It would be easy, indeed it seems almost compulsory, to mock eSports as some kind of sad joke involving pale-skinned pathetic losers watching what look like masturbatory men flicking wildly at their joysticks on a stage beneath giant screens.
And yet this disturbing trend of people paying actual money to sit in genuinely huge stadiums to watch hugely unfit and Vitamin-D-deficient dorks playing video games, for money, is backed up by numbers too big to ignore.
They are, however, hard to believe, like the fact that there are 100 million people taking part in “competitive gaming” worldwide, which is significantly more than AFL and rugby league combined, with another 500 million avidly following. Or that something called League of Legends recently sold out a series of sport stadia – facilities built to host actual sport, or Taylor Swift – across China for 10 days, including the epic Bird’s Nest stadium from the Beijing Olympics, which holds more than 90,000 people.
If it sounds implausible, or like something that only the crazy Chinese are into, consider that Mercedes-Benz recently pulled its multi-million-euro sponsorship of the German football team – a deal that had been running for 45 years – and invested the money in eSports instead. Globally, eSports are estimated to be worth US$745 million.
“We have to get rid of the thinking that eSport is not a sport,” as Benz’s marketing boss, Britta Seeger, recently told me. “It’s about speed, it’s about intelligence, and they are filling stadiums with people full of enthusiasm.”
But it’s not about speed, really, is it? At least not in the sporting sense of the word. But then this surely can’t be considered an actual sport, no more than a bicycle can be considered a car, or Mark Latham a human being.
Frankly, the only positive thing that eSports does is redeem activities like golf, darts and lawn bowls, because even they involve more actual physical effort than literally sitting on your ass and moving your fingers quickly. At least darts players stand up.
Honestly, though, it doesn’t even bother me that all these people are addicted to playing video games. I get that, I used to love gaming when I was a kid, and I clearly recall that it was far more fun than going out in public with acne.
But watching other people play an Xbox, many of them making faces like they’ve just sipped on raw effluent? Surely there can’t be any sensible, sun-kissed, sport-loving Australians who would waste their lives doing that?
Sadly, we’ve been bitten by the Ebola that is eSports as well, with a recent study by market-research firm YouGov finding that just under four million Australians are now watching eSports. Yes, that means people you know are doing it, understandably in secret. Unless your friends are old, of course. Men (overwhelmingly blokes, of course) in the 18 to 24 bracket are heavily into it, while fewer than one percent of people aged over 55 give a shit. (Happily, only 44 percent of all Australian adults even know what eSports is, so there’s some hope.)
Depressingly, in the past month, I’ve seen advertisements for both a giant stadium eSports event in Sydney, and smaller ones being held at my local Hoyts. Globally, the prediction is for the value of this non-sport – frankly, even professional wrestling is more credible – to hit US$1 billion by 2020.
Now look, obviously, I’ve been wrong before. I remember feeing a very similar way when Big Brother first launched the scourge of human intelligence that is reality television onto our screens. I railed that surely no one would watch unscripted tosh not being acted by people who are too ugly and stupid to be actors. And now we have Gogglebox.
So perhaps we should just accept that eSports merely represents the wider fate of the human race, which is that we’re going to give up on the “race” part and become human rats instead. Personally, I feel like the ship is sinking, and I’d like to get off. But first I’m going to go and watch some real, live sport.