On September 22-23, a two-day esports festival will be held in Dallas, TX called OP Live Dallas. The event is being sponsored by the GameLab at SMU Guildhall, which The Princeton Review currently has ranked No. 1 on its Top 25 Graduate Schools for Game Design. In addition to a high-level professional competition, a 16-team collegiate tournament, and a showcase for the work of Guildhall master’s degree candidates in interactive technology, OP Live Dallas will feature educational sessions for students and their parents on several different aspects of the video game industry.
“We are going to have a lot of booths that illuminate the opportunities that gaming provides from a competitive play standpoint to how to design games, become a caster, become a pro,” said Mark Nausha, the Deputy Director of GameLab at SMU Guildhall. “We’re going to have talks given by people in various facets of the industry, from people that develop the games to pros that play games for money to casters and influencers. We’ll give this broad stroke approach to the different career opportunities for people who have a passion and desire to do such things and make it real and tangible to them. And, of course, there will be all the entertainment value that comes with it.”
OP Live Dallas is not alone in offering educational sessions at esports events. In fact, there are entire conferences that strictly look at the business and developmental sides of esports, like ESI London, a three-day event with educational sessions geared towards those in the industry and outside of it.
The esports industry is projected to make billions of dollars this year. Yet, there are many people outside of the industry that still view it as a niche business. For all the consensus within the industry that esports is a sport performed by players who are athletes, the NCAA is continuing to waffle on whether to accept college varsity esports programs into the association.
“I think for the gaming community, which is huge worldwide – they get it,” said Nausha. “I think that people who don’t play video games or even just casually play, they may be surprised by the esports industry. But, those people are starting to appreciate it, and that’s a big thing. They are taking notice through loose education of what esports is. Even the people who are casual or may not play a lot are taking notice and starting to appreciate the value from a competitive and entertainment standpoint. It looks relatable right now. Traditional sports and esports are similar and yet very different. But I think for people who don’t understand esports, they can translate it a little. That’s how I explain esports to people who don’t get it. I try to translate it in terms of the similarities that are there between traditional sports.”
This is why educational conferences dedicated to esports and keynotes at esports events are so important. As the industry grows, it is going to face pushback from people who will have difficulty accepting gaming as anything other than a distraction.
And those people have ammunition. The venerated World Health Organization (WHO) recently labeled what it considers to be a new mental health issue: gaming disorder.
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According to the WHO, “Gaming disorder is defined … as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
The label has already caused some controversy with critics saying that the WHO’s criteria are too vague and The Guardian wondering if the disorder is going to be over-diagnosed.
Frankly, if someone does play video games “to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities” that is a problem. However, the same can be same for most activities. It’s called obsession, and it’s typically a problem 99.99 percent of the time.
However, if someone is legitimately working toward a career in esports or a scholarship that will help fund an engineering degree, how can you argue against that time spent? And even these are probably too lofty to be accurate metrics used to judge someone’s time spent gaming. Studies have found that gaming helps players improve problem solving skills, coordination, memory, and concentration.
It is going to fall on the shoulders of the esports community to change many of the misconceptions about the esports industry.
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“It’s a big stereotype that gamers are fat, living in their mum’s basement, spending their whole day eating chocolate and playing video games,” Hugo Byron, a professional esports commentator for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments, said in an interview with Games Industry.
“Look at the photos of the top teams, a lot of the best players are in really good shape. Not bodybuilders but in really good shape. Lots of the teams hire chefs to cook for their players, so it’s not just eating junk food all day. There’s a need for a balanced diet to keep esports players healthy.”
In fact, the training regiments of most esports teams would likely surprise most of those outside the community.
The industry has made recent changes that will make esports more appealing to outsiders. One example is the recent shift by the League of Legends Championship Series away from a promotion and relegation system and toward a franchised league, which is similar to how most traditional sports organizations operate.
The esports industry is so new and growing at such a fast pace that it’s not entirely unexpected that it’s facing some pushback from those on the outside. However, like any nascent venture, the more we can learn about how to overcome these challenges, the industry will be stronger and more successful.
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