Bird Brown: When it comes to esports, I just don't get it

When we were boys, our main form of entertainment was some sort of team sport.

Whether we were playing organized baseball for the local Little League team, or heading to the open lot to meet the squad from across the tracks to play a game of neighborhood football, we were always around some sort of team.


As we got older we didn’t stop playing the “pick-up” games, but the emphasis became more on the organized teams we played on for our club or high school teams. Practices were more frequent, competition more intense, and commitment of both time and financial resources increased.

In college, we were committed to the training and competition that came along with a spot on the soccer roster. It was the highest level of play that I ever participated in and we can truly look back and say we left it all on the field.


But, we used pick-up games from sports other than soccer — Whiffle ball, basketball, and Frisbee golf come to mind — as a distraction to the organized, structured practices and games of collegiate competition.

In every case, it was all about being a part of the team, working with other players toward a common goal. The pride that comes with competing alongside a group of your teammates and coming away with a victory is hard to find anywhere outside of team sports.

This Monday in College Park was historic. Not necessarily the result of the match — the Maryland team, a national semifinalist a year ago, had defeated Rutgers, 2-0. But the hour-plus of season-opening game play, of scheming and button-mashing, was broadcast on BTN2Go, the digital extension of the Big Ten Network. Conference play had come to esports.

To me, even to this day, playing video games is taking time away from time that I could otherwise be getting some exercise and competing with my “brothers” in some sort of sport.

Video games seem very individualistic, and I prefer some sort of entertainment where I can interact with other human beings.


At school, when afforded the opportunity, kids are glued to their phones and other electronic devices not just to play a game on their phone or with a friend in another class, but to WATCH OTHER PEOPLE PLAY THE GAME.

The latest craze in the electronic game world is Fortnite, an animated battle game where participants can jump in with 100 other players, sitting in front of their TV screens around the world battling until the last man or woman is standing.

It’s definitely my age, but I just don’t get it.

Even when all we had was Pong, I was never that interested in video games. The closest I came to being hooked on a game was in my teammate’s room in college where we would pass the time away — not anywhere near the hours on end that kids waste now — playing Intellivision baseball.

So imagine my surprise when ESPN magazine adorns their cover with a picture of Ninja — the “Biggest Gamer in the World.”

When did playing video games become a sport? How does sitting on your big behind with a headset on munching on Fritos and chasing it with Red Bull count as a team sport?

But all one has to do is do a little reading about the explosion of “esports” in our country and around the world to understand its place in our “sport” society.

A franchise in the Baltimore/Washington region is one of eight expansion teams for the Overwatch League, an esports league, announced Friday.

This fall, my beloved alma mater, Coker College, launched its first competitive esport team where people compete in, get this, video games such as League of Legends, Overwatch, and Hearthstone, against other schools such as Mississippi State and Central Florida.

Coker even offers scholarships for esport “athletes.”

When they first sent out their press release that they’d be fielding an esport team in the fall of 2018, I thought it was a joke.

But then I read beyond the headlines to find the incredible following that esports have generated, even in comparison to other major sporting events like the world series. In 2014, 27 million people tuned in to watch the final of the League of Legends esports games. In that same year, the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals averaged just under 14 million viewers per game.

The 2017 League of Legends Final was viewed by more than 60 million people, breaking the previous year’s record viewership.

Sport has become a multi-billion dollar industry, so to see the borderlines of what the definition of “sport” has become expand out to pick up gamers should not really be surprising to anyone. As colleges compete for each student, their offerings have to stay abreast with what the market is driving.

Offering esports scholarships for a handful of “athletes” that may bring in four times the number of students as it offers scholarships makes economic sense.

But they will never find a place in my head when I think about what it means to be part of a successful team.

The great softball pitcher Jennie Finch once said, “There's nothing better than working up a good sweat.”

Maybe it’s time I joined my “team” at Planet Fitness.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun