By Andreas Themistocleous, Contributor
I really want to avoid the discussion on whether eSports are an actual sport. The moment the International Olympic Committee announced its consideration on including eSports in future Olympic Games, I was left without an argument. Afterall, who am I to challenge the “immortals”. At the end of the day, it does carry the general trends of actual sports with teams, superstars, commercial exploitation, huge fan following and an anticipated worth of 1.5 billion dollars by the end of this year. Another cultural phenomenon, to put it in true context. With its merits, but many great flaws too.
The most alarming aspect of gaming is the long hours that players spend sitting while playing. According to Ingo Froböse, a professor at the German Sports University in Cologne, who has led a study into eSports performance and health for more than eight years, amateur and professional eSports gamers play on average 24-25 hours per week. On average, eSports players coordinate up to 400 movements per minute; their heart rate during playing reaches up to 120 to 180 beats per minute, which is almost the stress level of a racing driver. Additionally, “the stress hormone cortisol rises as much as when a footballer shoots a penalty kick in a Champions League final,” and gamers present such intensive fatigue levels after 2 to 3 hours of gaming that it is not worth continuing, explained Froböse. This physical stress is mainly due to the high levels of concentration, rapid coordination, and the reactions demanded by the game. Therefore, the body of these athletes should be correctly and specifically trained to be able to handle this load. With this much sitting down, comes the great concern that gamers and fans exhibit weakened health and that carries over into the overall health problems faced in modern-day society. Deteriorating health is associated with other social and financial implications, as you may well know.
However, gaming of this magnitude emerged as the root of other social issues such as social detachment. Social detachment can be described as the disengagement from participation in a range of societal activities. Two common detachments associated with video games are heightened aggression, and social separation. Smartphone games addiction is growing so fast that kids are even refusing to attend school regularly, avoid homework or any other sort of activities. Problems typically emerge when children enter middle school, at the age of 11. They lose interest in academic work, friends and family; they stop sleeping; they eat poorly or hardly at all. A number of suicides and a lot more attempts have also been registered across the globe, mainly due to the fact that social relationships come and go according to the level of play, success rate or popularity in the field. This is one of the major reasons that the Korean government (perhaps the leaders in eSports) have adopted the “Cinderella Law”, keeping children under the age of 16 away from eSports.
According to Newzoo, eSports data experts, most of the eSports tournaments are streamed online through Twitch. Twitch has recently been bought by Amazon for $1 billion. ESports tournaments are also streamed on YouTube. Sports networks like ESPN and Fox Sports have jumped on the bandwagon too. Even the BBC, not wanting to be left behind, has put their fingers in the eSports broadcasting pie. So, we are basically giving people more spectacles to watch, turning them into passive recipients of a no-end product. One would expect a strong debate (in the years to come) on the benefits of watching others play digital games.
With tournaments held across the world, there are immense sponsorship opportunities. Brands like Coca-Cola, Intel, Red Bull, and Samsung, Taco Bell, Mountain Dew, Intell and Gillette are capitalizing on this frenzy. It’s no small fact, I assure you, to reach almost 50 million people viewership on one single game tournament (League of Legends). Hence, it is relatively easy to assume that all these people are already affected by influencer marketing. Influencer marketing is a great way to connect with the loyal gaming fans. Gamers and their fans are fully invested in this lifestyle. It’s their passion that needs to be understood, and it’s only once they have that passion that they can hope to achieve some success. But, at the same time, we have consciously entered the era of mimicking behaviors and following trends without critical thinking or concern of the long-term consequences. Should that be alarming?
Last but not least, this is a field where betting and match fixing is part of an everyday routine. According to the “Guardian”, cheating is relatively easy in eSports. Gamers can slow opponents down using technology that messes with their internet connection, or take drugs to stimulate themselves and speed up their reactions and motor skills. Others choose to just lose a game, when the betting odds are right. ESports are becoming increasingly susceptible to corruption, because so many people are betting on matches. The casinos in Las Vegas are now streaming matches to attract young people. There are no true regulations since there is an absence of a leading body/authority to regulate such issues. What is the message to this huge group of people? But of course the conveyed message comes down to easy money, fast money, money coming in any way possible and without any consequences. Cultural phenomenon, right?
In closing, I must confess that I am a huge fan of traditional sports; sports that challenge the body and the mind, sports that benefit the body and the mind, sports that follow fair-play, sports that combat corruption and teach principles that carry over in everyday life. Can eSports become part of this particular trend? I leave that up to you to decide and I will be happy to receive your feedback and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.