I did not understand esports. I did not like esports. I did not like regular “sports”. For they did not like me. I saw myself as a wheezy, aching nerd who did not and could not run very fast. Despite not needing to run or even stand when playing esports, I still looked on them with confusion and apathy. Playing with a team was not my thing, if you want something done right, do it yourself. And I viewed competition as just another chance for failure. I’m a different person now, changed, enlightened. After I played Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, everything fell into place. Was due to those zen viewpoint puzzles or the fact that I realized that Eivor was super sexy and convinced me to get an undercut…no… there was some further magic at work. The old gods used this game to open my eyes to the beauty of Esports. 

I had played games as a younger person. But they were limited to non-sports games. Sims, KOTOR, Tycoon’s both Zoo and Roller Coaster. But I stopped playing when I thought I was supposed to be doing other things, like studying or making friends, but mostly getting trying to get laid or doing drugs which I thought would eventually lead to having sex with someone attractive. I became aware peripherally of esports and e-thlethes* along with the fact that, oh yeah hey, video games are still around, close to the time when I stopped clubbing. Accidentally doing meth one time will really make you re-examine stuff. With my departure from the all night party scene came a shift in who I was surrounding myself with and I became involved in what they call “a healthy relationship.”   

I started dating someone with a Playstation. Picking up a controller for the first time in about 10 years felt… exhilarating. I browsed through their PS library and went “hey, a pirate game.” Once I got my hands on Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, I understood that new horizons were out there. I could actually do this, I could actually be in control. I could face a challenge (those ship battles were not easy for me) and rise victorious.

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This is the good stuff.

Then I started playing more games. I played Skyrim. For hours and hours and hours I played Skyrim. I played Skyrim to get me through the 2016 election when I was so depressed it felt scary. I played as an Orc dedicated to the god of death, sent only to slaughter every living creature. I had somewhere to put my rage that a well known abuser was elected to the highest office in the land. I filled my house in Whiterun with bones and skulls and it helped me understand how cathartic games could truly be.

The more tyrants I defeated in games, the more I felt like I could defeat them in my own life. I started applying to jobs, I found a therapist, I continued on having healthy relationships. And then I got my first job in the gaming industry.

I was eating, sleeping, breathing games. In a game… we could soar, we could pillage, the world could be mine. Gaming was important. A new art form. But esports? Esports was trash. How could the click of a mouse possibly feel like dancing on a nightclub floor? The pounding of bass like a reassuring hand holding your whole body? But esports was uptight, hunched against a desk, people in black jerserys made out of performance fabric for no reason. These e-thletes would never sweat. Soccer players sweat, they need jerseys. These mofos are just playing League.

My understanding of esports grew. They made so much money, they had such a passionate fan base, there must be something there. I realized that games do make you sweat. I even began playing games with other people. I was no longer afraid that I’d be the worst one, we were playing on a team so it wouldn’t matter too much. Worst case scenario, my new, healthy relationship friends could carry me to victory and hey, I might even get to have a little fun. 

By the time Assassin’s Creed Valhalla came out, I was a seasoned gamer. Thousands of hours across all platforms, dozens upon dozens of games in a variety of genres. Still, I would say to colleagues and buddies when it came up, “Esports? I get it… I just don’t get it.” 

Then I booted up Valhalla. Which to be clear, is not an esports game. It’s an open world adventure game where you role-play as an ancient Viking warrior named Eivor. There’s no multi-player, there’s no big leagues, there’s no multi-million dollar cash pool or sponsorships if you get good at it. But there is movement. There is flow.

For the first time in a game I truly felt ONE with my controller. I was a panther, fluid, sleek, deadly. I slashed and combo’d and battled my way through ancient Britain carving the same path that my Norse ancestors did when they pillaged their way into my British ancestors' lives. And I finally understood. I finally felt what it could be to take down an enemy and feel like you’ve earned your victory with your skill with the controller. I finally “got” that esports is like competitive art. The thrill of victory, the joy of competition… was mine at last. And I understood, even in a single player game, that esports are how people are connecting. That the joy of competing is worth the risky pain of failure. I may not ever be a pro at League or any competitive FPS, but I understand now. And to you e-thletes out there sweating your way through the performance materials of your jerseys: I bow respectfully and hold out my hand, in kinship.

*A Note On Etheletes: What should we call them? I am genuinely asking whoever reads this to weigh in on what “E-Sports Athletes” should be called. “E-thletes” or “ethletes” sounds good when you say it out loud and conveys the right meaning. “E-Sport Athletes” is totally fine but seems long. Calling pro-gamers “athletes” alone is reductive of both athletes and e-thletes. So what are we thinking here? What should competitive pro-gamers be called? “Competitive Pro-gamers?” Seriously weigh in here, my twitter is @jacuzzitubbs.

 

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