OPINION: ‘I am a nerd. Do not underestimate me.’ In defense of the AFL’s new eSports league

Professional esports (electronic sports) are coming to Australia – the A-League and the AFL are already building teams. Source: For Sports

The A-League and AFL are launching pro esports leagues. In Part 1 of this two-part debate, Elle Hardy wrote that esports "stunt people’s ability to survive life beyond the screen". Here in Part 2, Angharad Yeo, host of ABC ME's Good Game Spawn Point, defends the sport she loves.

(Click here to read Part 1, the article that this article is responding to.)

Oh, Elle. The old ‘gamers are scrawny nerds who can't manage in real society’ narrative, again? Did House of Cards not show the world that we, too, can be high-functioning sociopaths who use our superior powers for personal gain?

I get it – it's romantic to picture green fields where papa throws a ball into your worn leather mitt. I, too, watch The Blindside about once a month. But if you’re the kind of person who still thinks pro esports players are socially inept basements dwellers, you’re probably the kind of person who is afraid of most of the buttons on the TV remote – a moralising technophobe.

When Elle wrote that video games are "socially isolating", she’s kind of buying into a moral panic. Reality is: competitive gaming brings all the boys to the yard. And when I say yard, I don’t just mean packed stadiums but esports bars and home viewing parties. I should know – I've hosted such parties. I'd argue it's the most social form of video gaming. Its very nature requires people to compete, and competition provides the opportunity to learn teamwork, discipline, and how to be a gracious winner/loser.

"I think it's expected to make a lot of mistakes. But its strength is its newness – the freedom to shape the industry into whatever it needs to be."

While traditional sports stars hone their fitness, esports pros rely on reflexes and tactical thinking. What an exciting time to be alive for a generation of kids who love sport, but don’t pursue it because they’re not physically gifted. So where Elle sees Marcus Gomes’ transition from traditional soccer to FIFA as “sad”, I see a man who found another path to realising his dream of playing in the big league. 

esports fans
"Competitive gaming brings all the boys to the yard. And when I say yard, I don’t just mean packed stadiums but esports bars and home viewing parties."
Johan Cruyff Institute Magazine

At the extremes, gaming can absolutely have negative outcomes. The most disturbing are claims of physiologically diagnosed 'Internet Gaming Disorder'. Thing is, it's a proposed, not officially recognised, disorder. In any case, it's still a disordered addiction – an outlier, not the norm. If anything, traditional sports have a much higher risk of serious injury or death. We've all heard a dozen stories about footy players charged with domestic assault, or how the intense training destroys the body. And while Elle points out the "unfair compensation and lack of job security" in esports, traditional sports are hardly better on that front.

What’s more, it’s not like esports are drawing fans away from traditional sports. I cannot name three cricket players despite their constant coverage (Shane and Mark Waugh are all I've got, and I've just been informed that Shane's name is Steve). But I watch every move Miracle- makes, no matter what team he's in. I'll cheer on kpii as one of the few Aussie pro Dota players. You may not care about baby-faced N0tail, but I do.

I love esports, but I don’t want to make out that it's the shiny, safe alternative. It's also very physically and mentally demanding. It's still a young industry, and hasn't entirely figured out sustainable player payment, gender equality, or retirement plans, and I think it's expected to make a lot of mistakes. But its strength is its newness – the freedom to shape the industry into whatever it needs to be.

Perhaps it's time to realise that people come in all shapes, sizes, interests, and abilities, and that having a wide range of activities to cater to them is actually really awesome.

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