Video games have always acted as a reprieve, a fictitious game world in which one can become the character they control and escape from the hardships of reality. Recently, however, there has been a worrying shift in the reason to why people play games. These days, our focus has shifted from wishing to become the fictitious character inside our video games to wanting to become the “gamer” controlling the in-game avatar. This shift is worrisome because the seemingly glamorous career of a “professional video-gamer” comes with a plethora of hidden problems, which are not fully disclosed to those who are being led to believe that going pro is an easy profession.
In the past few years, computer games have exploded in popularity. As a result, the eSports industry has grown as well. “Dota 2,” an online multiplayer co-op battle arena, gave out 38 million dollars for tournaments in 2017 alone, while Epic Games recently topped that by announcing a 100 million dollar prize pool for its hit, “Fortnite.” Furthermore, according to “The Economist,” the Asian Games will formally recognize eSports as an official medal event by 2022, promoting it to the same status as other sports.
As eSports become increasingly publicized, more of the new generation will begin to idolize the gamers. After all, who doesn’t want to play computer games for a living? Consequently, more and more children will aspire to become professional gamers themselves. Although this volatile profession is still in its infancy, the ever-expanding prize pool will surely attract people who are willing to dedicate their lives. “Sports Illustrated” reports that eSports viewership is projected to reach 427 million people by 2019; meanwhile, NFL viewing rates have fallen to 203 million. In order to understand why some are anxious that students will become overly attracted to these games, one needs only to look at the masses that throng to major events. After all, if some people might today devote their entire high school and college career playing sports, why can’t the same be true for video games?
While the damage wrought upon those who fail to become professional is immediately obvious, even those who do initially succeed face harsh challenges later in their career. Despite the competitive gaming community being too young for us to see any repercussions, the extreme dexterity and response time required means that most players have to retire before they’re 30, simply because they can’t keep up with younger players after that point. Much like football players whose careers peak while they are in college or in the years immediately following, most professionals are left disillusioned with their future and uncertain of what’s to come.
Although it may often seem tempting to call the select few who make it “lucky,” their schedule is far more demanding than that of casual gamers. Most North American professional teams spend at least seven hours playing the game every day, while their Asian (notably, Korean) counterparts often spend over than 12 hours every day, leaving minimal time for family or friends. Although some teams are given one day off per week, this time is usually used to provide content for sponsors, their only form of income other than competitions. The ever-evolving tactics, the sheer amount of in-game knowledge to be mastered, and the importance of every competition as a means to fund the team result in a extremely stressful work period. After all, I doubt that even the most fanatical gamers would be interested in playing for eight hours a day for years in a row.
As the attention that eSports receives as a whole rises, the amount of people who believe themselves capable to become the next competitive gamer will also rise. And even if most don’t consider themselves professionals, it is undeniable that video games really are stealing the stage as the next form of “sports.” But with such a young gaming community, the public at large should remain wary of the possible threats that playing games for hours on end may bring. Unless more caution is applied, we may discover dangerous side effects of playing video games for too long, much like football. Even if it remains impossible to dissuade others from playing video games, the media should at the very least promote the industry with all of its struggles and hardships so as not to incentivize teenagers who don’t have a holistic grasp of what eSports really look like.
Neil Shen is a Junior from Vancouver, Canada. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.