E-sports Becoming E-“Legitimate” Sports

Ho Seung Hyeon

Dr. McCullough, Sarah

COMM 111T: Cultural Politics of Sport

17 March 2014

E-sports Becoming E-“Legitimate” sports

E-sports is generally referred as an coordinated competitive approach in playing computer games. The notion that E-sports carries, pushes against some of the common understandings and discourses that surrounds impression of sports. For the past decade, this style of gaming [E-sports] has been played across networked computers where structured online computer gaming leagues and locally networked events have offered players a place to engage in serious or career competitive competition (Witkowski 350). Some might ask how are game players engaged in doing and playing sports. My paper will cover the factors that constitute E-sports as a legitimate sport and compare what might be understood as traditional definition of sports to a famous E-sports game of all time, Starcraft. I’ll also cover the similarities and differences between the game of chess and E-sports to highlight the importance of technology that plays in legitimizing E-sports as sport and to finalize my paper, I will include how rise of technology in Korea (where E-sports originated from), lead to nationalism in Korea through a development of a cultural space called PC Bang.
To briefly explain about Starcraft, Starcraft is a monstrously challenging and complex strategy game that requires tons of multitasking skills through hand-eye coordination and multi-finger interaction. One must “possess” finger dexterity, speed and competitive effort to beat one’s opponent. Starcraft in competitive scenes of E-sports, offers a visceral experience of the field of play that the players contend with. A sense of how timing and teamwork sits in the body; an experience of focus, accuracy, and body control; as well as a feel for the technologies in play is involved in playing this sport (Witkowski 352).
Spectatorship and domestic play have developed through Starcraft, as E-sports was rapidly gaining fan base in Korea. As many would think, traditional sporting understandings and discourses are often imagined through a moving player and a visibly active body (Witkowski 351). Starcraft E-sports competitors are doing more than just sitting in a char and playing a game; physicality, balanced body and many other factors that play certain roles in sports are also central components that is required in high-performance of “athletic” play in E-sports.

Physicality is the most defining characteristic instituted as a necessary condition for sport.” (Witkowski 356).  How the game of Starcraft engages in the physical self is very much complicated. The game is played through a player who makes constant process of moving specific units, which creates different sets of possibilities within every match. Each move that a player makes is not a simple mindless movement, but every sequence of action is directed towards reflexive awareness of the game featuring on the player’s enemy. Execution in muscles and tendons of hands and fingers in subtle control of breathing all play a role in playing this “sport” – one must maintain a controlled body while quickly navigating through the online environment of the game. One quote from the article, “All Stars” mentions one female pro-gamer named Scarlett. She is twenty-year-old Canadian Starcraft E-sports athlete who had recently been sidelines with a wrist injury. The tendons in her hands had grown so weak that she had been forced to use two fingers for each mouse click. She also mentions that she has a pain in her “shoulders and back” which isn’t helping her career as a pro-gamer. To be constantly competing in tournaments, she points out that “You’ve got to be really careful with your hands as well.” Engagements in movement of one’s physical body are central to the outcome of every match in E-sports and physicality plays a huge role in E-sports in particularly distinct ways.

Balanced body is also a fundamental factor in E-sports, in that coordinated motions and constant meaning making choices through effective body control is needed in order to participate and compete with other athletes. There is no specific type of body that determines the outcome, however the composure and balance of body at work is crucial in that players engage with the game with straight backs, shoulders inclined forward, their energy is focused into the modulations of their poised hands and fingers – which swing between delicate and purposeful – and are visibly recognized as practical hands. (Witkowski 360). In E-sports, the player adjusts their mouse pad, headset, hertz, mouse sensitivity, and recalls how to manipulate the terrain with the equipment at hand, executing correct timing and movements as well as checking their connection before entering another game. (Witkowski 368.) Minor movements such as quick lifting and sweeping movements across mouse pad, managing the configured keyboard (using hotkeys) are essential involuntary actions that E-sports competitors train for and one’s balanced body influences these pivotal factors that heavily affect the outcome of the game.

Before E-sports became popular, chess has been one of the games that has made into popular scene in category of sports. There are some similarities as well as differences in between the game of chess and Starcraft. The games such as chess have made the list of recognized Olympic sports while at the same time were framed as nonphysical events. (Witkowski 356). In a game of chess when “checkmate,” is called, it is a threat to one’s opponent, implicating that there is no way to remove the threat. In the game of Starcraft, a player that decides to opt out of the game (loser), types “GG,” meaning “Good Game.” This is an actual rule on E-sports to publically notify spectators and commentators that one has in fact lost the game. This is similar to “checkmate” in that this word is used to openly declare the winner/loser of the match. In chess, the actions, which constitute the war in chess, represent a face-to-face, direct and honorable battle between two armies (Perez 125). However in Starcraft, the war becomes something more than a mere honorable battle of chess. For a player to win in Starcraft, it is essential to control and intelligently exploit the deposits of the last remaining natural resources within the game, which are minerals and vespene gas. Starcraft go beyond the pure combat moves of chess – a player must spy tactics to obtain information and the race to develop technology.

