Games vs Sports

[This post is an elaboration on a tweet I posted earlier today.]

So the World Cup has started. For most of the rest of the world, where soccer/football is much more popular than it is here in the US, this is a big deal as it only happens once every 4 years. This time around it’s a bigger deal in the US than it has been in the recent past due to soccer becoming somewhat more popular and the fact that it’s being held in Brazil so it is ‘time zone friendly’ for US audiences.

Anyway, so now the World Cup is everywhere including in our social networks. Most of the folk in my social networks are gamers and a lot of them seem bemused by this onslaught of World Cup propaganda. If I took all the reactions, and simmered them down into a cohesive thought I think it’d be basically “I don’t get why people enjoy watching sports.”

In years past I’d totally get that because gamers play games while sports fans (hereafter known as sportsers) watch sports. Play vs Watch. Active vs Passive. I just figured gamers were doers and sportsers were watchers.

But that was before Twitch.

Twitch changes everything because it is extremely popular among gamers, and it turns gaming into something passive, so my old theory has fallen apart. A lot of the people who are puzzled by the popularity of the World Cup (or more generally, sports) are also fans of Twitch, and that in turn makes me puzzled.

It’s curious to me that a person who enjoys watching a MOBA match, or watching a guild take down a raid boss, or just watching someone play any game can’t understand how a sportster could enjoy watching a soccer match or a football game. And then there are the ‘between’ things like poker. I LOVE watching poker, but is it a game or a sport?

Now just to be clear, I’m NOT saying everyone should enjoy sports; not at all. Nor do I mean to come across as ‘scolding’ or anything. It’s just a curiosity for me. I’m questioning why the concept of watching sports is so foreign to someone who is so comfortable with the concept of watching games being played, since at their core sports ARE games.

The funny thing about sportsters is they’d be considered complete geeks if there weren’t so damned many of them. Have you ever heard two baseball fans get into an argument about who is the better player based on the approximately 50,000 different stats (might be an exaggeration) tracked for each player? These sportster nerds have that shit MEMORIZED, trust me. It’s totally geekdom! Except since it’s main stream, it isn’t. But it is. Or should be.

I consider myself a gamer but not really a sportster. I’ll watch American football and I have a team to root for, and as I said I love watching poker, but neither is something I do regularly. Lately I’ve started watching cricket. This has been really fun for me because I had zero understanding of the game. It just all looked like a bunch of people basically standing around to me. Then I learned the rules and it got a little more interesting. And as I watched more I started to get the strategy involved and really started enjoying it. Strategy, I like. In days gone by I was into wargames because again, strategy! I think that’s why I like American football. Football is like (more or less) civilized warfare and I love the battle of the coaches as much as, if not more than, the actions of the players themselves.

Anyway when I first started watching cricket my confusion felt familiar and I finally realized when I’d felt the same way: when I’d tuned into a League of Legends match. Since I’d never played LoL I had NO CLUE what was going on and it just seemed like random chaos with no strategy at all. Sadly I never got past that point, and now I think I might want to so I can appreciate watching LoL the same way I now appreciate watching cricket.

I’m still working on finding the appeal of watching someone running around randomly in WoW or Rift or Wildstar; there must be some appeal since so many people stream this kind of content so there must be an audience for it. I’ll put that on my list after I’m done learning to appreciate LoL. But right now I have to go see if I can catch the end of the Chile vs Australia match! It turns out that soccer is pretty interesting to watch too. Guess the rest of the world knew something I didn’t!

4 thoughts on “Games vs Sports

  1. I love playing volleyball. I can’t stand to watch it. I always itch to just go play.

    I have a similar response to games that I am interested in. I don’t want to watch someone else play, I want to go and play.

    For games/sports that don’t interest me, I don’t care to either watch *or* play. Football (any version) falls in that category. I don’t dislike it, I just have other things I’d rather do.

    Perhaps I’m an outlier. *shrug*

  2. Maybe I’m an outlier too.

    I can’t fathom the appeal of watching many game streams or soccer. For the first, I’d rather be playing than watching someone else play. For the second, it’s mostly kicking a ball around, leading to moments of hypnotic sleepy boredom punctuated by moments of excitement.

    I used to enjoy watching American football because of the strategy and various roles involved, though my learning also underwent a period like yours with cricket. It ended up taking up too much time and my craze died down.

    I watch the DOTA2 invitational ever year because it’s a big publicized event, has commentators and the level of play is really expert, but I can’t really see myself chasing down regular DOTA2 streams just for entertainment when I could actually be playing another game with the same time.

    A game video really has to have added value, an additional storyline (I’d watch machinima or stuff like Shadow of Israphel over a let’s-just-play-this stream), or me to be on some kind of purposeful hunt for learning/information for me to consider watching it.

  3. I wasn’t trying to set up categories of people or define outliers or inliers. I was just voicing my curiosity of the fact that people who DO like to watch video games being played are puzzled by why anyone would want to watch sports. To me they just seem like two sides of the same coin I guess, and I was trying to explain why I felt that way.

  4. I don’t know if it was a watcher vs do-er thing in the past or if it was just that some people don’t like sports for whatever reason. Maybe they were bad at them in school, maybe they associate them with the whole jock vs nerd mentality or a myriad of other maybes. It wasn’t “Why are they watching sports when they could be doing something,” it was “I don’t like sports so I don’t watch them” but phrased differently.

    The fact that Twitch has come along and become so popular is ancillary I think. Sprotsters vs Gamers isn’t passive vs active, it’s just two groups of people looking different things. It just so happens that one group got something the other’s had for a long time.

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