Collegiate esports may surprise us all

In the beginning, spectators flocked to bleacher seats or sat in chairs along sidelines and foul lines to watch athletes compete. Then electronics such as radio and television created the armchair spectator, while the tribal gladiators still competed upon the field or on the court. Now, athletes and spectators alike can settle into arm chairs. Welcome to the world of esports.

What is an esport, you might ask? Especially if you were surprised to see Platte County on the cutting edge when in July a Kansas City Star headline proclaimed “Park University will be first in the KC area to add a new varsity team: Esports.”

An online dictionary defines this as: “A multiplayer video game played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers. Millions of people enjoy watching e-sports.”

Bill Graham

Bill Graham

One caveat to the reader, in my print and online checking, I have now seen this sport spelled as Esports, esports, eSports, and e-sports. I’m going to use esports, which seems lower-case marketing catchy. It will take a lot of catchy to get me excited about esports. But if the only college based in our county is going to be at the forefront of a movement, I figure I should at least take notice.

My own alma mater, the University of Missouri at Columbia, apparently features a campus team that competes against other colleges. From what I can glean, it is in a club format. Club sports I am familiar with from attending the annual games between the MU and University of Kansas hockey clubs played at the ice rink in Independence. It is ironic that I decry the violence in video games but get excited when someone wearing MU black and gold in the hockey rink begins thumping on the KU red and blue. But at least they shake hands after the game and it’s not a game of kill or be killed. The latter imaginary, yes, but still there’s a reality making indentations in the brain.

Making a spectator of me for esports is going to be a tough sell. That and the fact that I could barely watch my own children play video games as they grew up embracing the play tide of their times.

I do fear being an old fuddy duddy (man that sounds old, too).

“By initiating this program, we are positioning Park University’s athletics program for the future of digital competition,” Shane Smeed, vice president and chief operating officer for the university, said in a press release posted on Park’s website.

Park University will begin offering varsity esports next spring for coed teams under the auspices of the National Association of Collegiate Esports and that organization’s League of Legends. In the fall of 2019, the esport games are to be expanded and scholarships for cyber athletes offered, the news release said. Park plans to build a “state-of-the-art gaming area, called Parkade, in the underground Mabee Learning Center for matches, practices, and spectators.

Besides being concerned about the violence in many video games that people of various ages are playing at home, I am concerned about a recent headline and story posted on ESPN’s online site devoted to esports: “Mental health issues pervasive in esports,” the headline read. In the nut graph, “Esports competitors don’t face the physical duress of professional athletes in traditional sports, but the mental stress on top competitive gamers might be unmatched.”

Just what we need, more craziness in the world. Yet who knows, maybe a Park U grad may someday be sitting at Fort Leavenworth manning a battlement against a death-bearing cyber attack from evil forces seeking to harm Platte County and the USA. We do know tools of warfare begat the javelin throw, shot put, and discus throw the ancient Greeks enshrined as sports when they began the Olympics. The modern Olympics are studying adding esports to the medal hunt.

Tribal instincts and egos are a great impetus for sports and politics. Both are influencing the other in these times, I believe, and not for the better.

Society does recognize and award good deeds. But there’s much less money and glory for goodness than the rewards showered on sports. Since the Civil War, each generation since the industrial and technological revolutions began has wrestled with new challenges, the bad that came with the good. May our youth be blessed with safe passage through esports.