The main difference in E-sports and chess is that E-sports require technology for the sport to be played. Technology plays part in tactile engagement of competitive players of E-sports. The equipment in use, the network connection, and the fields of play (in the room and mediated digitally) are sensuous elements that play into the action of and between the game, the network, and the competitors (Witkowski 364-365). Technologies are practiced by balanced bodies of E-sports competitors. The complexifications of bodies and technologies laboring together creates cyborgs in the field of E-sports; when players extend their field of performance with technologies, pro-gamers that engage in tactile engagement of the field play produce cyborgs. Technology-heavy play that computer gaming offers extend beyond just the “plugged in” materials. Artifacts such as tables and chairs, among many other mundane technologies, shape the player and thus the execution of play itself (Witkowski 366). Mouse pad is also a significant tool for a player. These tools highlight the importance of tactile engagements as a key element in sports in contributing to the game outcome. When I attended a live Starcraft competition in Seoul, Korea, an E-sports athlete named “Lee Young-ho,” took 15-30 minutes just setting up technological devices such as mouse pad, keyboard as well as his chair position and angle of his computer monitor. Game outcomes are touched by all the networked bodies and technologies that make up the gaming moment, regardless of their complexity or simplicity. (Witkowski 366). Computer works as the central technology and all the other minor artifacts constitute discourses around playing competitively in E-sports. This network between a player and a machine, between multiple players and multiple technologies, is where E-sports offers a site to consider the intricacy of the interleaved state of human and nonhuman sporting performances where the endgame state is ultimately shaped by multiple actors (Witkowski 369).

As the title “E-sports” emphasizes, the electronic is a highly identifiable part of the game (Witkowski 366).  Technologies that require electricity heavily influence players’ performances and establish a sensory feel of what is at hand. Next, I’ll talk about how development of technology brought popularity of Starcraft on a different level in Korea and how advancement of broad-band technology also had strong impact of bringing nationalism within the E-sports culture in Korea.

South Korea is a key country in globalizing and promoting E-sports through online gaming industries. It was the release of the online game StarCraft by Blizzard entertainment that really ensured Korea’s position in the global gaming industry. Korea acknowledged E-sports as a sport before any other countries, because of the popularity and demand for the game, Starcraft. Up until 2002, the sales record of the game Starcraft in Korea was estimated to be 3.5 million copies – more than half of the worldwide sales volume of 6 million (Huhh 26). One factor that played in development of technology in Korea was the fast spread of broadband Internet connections. This facilitated a revolutionary change in rise of E-sports. However, the role between broadband connection and Starcraft played vice-versa; without the demand for content such as online games, there would not have been any need for a faster dial-up connection. StarCraft served as a catalyst for creating an increasing demand for broadband connection. Although broadband connection was not necessary for game playing, early Korean Internet users considered broad-band connection indispensable when playing Starcraft (Huhh 28). Local experts have also argued that the high rate of broadband penetration helped by the high proportion of apartment living coupled with the particular relationship Korea has toward Internet and community informed the success of online gaming. (Huhh 27). This broad-band technology of internet lead to rise of PC bangs in Korea, which have played an integral role in the rise of Korean online gaming and it’s nationalism. A PC bang is a type of LAN gaming center, where individuals can play multiplayer computer games for an hourly fee. Pricing policy of PC bangs, encouraged their visitors to play longer; the more you stayed on, the lower the hourly charge (Huhh 28). PC bang first developed in South Korea and was popularized as E-sports was thriving. These early local PC bangs founded what would become the burgeoning E-sports industry in Korea. PC bangs would also hold small-scale local StarCraft contests that were popular in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Before the official coining of the E-sports industry, PC bangs often sponsored StarCraft contests of their own (Huhh 30-31). Korean players derived much pleasure in playing Starcraft with players while sharing the same physical and cultural environment in PC bang and it was a valuable space for Starcraft gamers to practice against one another to get better while feel attached to one other. High-speed connection through technology developed a strong sense nationalism from a dedicated online gaming place in Korea.

Now there are many E-sports athletes not just from Korea but also from all over the world. E-sports have established itself as a legitimate sport through players’ engagements in physicality through balanced bodies. Also, E-sports athletes should be considered to be called the “most cyborg athletes,” through their interaction in modern day technology.In the article “All-Stars,” describes a foreigner competitive E-sports player: “It’s like being an athlete,” Snute, the Norwegian, who is twenty-three with shaggy blond hair, said at a pre-tournament photo shoot. He was drinking a Pepsi, and wearing Adidas pants and Nike shoes.” E-sports athlete may be less bulkier than a football player, but now they’ve integrated themselves as legitimate athletes in modern day sports.









Work Cited

“All-Stars.” New Yorker 89.42 (2013): 43-1. Academic Search Complete. Web. Web. 28 Feb 2014.

Huhh JS (2008) Culture and business of PC bangs in Korea. Games and Culture 3(1): 26–37.

Perez, O. (2012). From Chess to Starcraft. A Comparative Analysis of Traditional games and Videogames. Comunicar, 38, 121-129. (DOI: 10.3916/C38-2012-03-03).

Witkowski, E. (2012). On the digital playing field. Games and Culture, 7, 349–374.

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2 Responses to E-sports Becoming E-“Legitimate” Sports

  1. graceofgod9 says:

    Feedback Please! 🙂

  2. Sarah McCullough says:

    Your argument about e-sport athletes being the “most cyborg athletes” is interesting and worth thinking through further. What precisely constitutes the cyborg? How would these athletes compare in their technological engagement to other athletes such as Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius? They are obviously different, but how so? Delving into these questions would enable you to engage with more course material. You seem to rely quite heavily on your secondary sources, and your use of them is good. It would be nice to see a bit more of your own analysis here too. You have such a great wealth of knowledge on this, and do draw on it, but I’d like hearing more about how you see the cyborg comparison, as mentioned earlier.

    The embodied engagement of these sports is quite interesting. I appreciate how you demonstrate that playing these games is far from becoming disengaged with the physical body. Rather, it seems to be an intense physical engagement with the body. I’ve been thinking about writing as an embodied process for awhile now, and your project is giving more fodder to consider in this side project of my own!

    Great having you in class, and I hope to see you around!

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