America’s New Pastime: Our Generation’s Sport
Growing up, I was a baseball fan. My father – in his childhood – was a fanatic. My father did it all: Collecting cards, scoring games, playing elaborate statistics games at home on his bedroom floor while the Yankees played on the radio; or playing stickball in the street with his friends. For our fathers’ generation and many before; baseball was life – America’s Game. As I got older and began to understand and appreciate the game, I watched my father’s love of baseball erode before my very eyes. As I grew to enjoy the sport, my dad seemed to lose interest. I asked him once why his childhood passion was no longer a source of happiness for him, and he grew wistful in his response. He recounted that even though he and his friends liked other sports – they were all big football, hockey and basketball fans too – baseball was special because it was the only sport where kids and adults alike could look down on the field and think: “I could do that”. Baseball players were not the enormous superhuman athletes who dominated other sports – they seemed like average guys; some were short or fat, some wore glasses and had names like “Mick” and “Ernie”. Baseball was on every day and night, it was a sport where 30% success is considered all-pro. Baseball was the most accessible sport, the closest thing to ownership that a fan could feel for a game.
Time passed, and in 1998 I watched my Yankees win 114 games. I held my breath with the rest of the country as two superheroes competed to break the holy grail of sports records: the single season home run record. Though it’s 15 years in the past now, more than any other summer I feel like I can remember every day of 1998, watching news reports and catching front page headlines to see if McGwire or Sosa had pulled ahead.
10 years later as I watched these heroes stand accused of cheating on the floor of Congress, I understood why my father lost his love of baseball. Baseball was no longer the pastoral, blue-collar game he grew up watching and feeling a part of. Today’s players were now like those from other sports – gigantic finely tuned super athletes. Gone were the Babe Ruths and the Joe DiMaggios who reminded starry eyed kids of themselves, replaced instead with the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds: guys with multi-million dollar contracts and crates of steroids. Baseball was no longer a game for average men and boys, and that fact killed the love of the game my father and his generation previously held on to.
When Season 3 of League of Legends began this winter, I was struck by the synergy of the ranked ladder system for average players who wanted a tangible measurement of their improvement relative to top-level professional competition. Suddenly I found myself queuing for ranked matches on weekdays and tuning in to pro games on the weekends – two things which I’d never really done before. I saw guys just like me playing my favorite game at the highest level and found myself thinking: “I could do that”. Just like the kids in the street playing stickball and dreaming of being Ted Williams, professional League seemed accessible to me, I felt a greater connection to the game than I do with say, football. With League of Legends attracting record numbers of viewers, even mainstream media outlets are wondering: is this America’s new sport? MLG Dallas saw 2.6 million unique viewers, not a record high for e-sports, but what’s impressive is the “engagement time” – the average viewing time for MLG Dallas was around 150 minutes, much higher than the Super Bowl averages.
In some ways, the inter-connectivity provided by the web and the forward thinking team at Riot have created an environment in which a competitive spectator game can be enjoyed by fans all over the world in new, unprecedented ways. While traditional sports struggle to move into the 21st century weighed down by massive T.V. contracts and blackout restrictions, League and games like it enjoy a much more open experience for fans. Games are streamed all over the world for free. Replays are available on demand the moment the game begins – for free, and most importantly, Riot and other major games manufacturers encourage fans and sites (like allMIA) to cover their pro leagues. When we post match highlights, we’re able to bring you links directly to key moments in the broadcast in a way that a Hockey or Football blog simply can’t, due to NFL and NHL restrictions.
Our pros stream every day, connecting with the fanbase in a way that major sports just can’t. The game we play is the same game our pros play, and the dream that one day we’ll work our way up to the “challenger” tier, and qualify for a pro team is real and tangible, and it drives us ever closer to the game we love. As major American sports continue to alienate themselves from fans with bloated contracts, blackout restrictions, endorsements and lawsuits, companies like Riot offer a more attractive alternative. Consider this: 10 years ago, would you have ever pictured a scenario where you watched other people play video games with the enthusiasm that you watch “real sports”? I know I didn’t. Imagine where we might be in 10 years from now. We’re witnessing history, and even better – we can be a part of it. The NA and EU LCS first-half seasons wrap up in a few short weeks, will you tune in to see the future of competitive sports? Leave us a comment or tweet to us @ill_monstro_g – tell us what you think about the growth of e-sports and where we’re going as a community.