People like to watch games. People like to watch games so much that other people are paid millions of dollars to play those games. Good players and good teams become household words, forever enshrined on the front pages of our newspapers. Around these people has grown a multimillion dollar industry of endorsements and hero worship. So far, though, the only games that qualify for this illustrious status are live games, those that are often called sports. Fundamentally, sports and some computer games are not all that different. They are both best played by talented people who work hard, and are very fun to watch for a lot of people. How long will it be before we have StarCraft tournament brackets in USA Today?
Already there are multiple large gaming tournaments around the world. No where, though, is there a gaming tournament that draws the attention of the world like the current NCAA basketball tournaments, the Major League Baseball Playoffs, or Soccer?s World Cup. Popularity in Korea is a start for gaming as a spectator sport, but StartCraft is not yet in a position to rival the commercial and cultural impact of the Superbowl.
But that is not to say that gaming will never reach that status. After all, soccer did not begin with a World Cup in place. The popularity of the sport grew gradually over many years. A more spectacular ascent to massive popularity is that of NASCAR. In a matter of years, this event went from a often mocked phenomenon of the American South to an enormous, multimillion dollar industry that stretches across the United States. There is no reason another upstart spectator sport, gaming, cannot enjoy a similar meteoric rise to prominence.
But what would be necessary for such a rise in popularity to take place? I would guess that at least three ingredients that must be present before computer gaming can take off as a major spectator sport. First, there would need to be a game. While it is possible for multiple games to eventually achieve such popularity, I think in the beginning there would have to be one, one game great enough to capture the imagination of both spectators and the media. I am not sure what type of game this would be. Strategy is the most likely candidate, I think, though a first person shooter cannot be ruled out. Both of these genres can easily have an entire game played out in just a few hours. RPGs could fill this niche, with developed characters facing off similar to the way in which modern boxing matches take place.
Regardless of genre, the game would have to draw the press. Without the attention of the major mass media, no game will achieve the popularity of any of the great spectator sports. Television coverage, and the personalities that goes with it is a must. Without intelligent and interesting analysis for the average spectator, the game likely will not stand a chance of entertaining the masses. Finding commentators should not be a problem, however. There are several high quality gaming web sites loaded with potential candidates.
Finally, there would need to be accessibility. Part of the popularity of most current popular sports is that anyone can play. Any two kids with a football can relive the Superbowl. Anyone with a ball and a bat can hit the game winning home run in the World Series. Our Great Game would have to have a similar level of playability across age groups, incomes, regions, and cultures. It would need to be playable on a wide range of systems, from the latest and greatest to equipment that is near the retirement age. It would have to be accessible enough that anyone, childhood to nursing home, could still get some enjoyment out of playing, or watching other people play.
I think we are nearing the time where this could happen. There are a few games that are being played well beyond their average life expectancy, Half-Life and StarCraft among them. There are a few games that are featured in large gaming tournaments, and there are even a few that have tournaments dedicated to them. Many new game engines are designed to make the game playable on low and high-end systems. Major media outlets are giving the gaming world increasing coverage. New releases now get a mention, games are sometimes reviewed in newspapers, and the occasional columnist writes about computer gaming for a purpose other than blaming gaming for all the world?s evils. Gaming is actually becoming socially acceptable, even popular. Eventually, some enterprising businessman will realize how large of a market we are and start doing things, like organizing and publicizing tournaments, in order to capitalize on that market.
Inevitable or otherwise, such a development cannot help but be a good thing. I, for one, would love to have a cable station where I could watch a good match between top Warcraft III players on a Sunday afternoon. I would love to see a month-long single elimination tournament featuring the best sixty or so first person shooter players or teams around. Give it a catchy name like May Mayhem, and we would be business.
It is coming. One of these days some major network will take a risk and try to televise a computer gaming tournament. It might be StarCraft, it might be Civilization, it could even be classic Diablo, but some game will one day become popular enough to warrant such treatment. Stranger things have happened. I point again to NASCAR. What was once a often mocked cultural oddity is now a less often mocked multimillion dollar industry. We could be next.
Disclaimer: Salem’s Fire was written by Luke Blaize and hosted by diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.