Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue doesn’t like the esports trend. He doesn’t bunk with his peers in traditional sports who have leapt to invest in esports teams and leagues. And he doesn’t think esports are “sports.”
I think Tagliabue and I would agree on one thing, which is that the term “esports” sucks. It sounds like a word invented by a table of suits trying to sell investors on buying a competitive video game team, and it appears to have worked. But it also encourages sanctimonious debate about the definition of the word “sport.” It’s like the endless intra-gamer debates about the definition of “game,” but even worse because of the jocks/nerds subtext.
That beef is maybe older than Tagliabue, and definitely older than I am. Despite how dust-covered this traditional sports dad’s take may be, I still felt my defensive hackles rising when he scoffed that:
“My concern now is that things are being called sports that have nothing to do with sports or with the values of sport. I read about esports, and it’s—it’s not sports. The only physical activity is pushing keys. It’s not getting out there and being challenged physically, emotionally, psychologically.”
Fight me, Paul. FIGHT ME!!
No one needs a black belt to beat up an old man, but I do have one. My first paying job through high school and college was karate instructor, and since then, I’ve learned boxing too. But it wouldn’t be fair for me, a hale and powerful blogger, to pummel someone decades past his athletic prime, and my sense is would be pretty mad if they knew I was challenging old men to physical fights online. So I won’t.
In order to spare your papery old man skin from the fury of my fists, Paul, I challenge you to face me in Street Fighter, any version after SFII. You will feel the sting of your slow reaction time in comparison to mine, thanks to my muscle memory and the speed that my comparative youth affords to me. You will experience the emotional agony of defeat. And you will endure the psychological trickery that comes from getting owned by six throws in a row.
Hang on, Tagliabue has more takes. Here are additional falsehoods from this man who has probably never watched a professional video game tournament:
“I’m concerned that more and more of our young people are being taken by technology away from the values of sport and some of the benefits of sport, in terms of sport as a microcosm of life. You prepare. You compete. You win or lose. You evaluate. You reevaluate. You re-prepare. You recompete. That’s what life’s about. Getting yourself better and better, and doing it against competition that’s demanding. I think that’s a real value which student athletes in the traditional sports are getting. I’m not sure that when we go to esports, it’s gonna be the same benefit.”
How do I even debate someone this uninformed? Does Tagliabue not realize that competitive video games also require preparations, competing, winning and losing, evaluating, and, uh, reevaluating, repreparing, and recompeting? I mean, I’d say it’s debatable as to whether “that’s what life’s about,” but it’s a demonstrable fact that competitive video games involve this exact list of verbs and re-verbs.
Perhaps Paul Tagliabue went to Shine 2017 this past year, watched the audience lift chairs over their heads in celebration, and thought, “I feel no emotional response to this.” Perhaps Paul Tagliabue watched Faker’s tear-streamed defeat at the League of Legends world championships, and thought, “This man pushes keys.” Perhaps Tagliabue has thoroughly checked out the world of competitive video games and he still thinks it’s shit.
More likely, though, he’s not familiar with any of these pro players or teams or organizations. And, like the thousands of conversations I’ve had on first dates with people who ask, “Why would anyone watch someone else play a video game,” I can only make my case if the curious person in question wants to sit down and watch some pro Street Fighter with me.
Based on my bad dates and the dueling Deadspin and Kotaku commenters that populate Compete’s discussion sections, it’s not just doddering sports honchos who think that esports aren’t “real” sports. And that’s why I’m going to fight Tagliabue at Street Fighter in front of all of you, to finally prove … that, uh, I can win at Street Fighter against some old man who my Dad probably has heard of, unlike all the other men that I cover on this website.