Future Sports?

The bar is packed and just a little rowdy. Twelve dollar pitchers of beer have a way of creating that sort of atmosphere. Buffalo wings and sliders abound, as do oysters on the half-shell, since this is a classy joint and all. Everyone’s eyes are fixed on one of the plasma flatscreens positioned around the room. Sound like a fairly typical night out watching “the game”? Perhaps if we take out the oysters? Well, there’s a little more to it.

On the screen a blue-skinned man hurls orbs of electricity at a clockwork woman. She moves about the map mechanically, avoiding his attacks. Then she turns to face him. A massive spider vaults from out of a nearby treeline, landing on the man. He tries to run, but the clockwork woman hurls a metal ball at him, striking him dead. The spider morphs into a woman and flees from the scene as a nearby tower launches fireballs at her.

“T-S-M! T-S-M!”

The crowd cheers for the kill, chanting the name of the victorious team.

If this suddenly doesn’t sound like any sporting event you’ve witnessed at a bar, I’m not surprised. On Wednesday night I took a quick jaunt on the subway down to a bar in K-Town called The Cellar, located directly below an IchiUmi restaurant. The bar’s TV screens were hooked to a computer that was live streaming the first day of the North American League Championship Series Summer Split. Yeah I know, it’s a pretty wordy title. The long and short of it is that this is a summer e-Sports tournament where professional League of Legends teams square off against each other.

For those unfamiliar with e-Sports, it is a growing format for competitive gaming. First popularized by the success of Blizzard’s StarCraft: Brood Wars, many other games now feature competitions with prize payouts that allow for very skilled gamers to compete as an “e-athlete” for a living. League of Legends is currently the most popular computer game in the world, and part of this is tied to its incredibly robust and well-followed e-Sports scene.

E-Sports is already incredibly popular in Korea where it is broadcast on some of the country’s major cable networks, and as I sat in the bar watching Team Solo Mid (TSM) Snapdragon square off against Cloud 9 HyperX (in a game they eventually lost) I couldn’t help thinking that I was getting a brief glimpse into the future of how video games might be viewed. League of Legends is already reported to draw more viewers to its competitive live streams than the NHL draws TV viewers on average. Why shouldn’t a video game garner that kind of following?

I think it will take some time to develop. Gaming, though slowly becoming more socially acceptable, is still considered a nerdy pursuit, and while I was at the bar I was approached by more than one person trying to start a conversation who fit very clearly into the stereotypical “socially awkward nerd” category. Still, as a new generation of gamers emerges, I don’t doubt that they might find it easier to relate to pro-gamers as role models or sources of inspiration rather than athletes who exist in a realm far removed from the average person. As a friend of mine once asked, “would you rather watch a competitive screening of something you can do, or something you can’t?”

Anyway, just some food for thought. And to tie it briefly back into writing, for those of you out there who have an interest in sci-fi, perhaps this is something to think about. Keeping tabs on evolving social trends is a good way to write a compelling futuristic setting after all.

Have a good weekend everybody!

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