In compelling esports there is the roaring crowd,crisp commentary, the big financial stakes and incredible play. In the midst of so many intersecting stimuli, it becomes difficult to parse what is the essence of compelling competition. What is the element that can be pointed at as the acid test, which every compelling esport must have? What should our answer be to the comment “I don’t understand why you’d want to watch people play video games”.
I propose the combination of two elements: the drive of competitors to achieve something that will allow them, through their excellence, to make a mark on the universe tied together with our ability to appreciate the plausibility of that possibility. It is truly mad to presume that your deeds, bound up within such a limited being, can ring out with such significance and somewhat mad for us to find such a claim as plausible. However, this kind of mad pursuit has a quality of “divine madness” of ego and aspiration deeply consequential to us who hold any small reverence to our seldomly manifested godly nature.
Okay, CALM DOWN, I am putting into words a sentiment commonly expressed in giving any meaning at all to any drive of competition within esports or otherwise. If you are merely watching for entertainment, then that is fine, although rarely does competition outdo other alternatives in that arena. For Overwatch viewers, if you watched Miro push Winston past all limits previously understood, you were likely feeling the type of reverence I am referring to. For a non Overwatch perspective, there is no doubt that Faker is driven by an inner madness to achieve a form far beyond anything we will ever see on the server and his viewers have a reverence of his struggle to achieve a form beyond what has been seen before. In calling these players “gods”, we reflect the underlying nature of our reverence and the aspirations of those numerous competitors that are afflicted with madness to be a “god” themselves.
In evaluating this proposal, let us consider the partitions. Where participants view an activity as earthly and merely a means to an end in their ordinary lives and observers agree, an esport can clearly not be found. Where participants have a mad pursuit and it is seen as unreasonable, then it is seen as crazy and the jury is out on the cosmic significance. It is somewhat difficult to separate the partitions between where competitors have a mad pursuit and those who have more pragmatic reasons when observed with reverence. In the case of esport competition, there are few other motivators of meaning to drive them to endure the pressure of competition without such a motivator at some level within themselves.
Fan size and intensity, respectability, big financial stakes, and the absolute skill of participants do not serve the same vital role as madness within players and those that follow the competition. While competition with madness driving play and engagement are more likely to accomplish the goals of gaining a larger and more intense following, are more likely to gain acceptance, be able to support larger financial stakes and raise the level of skill through the dedication of players, they are not the essence of competition. Similarly, these extraneous factors are amplifying factors that likely push players to madness and more likely to aid in our ability to justify our own madness of raising excellence to the realm of the divine, but are not the fundamental reason why most of us are here.
So let’s acknowledge and appreciate the madness that resides in us all at one level or another. Let’s not be distracted by the mundane peripherals and rather focus on the essence of what has drawn us to esports, which is watching competitors fight against earthly limits to reach towards something worthy of reverence. Rather than deflect by making comparisons to other competitions which are accepted, let us embrace the underlying madness of the enterprise. We are not “watching people play video games”, we are watching players try to reach the form of a god.