Hi, I’m second-year sports editor Jack Dorfman. In this column, I’ll take a timeout from discussing specific UC San Diego coaches and student-athletes and instead tackle topics related to sports more broadly, whether at UCSD or within professional leagues.
Last week, as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, something caught my eye. It was about my old high school, specifically its athletics department, but it deviated quite markedly from their usual posts.
During October and November, I can generally expect a healthy dose of high school football posts which I enjoy, but this was not one of those posts. Instead, it was announcing the first-ever inter-school esports match between my own high school and a host of others from around my hometown.
Needless to say, I was shocked.
Esports is the competitive playing of video games, and it is increasingly looking like the next big thing thanks to massive viewership and increased major media coverage. The esports craze is mainly supported by high school and college-aged people, but I never thought it would be something a public high school would go out of its way to sanction and support.
My first thought was negative. I did not like the idea of a high school esports team. It felt wrong, or repugnant or maybe even sacrilegious. High school sports, in my mind, are about camaraderie, physical fitness, competition, rivalries, and community involvement. All of those concepts feel foreign to me when I think about video games.
But should they?
Obviously, physical fitness cannot be achieved by repeatedly clicking a mouse or flicking a joystick. But the more I started to think about it, the more I realized how esports have the potential to check almost all of those boxes, and maybe go beyond the benefits of traditional high school sports.
For one, it still involves camaraderie as teams are still involved, and now more than ever, online friendships are becoming increasingly meaningful and important to the youth, whether we like it or not. Competition is still kept intact by esports, as the goal of playing is still literally to defeat your opponent in the virtual sport you’re facing them in, and because of the competitive nature and the development of teams, rivalries that can span the globe can be curated.
What about community involvement? That concept felt like it would be impossible for esports to embrace. Even if esports create a nearly all-inclusive online community for players and observers alike, this surely is not the same as a real-life community, one in which alumni return to their old high school to sit in the rickety bleachers primarily to feel a connection to their neighborhood, their past, and only secondarily to take in an amateur sporting event.
I’m still battling with this idea. While on the one hand, maybe the esports community reflects the continuing globalization and the dissolution of community ties, which I find negative. But at the same time, this sort of community could be the one that helps bridge the gap between unathletic and awkward teens and an adoring worldwide fanbase, which I find alien but also exciting.
So for now, while I still won’t be an ardent consumer of esports, I haven’t counted them out yet.