Usually the word 'sport' makes me think of running with a ball of some sort, seeing the stands filled with people wearing jerseys, having favorite players, and listening to screaming fans.
Well, eSports might not have the "ball," but it has the rest.
eSports, also called "competitive gaming," is a worldwide phenomenon, complete with competition, big money, passionate fanbases, filled stadiums, and skilled players.
"[There] is a sort of polarity between sports enthusiasts and video game enthusiasts," Marcelo Gheiler, the President and Founder of UR eSports, told me. "While it is true that eSports players don't need the same amount of physical strength and agility, not all sports require them. For example, the Olympics has considered chess a sport since 2000."
Alexis Ross, another gamer, has a slightly different perspective. "[eSports] is a separate community with similar ideas of teamwork, competition, and performance for public entertainment, but differs in the media and form of the competition."
Alexis, also known as "Protomagicalgirl," is an Audio and Music Engineering student at UR, who is a well-known video game speedrunner. She describes it as "beating games as fast as possible by using in-depth knowledge of the game, tricks and glitches, and tons of practice."
Thus, Protomagicalgirl's role in eSports is slightly different. "It's worth noting that I don't consider speedrunning to be an eSport; I don't feel that it has the same form of 'competitiveness.' However, I am a firm believer in the intertwined-ness of the speed-running and eSports communities."
Even if eSports and speedrunning don't fit the bill of a stereotypical "sport," they are indeed growing and shown to have a larger audience than some of the more classic sports.
In 2013, the League of Legends Championship sold out Staples Center and had a viewing audience of 27 million people, meaning that this eSports championship had more viewers than the Masters Golf Tournament, the NBA Finals, and the MLB World Series.
"The player base for eSports is absolutely massive," says Gheiler. "Most eSports are free to play, and don’t require very high power computers to run. That means any kid can download a game and essentially be on the same playing field as the pros."
It seems to be the same for speedrunning.
"Speedrunning has practically done nothing but get bigger in the past five years," Protomagicalgirl says. "I don't think this growth has any intention of stopping."
This popularity is no different here at UR than anywhere else.
"We know that there is a demand for eSports here on campus; there has been an unofficial [gaming] Facebook group for some time," Gheiler says. Recently, Gheiler and others were successful in getting SA recognition to form an official club.
It's looking like UR eSports already has a lot of interest and a large (and growing) member base. UR eSports already has 119 registered members after only being founded at the beginning of 2017.
"Another benefit to being a recognized club is that we’re going to be able to represent the University. It’s going to be up to the team whether they’d want to enter as UR eSports, University of Rochester, or the Yellowjackets," Gheiler says.
While competition is a large part of eSports, UR eSports welcomes both casual and competitive gamers. Being a part of the eSports community here in Rochester isn't just about competition.
Protomagicalgirl, or Alexis, has found that her involvement in the speedrunning community has infiltrated into her University life. "I've been lucky to be able to use my gaming skills and knowledge for some classes and clubs at UR," she says.
eSports and speedrunning are growing both globally and here in Rochester, but with that growth comes some hard questions: how can these communities become more inclusive?
According to BBC, the earnings for the top male player in eSports is $2,500,000, while the top female earns less than $200,000.
Steph Harvey, a top professional gamer, has said that only around 5% of people in eSports are female, detailing the myriad of violent threats she has encountered within the gaming community, including rape threats and attacks on her gender.
Why is there such a disparity, in terms of wage and participation, between genders within this community? What issues do non-cisgender people, as well as female-identifying people, face when joining this community?
"The speedrunning and wider gaming community has quite a few glaring cultural issues," Alexis says. "Elitism, deification of big streamers and content-creators, and callousness to new viewers and participants run rampant in streams and in person." Alexis explains that this is what leads to exclusiveness and nearly playground-style bullying.
This can be an issue for a community that depends on recruiting many varied types of players. Gheiler says, "We have some very talented players in the club, but unless we can get enough [different] players interested, we won’t be able to compete."
But what about gender discrimination specifically? With the significant wage gap and the stereotype of gamers always being male, I was interested in Alexis's perspective.
"The most important part of creating a more inclusive environment is representation," she tells me. Alexis is part of a team called Girls on Fire, which is an all-female (both cisgender and transgender) speedrunning team that streams their games online to hundreds of viewers.
"While the speedrunning community's reception to girls in general and binary trans people is okay and improving, non-binary respect and representation has a long way to go," Alexis says. Her partner Kai is a Grand Master-rank Tetris player who uses they/them pronouns. Alexis tells me that they have faced a bit of difficulty both online and in person.
"Inclusiveness is born from the ground up in my experience. Getting girls on the big screens of speedrunning events and community gatherings is the best way to foster a more inclusive community," Alexis says.
Despite these issues within the community, Alexis seems positive and proactive about the future of inclusivity, at least concerning eSports here at UR. "Both the Rochester and UR gaming communities seem to be on the rise. On-campus groups, like the new UR eSports club, have given gamers a platform for their passion."
Hearing from these two passionate and involved people is indicative of what the eSports and speedrunning communities represent: hardworking, involved, skilled people with a passion for what they do.
This community, like all others, has some issues that need to be worked on, but with people like Gheiler and Protomagicalgirl actively working within the community, progress will follow.
Protomagicalgirl will be speaking on a panel at Toro-Con at RIT with fellow speedrunner Guesst.