicate much of their lives to streaming themselves playing video games for several hours a day. The top streamers receive endorsements and donations as well as money from viewers who pay for premium content.
Some of the most famous streamers have built their followings on streaming platforms because of their professional careers, but the vast majority of streamers are just normal people — many of whom aren’t even that good at the game they play.
But why would anyone want to watch random people play video games, especially if they’re not very good to begin with? The answer is the sense of community it provides.
Streamers have developed a community with their audiences. Thousands of viewers with similar interests are simultaneously watching and chatting with each other. These massive fan bases have chat rooms dedicated solely to discussing video games and streamers.
It’s like getting together with your buddies to watch a football game. You all get in a room, chat about what you’re watching and crack jokes with each other. It’s the same concept for streamers, but instead of 10 friends in a living room, it’s 10,000 “friends” on a streaming platform.
Video games are often seen as a niche community. I’ve experienced this firsthand. People are afraid to express their interest in gaming, fearing judgment because of the stigma games can carry.
My first column at the Daily Trojan was about esports. I still remember the look on our former editor-in-chief’s face when I, the sports editor she just hired, told her that video games count as sports. For a while after that, I suppressed my passion for video games, watching streamers in privacy in the Daily Trojan sports office. (For the record, she later let me cover a big esports event.)
Streamers alleviate the fear of this prejudice by providing a safe space for people who love video games. Most streamers are normal people. They are relatable to viewers who are searching for a place to fit in.
At any given moment, I can log on to Twitch or YouTube Gaming and find someone playing the games I love. There will be hundreds or thousands of other people watching the same game at the same time.
It’s reassuring to know that other people share your interests and that at any point of the day you can “hang out” — albeit virtually — with those people. It’s nice to know that you aren’t a weird outcast whose passion is always stigmatized.
The reality is that esports, as a part of society, are becoming more similar to traditional sports. Some of the most passionate football fans have never played a day of organized football, but that doesn’t stop them from watching every Sunday, playing fantasy football and discussing the game with their friends.
The bottom line is that the esports community should not be afraid to show its pride for video games. Streamers have laid the framework to help integrate the community into the mainstream.
With just about every aspect of media moving toward the digital space, it’s incredibly important to understand the influence that individual “normal people” can have on an entire community.
Sam Arslanian is a junior writing about esports. He is also a former sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Plug & Play,” runs every other Wednesday.