When I was young, I used to watch the football games with my dad every Sunday night. I didn’t know what was going on, but I had nothing better to do and it was a good chance to spend some time with the people I found interesting at the time. I even played some baseball and soccer in rec leagues until I was about 13. But as I grew older and drifted away from my parents, I also drifted away from sports; I just didn’t derive any particular enjoyment from watching a guy throw a ball to another guy, and I didn’t get the frenetic energy sports fan got when “their” team won. I just preferred to play games and study music.
So you imagine my surprise when I suddenly realized, sitting alone watching the finals of the Mid-Season Brawl on mute using library wifi, that I had become a sports fan…just not the type I had always imagined in my head.
Everyone knows that guy who insists on going to a bar for lunch so he can “watch the game” or that person who plans out epic Superbowl parties or the person who listens to the ball game on the radio during their commute back home at night. We all know those people who thrive on competition and bracketeering and meticulously tracking stats and arguing with co-workers over who the greatest quarterback of all time is. I never saw myself as one of those people and I never understood their obsessive need to be involved with the sport constantly (especially if they didn’t play it themselves), but in the arena of esports, I’m beginning to realize I’m exactly like those people. I am those people.
During the Mid-Season Brawl, I technically had no work to do outside of keeping up with the LiquidHeroes bingo and tweeting out any boxes we had checked off. I had no obligation to watch all the games, but I did anyway. I followed the games religiously, kept notes wherever possible, and paid attention to the drafts of each team and how the metagame was evolving. Unfortunately, I had to miss at least two full days driving my mother back and forth between the house she’s fixing up and home (a two hour round trip, and up to five or six hours in between transit), but it didn’t stop me from trying to get all the information I could.
I checked Twitter and Discord constantly for hints about what was going on. I didn’t have the data (or battery power) to stream everything from my phone, so I had to rely on wifi wherever I could get it, so I drove to libraries, coffee shops, Waffle Houses, etc. And for the first time, I noticed that I was moving outside the realm of pure analysis and self-improvement to actual fandom; I suddenly understood all of those crazy emotions people went through watching a football or soccer game.
Esports is all about the competition and the storylines. It’s about the underdog slaying the giant. It’s about meaningless but thoroughly entertaining games. And it’s about building a community of people that will stick together because of this one random thing they all have in common.
This wasn’t the first time this has happened. I remember watching LoL Worlds in the university library while studying journalism last year. I remember staying up ultra late just to watch Korean SC2 players play the most epic GSL finals of all time. I’ve experienced it all, even in games I didn’t play. But that moment watching the Mid-Season Brawl was a wake-up call. It turns out I have a lot more in common with sports fans than I thought.