As a kid, the closest I got to enjoying sports was swim class. The cost of joining the school’s swim team was too high to take it beyond the casual experience, and to this day, I see it as a form of exercise. Besides racing friends after lessons or in the summer, my competitive spirit rarely engages in the pool.
Hand me a game controller, and it’s a different story.
Growing up, first-person shooter, racing, party and fighting games were the main attractions for couch cooperative play. My genre of choice has always been fighting games, and like with any activity that becomes competitive, you don’t have to be good at a game to enjoy playing by yourself or with others. In the days of couch co-op, learning combos and maliciously testing them out on friends brought me an unbridled joy.
When those friends fought back is when the real competition began. Your favorite character versus their favorite character after hours of labbing combos turns the fighting game experience into more than a game between friends. The competition is born, and the friends who match your skill level transform into proud rivals.
It is from that spirit of competition that I first found enjoyment in esports, and I quickly realized I had much more to learn if I ever wanted to "git gud" like the pros.
My first introduction to a competitive gaming tournament was the Evolution Championship Series, the biggest annual fighting game tournament. There’s something about watching two players who have mastered their characters rip and tear at each other round after round, with the frame-perfect execution and timing of move combinations, the exhilarating neck-and-neck beat down as the timer ticks closer to zero.
The vicariousness was something I’d never before experienced, and it wasn’t until I was trying to explain the thrill to my father that I realized he already knew what I meant in a sense. That same thrill is what brings together friends and family on Sunday afternoons for the Super Bowl, and it’s what draws students to Sanford Stadium every semester. Finally, I truly understood all the yelling and screaming for or against people who weren’t you.
Like many players, I want to feel like playing the game is worthwhile. I want the satisfaction of a win — the tangible fruit of my labor. I like knowing I won a match because I made the right choices and learned from my past mistakes, and I try to overcome new mistakes when I lose.
Of course, I wouldn’t feel anything but confusion when the Atlanta Falcons lost to the Seattle Seahawks, or when LeBron James went from team to team — I don’t have a personal connection to those sports, so I have little desire to grow within them. I’m not familiar with the rules, have never attempted the moves and don’t see myself in the players, so I’m not energized by the game.
If my love was for a physical sport affected by the pandemic, like football or basketball, maybe I’d be in similar straits as many students, staff and faculty at the University of Georgia. I’m not, but I understand and respect the desire to get back into that space.
This time apart will only strengthen our love for the competitive spirit, no matter what game we enjoy.