Political Theory: eSports and the University

Sports have been a significant aspect of this course, not only teaching us about political theory, but also inspiring us to think about their implications in society. As the semester wraps up, one can only tie up the discussion of sports by considering how competitiveness has merged with modern technology through what is known as eSports. ESports, as discussed in lecture, are rapidly gaining in popularity, and relate to many aspects of the course spanning from the definition of play, to the transformation of sports as well as the portrayal of athletes in media.

Sasha Hostyn, a cyber athlete who is world famous for being a ranked female player.

Sasha Hostyn, a cyber athlete who is world famous for being a ranked female player.

First of all, do eSports fit a traditional definition of “play?” As our course covered Homo Ludenz, we discussed the history of play, which supposedly existed before humans knew it.  Defined by Johan Huizinga, play has five essential components. To begin with, play must be free. ESports certainly embody freedom as players are given the opportunity to do what they want in the digital world. Sasha Hostyn, a prominent female cyber athlete, shares her experiences of a game called StarCraft, where she completes tasks in an alternate world. The game provides ultimate freedom in which characters make up a society that is currently in war.

Johan Huizinga, a cultural historian who examined aspects of play over time.

Johan Huizinga, a cultural historian who examined aspects of play over time.

The second requirement of play, according to Huizinga, is the condition of not being real in the sense that a game must not be a part of ordinary life. When digitalized, games like StarCraft as well as many others, create new worlds escaping reality. The world of StarCraft is not at all like the real world, in terms of characters, setting, or any other physical restraint put on the natural world. This aspect of gaming certainly adds to the growing popularity of computer gaming. With technology being able to entertain and capture attention as well as it can, computer gaming is capable of creating detailed virtual systems that are clearly distinguished form any sense of reality.

The made up world in StarCraft also meets the third requirement that Huizinga sets. By taking up a different time and location, the world created in StarCraft is not exactly integrated with real life. When the game stops, life continues to go on, indicating a difference in time and location. This major aspect of gaming not only captures the interests of players, but also continues to fortify the similarity between eSports and traditional sports.

StarCraft, an intense online action game that is very popular in eSports.

StarCraft, an intense online action game that is very popular in eSports.

The fourth rule is that play must have rules. Football, basketball, soccer, StarCraft and League of Legends all have certain rules that players must adhere to. Rules create a sense of order in society, and games must have order to be properly played. Because computer games are inherently structured, players have set tasks that they must complete, and that further justifies the considering of eSports as sports.

Though Huizinga states that no profit can be gained from play, I believe all professional athletes reap some benefit from sports. Regardless of what occurs after excelling at sports, athletes join the profession for the love of the game. The only reason Michael Jordan endured long and hard practices, is because he truly enjoyed basketball; it had intrinsic value. Similarly, cyber athletes may gain fame and fortune after achieving success, but they play for fun, as opposed to playing to achieve some goal. This intrinsic value of sports also applies to computer gaming further utilizing Huizinga’s definition of play to support that eSports should be treated the same as physical sports.

Though the validity of eSports as games is debatable as seen in lecture today, I believe there is no significant difference between the fundamentals of eSports and physical sports. Competitive in nature, eSports are both just as entertaining and intense as typical sports that attract enormous audiences. ESports are rapidly growing especially today with the growth of technology, and will one day lose the flare that sports once had. As Eric Dunning discusses, sports have become a business over time, and there is no reason eSports will not follow in the same trend.

A cyber athlete, who is very hard-working and talented in a not-so-traditional, but nonetheless legitimate sport.

A cyber athlete, who is very hard-working and talented in a not-so-traditional, but nonetheless legitimate sport.

Kevin Durant, a professional basketball player, who is famous for athletic ability.

Kevin Durant, a professional basketball player, who is famous for athletic ability.

Considering the social implications of the Industrial Revolution, Dunning discusses how sports have become too practical. Play is no longer play, but work that athletes get paid to do. They may lose interest in the game, but have practical reasons to continue playing. This dramatic transformation in sports led to an increase in athletes’ salaries over the years. With increased salaries also came increased media attention, which led to athletes becoming crucial voices for political ideologies. Sports have had significant social implications allowing athletes to almost be seen as a distinct social class.

Trayvon Martin, who was shot to death causing severe political tension, especially among African Americans.

Trayvon Martin, who was shot to death causing severe political tension, especially among African Americans.

This is exemplified whenever an athlete has attempted to share his or her beliefs on an issue. Issues like the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the Obama Campaign and many others have been discussed by numerous professional athletes. While many people respect that athletes are using media to their benefit by sharing their political beliefs, many others do not think it is right. Team owners would not want players to support any one cause in fear of losing financial support from other groups. Business schemes among political parties, corporations, and professional sports teams represent how sports have become so much more than what they used to be. Eventually, cyber athletes will be tied up in the same mess. They may garner so much media attention that they cannot share their ideas without being reprimanded either by a team owner or the general public. As eSports continue to gain popularity, I have learned from this class that their social implications will go far beyond what we expect.

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