Is it Time We Classify Video Games As a Legit Sport?

Pop Culture

Is it Time We Classify Video Games As a Legit Sport?

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

Weekends are for video games. It’s a maxim I’ve lived by since I was ten years old, and one I adhere to even now, at 26. As soon as the pressures of the workweek ease up for a few hours, I fire up my laptop, and set out to pwn some noobs at Dota 2. It’s a title with the largest prize in competitive gaming, with this year’s marquee tournament, The International, announcing a prize pool of over 25 million USD. For me the boat has sailed, and I’m not ever going to be a competitive gamer, but videogames as a recreational medium are still as engaging for me as an adult as they were when I was a kid.

In the distant and hazy past of the early 2000s, two boys met up on a Saturday afternoon for a well-established ritual. One of them pulled out a tote bag full of pirated game CDs wrapped in thin plastic, while the other connected their most prized possession, a grey Sony PlayStation, to the TV. The choices were as sumptuous as a five-star buffet: Mortal Kombat, WWE SmackDown, FIFA, GTA Vice City, NFS Underground; it was a recipe made for excited pre-teens to waste hours on end. My neighbour and I certainly did, often gaming from after lunch until his mother woke up at tea-time and shooed us out of the living room.

“Go finish your homework!” or “Go outside and play a real game!” were the two most common demands made of kids enjoying video games while I was growing up. I guess our elders, a generation for whom the virtual world was a strange, unexplored wilderness, were afraid all those hours spent gaming would leave us ill-equipped to deal with the real world, where problems can’t be solved at the push of a button.

But for us, the kids born in the late-’80s and ’90s and after, the virtual world was always tangible, present, and very much a part of reality. Even if you sucked out on the field, you could still claim bragging rights by becoming unbeatable at FIFA. We might have turned up our noses at the mushroom sabzi offered by our mother, but we greedily gobbled them up when running through Bowser’s Kingdom as Mario. And as we grew up, the boundaries between the real and virtual world became increasingly blurred.

While competitive gaming is a young person’s sport, our generation, the one that grew up along video games, and saw the medium grow with us, still forms a huge chunk of the gamer population.

Today, I just want to shout out a big “SCREW YOU” to the adults who pulled me away from my precious videogames when I was a teenager, because gaming turned out to be a real gravy train. In 2018, problems can be and are solved at the push of a button. Finding friends or love, ordering food, booking a cab, professional networking; all of these and so many other activities have moved online. And the much-maligned video games, once touted as something that would distract us from real success, are now an avenue to more money than most of millennials can hope to make working in start-ups across the nation.

You already know about the huge payoff for Dota 2 players at The International, but there’s many other games that also offer serious gamers the chance to make some serious dough. Developers of the shooter Fortnite announced that they would put up 100 million USD in various tournaments through the 2018-2019 gaming season. Closer home, India witnessed its first eSports expo in Chennai last month. Here too, Dota 2 was where the big money lay, to the tune of 7,00,000 rupees, but other titles like FIFA and PUBG also proved hugely popular.

While competitive gaming is a young person’s sport, our generation, the one that grew up along video games, and saw the medium grow with us, still forms a huge chunk of the gamer population. I’m not the only person yawning at work on a Monday morning because my Sunday night gaming spree went on a little too late. Studies from the Pew Research Centre, found that in America, 53% of the videogame-playing population were actually 18 and over. These studies also found that older gamers were more likely to play more frequently. So even though I’ll never be as good as the kids tearing it up for millions of dollars at The International, I can take refuge in the fact that I’ll always have more experience.

It’s time the stigma surrounding adult gamers died out. I’m not a bespectacled, socially awkward, 12-year-old taking up space in my friend’s living room anymore, but a productive adult who has a job and pays rent. Just like my granddad liked to come home from work and play a nice solo game of Solitaire, and my uncles who would get together for gully cricket every Sunday, I turn to video games because they’re comforting, familiar, and entertaining. It’s time to admit it to the world – I’m an adult and I love videogames as much as I did when my friend’s mom was unplugging our PlayStation. There’s a popular saying that goes, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” While gaming wasn’t an option back then, maybe it’s time to consider a change of professional scenery.