With the recent news confirmed that Google is in fact purchasing Twitch, the BBC decided to do a segment explaining to its viewers precisely what Twitch is. To be fair to the BBC, they did a reasonable job examining the way that Twitch and video streaming has affected culture now, as well as the potentials in the future. With that said, there was still an air of disbelief and disparagement throughout the broadcast. The BBC likely did the best job any major news company could do and should be acknowledged for that. However, it is still very clear that mainstream media do not understand most part of gaming culture – viewing eSports being one of them.
This likely stems greatly from just the misunderstanding of gaming culture in general. While gaming has made great strides in becoming more normal in society, and not nearly as ostracized, it only really applies to a certain section of games. Anyone who takes a game seriously, wants to get better at it, and/or enjoys competition is likely not who is included in what has become the norm.
With mobile gaming becoming popular and things like the Wii making gaming a family event, gaming has become more accepted, but that is not necessarily the same audience as what most would consider a “gamer.” When the term “gamer” is used, we aren’t thinking of someone playing a mobile game during their commute, or messing around with friends with some Wii bowling.
The term likely refers to the people that treat gaming like a hobby – something that takes up a significant amount of your free time. These people are who will be watching Twitch streams of various games and tournaments. These are the people interested in League of Legends, Dota 2, Starcraft 2, and a whole host of other games that put on regular tournaments.
Those that look and appreciate the deep complexity behind many games are who watch the streams and are those we would refer to as gamers. Many who are really passionate likely play the same game they enjoy watching being played at a much higher level than them.
But why do we watch? That answer is both very similar and different to why anyone anywhere watches any sport. People enjoy watching soccer at a high level, basketball, and other kinds of sports for a variety of reasons. It could be just a genuine love for a sport someone played or is still playing, an enjoyment of watching feats of athleticism, or learning just how a certain game functions and seeing how the strategy of it plays out.
All of those same reasons can be applied and translated to eSports. We watch because we enjoyed and enjoy plaing a game, watching feats of skill as something is pulled off in a game we didn’t know was possible, and to see how professionals interpret the strategy of a game for us to then understand.
As for different, many watch games to learn. They watch what pro players do to then adopt it and play that way themselves. Some professional player may use a certain set of items in League of Legends or Dota 2 that surprises many, but they they see it work in certain contexts, so then they adopt it as well.
I think this is very different from general sports. Sure, there are some that do watch to learn, but by far most watch for enjoyment. There is also the case that in many ways there are physical limitations to practicing sports. You may have a physical condition, may be too old, may be too young, don’t have the people around to play a game, can’t afford the equipment, and a whole host of other issues that limit one’s ability from playing a sport.
But more importantly, it is far easier to apply what one sees in many games to when they play, rather than in sports. When I see a player use a certain set of items in a game, I can then very easily go do that myself. When I see someone jump three feet in the air, catch a ball, then land in bounds with both feet, I don’t think I can even begin to attempt that.
Games are not nearly as limiting as sports. As long as you have the means to play, you can practice at it. There is always a potential to get better at a game, when that is not so true with general sports.
The final difference I would like to point it is how people watch to be surprised. I can be surprised during a football game when someone makes a really cool catch. But I can be much more surprised in a game when a professional player does something I didn’t even know was possible in the game, which then becomes a regular feature in professional games. The surprises that come in general sports do not come from doing things outside of what we believe possible, but executing something we recognize as really difficult. Those are two very different things.
Watching people that are better than you at something is not a new phenomena, it is just in a different context. Understanding that context will help people understand why Twitch is even a thing that exists.
Have I really tread new ground that hasn’t been said before here? Probably not. However, whenever there is an opportunity to bring light (aka when it is relevant in the news) to a misunderstood phenomena within the world, we should take it.
I also want to end in saying that I am not arguing that eSports are better than general sports, but just tried to show how enticing and exciting eSports can be.