— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) January 14, 2016
ESPN has just announced their latest vertical for coverage: competitive video games. As of today, the channel has announced “ESPN Esports,” as well as the hiring of Tyler “Fionn” Erzberger as a writer and Darin Kwilinski as an editor.
Given the picture of a computer mouse in ESPN’s logo, I expected the new coverage to only involve PC games — and indeed, so far the ESPN Esports website features some articles about MOBAs, such as League of Legends. According to Fionn, however, his planned coverage will also include fighting games:
While I’ll still be primarily covering League, I will also be getting into writing features for Dota2, Street Fighter V, and many others.
— The eSports Writer (@FionnOnFire) January 14, 2016
Well, at least one fighting game — Street Fighter V. Fighting games aren’t always included under the “esports” umbrella, though, and there are a variety of reasons why that is. Some fighting game players feel excluded by the branding of “esports,” arguing that “there are no black people in esports” — the competitive communities for games like StarCraft and CounterStrike are undeniably dominated by white and Asian players, by comparison to the fighting game community, which has always featured a much more racially diverse player base.
Also, the word “esports” and the communities that rally around that term tend towards slick, corporate branding and an aura of monied legitimacy. Some people might be happy about the idea of ESPN covering lots of different kinds of competitive communities, but gamers are not a monolith, and different gaming communities will likely react to this news in different ways. There’s no doubt that including the computer mouse as part of the official branding does seem to indicate the sort of games that will get prioritized.
Leaving aside the whole “console vs. PC” aspect, though, there’s a lot of other debates to be had about the launch of this new vertical. Remember when former ESPN broadcaster Colin Cowherd eviscerated the channel’s coverage of the “Heroes of the Dorm” tournament? He made a lot of boring jokes about how gamers live in “mom’s basement,” and so on, and then ESPN terminated his contract, and now he works at Fox.
It’s easy to laugh off Cowherd’s comments now — but unfortunately, a lot of people still see competitive gaming as inaccessible They might express that feeling by mocking it as “childish” and insulting anyone who participates — or they might express that feeling by not bothering to give this coverage a chance.
ESPN has some hurdles to overcome when introducing this vertical, and they’re complex hurdles indeed — from the systemic racism and sexism of the “esports” community, to the overall perception of gamer culture in society at large. Plus, there’s the most important debate of all: do we capitalize the “S” in “eSports,” or the “E” at the beginning of the word? Clearly, ESPN thinks it’s the latter, but I’ve always spelled it “eSports” or “esports.” And don’t even get me started on the debate about whether or not there should be a space in the word “video games”! These are the truly important controversies in games journalism.
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