Virtual athletics

video_game_winners_hrIs it a sport if you don’t have to leave your computer chair?

By Brittney MacDonald, Senior Columnist

Competitive video gaming has been around since the advent of games like Donkey Kong and Centipede, but recently games like League of Legends and Dota 2 have garnered more attention as potential sports—more so than something that should be played in your basement between finals. The competitive scene for team- and solo-based video games has been growing both internationally and right here at home; with championship prize pools upwards of $2 million, as well as sponsorship deals ranging in the tens of thousands of dollars per professional player, it’s easy to see why.

Gone is the image of the overweight, mid-30s loser who never left his parent’s house. It’s been replaced by physically fit men and women who are carefully regimented in their daily routine, like any professional athlete. Perhaps even more so, given that the majority of professional gamers live under the same roof as the rest of their team and coaches.

Yes, you read that right: coaches. As certain games like League of Legends and Halo age, yet continue to update and remain relevant, retired players and popular live-streamers (people who broadcast and commentate their gameplay over the Internet for fans) turn to coaching after they’ve passed their prime—which seems to happen in the early- to mid-20s. In fact, thanks to the close coverage of the League Championship Series, the annual competitive tournament hosted by League of Legends publisher Riot, we are now seeing the support crew of the professional teams grow to include analysts and sports psychologists.

The serious nature of this competitive scene is something that hasn’t gone unnoticed in the land of academia either: the Robert Morris University of Illinois has recently announced their new e-sports scholarship program. The university also plans to create a competitive team and fund “those with a competitive spirit who do not necessarily want to play traditional sports such as basketball or football.” Even locally, Simon Fraser University recently hosted a dual Dota 2 and League of Legends tournament offering two purses of $500 each to the two winning amateur teams.

Earlier this year, after a lengthy back-and-forth between Riotand the American Government and Immigration board, the United States announced that it now recognizes professional League of Legends players as professional athletes. This may seem small, but it will allow international players—including Venezuela-native Vancouver-resident Alberto “Crumbzz” Rengifo—to be awarded visas in order to compete in the North American League Championship Series, which is based in California. The series is also home to both a European and Oceanic league. The top teams from each will all converge and compete for the League of Legends World Championship this fall.

Closer to home, Vancouver-based game developer Relichas recently announced that it will be getting its own competitive electronic sports league for its game Company of Heroes 2. This is after the completion of a spectator/observer mode that will allow the league to broadcast gameplay.

It’s obvious that this growing interest in the realm of e-sports is not just a flash in the pan, and will probably continue to grow as time goes on.