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lørdag, juli 2, 2022

eSports: Sport or Issue? (1 /2)

Drammen Ballklubb (DBK) is a Norwegian soccer club based in Drammen. In addition to soccer, DBK organizes several eSports teams for its young members. On Thursday the 5th of April DBK hosted an open “theme night” on the topic Gaming: Societal Problem or Opportunity? inviting speakers like Per Tøyen from the Norwegian Sports Association (NIF) and politician Grunde Almeland from the Liberal Party (Venstre) who presented differing views on the topics of gaming and sport. Some 20-odd people were there in person, and the talk was streamed and recorded on DBK’s twitch channel, but for the rest of you I’m here to give the rundown.

Per Tøyen NIF - Tema kveld Drammen
Per Tøyen (NIF) talks about sexualization and violence Photo: Kim Hansen, Ulvespill

Tøyen, understandably, focused on the inclusion of eSports in NIF. There are some relatively clear criteria for this inclusion:

  • There must be a non-profit organization to facilitate the sport,
  • NIF’s values must be compatible,
  • The sport has to make people (and especially youth) more active,
  • The inclusion should be positive for eSports in Norway, and finally
  • Esports has to be considered a “sport”.

Obviously some of these questions are unanswered. The main “problems” are about physical activity, organization and values.

Firstly, NIF does not currently believe organized eSports make competitors more physically active. This is a big problem for an organization that exists to promote sports as a health-issue. On the audience question of whether promoting concentration, social lives and organized competition is a general good for public health, Tøyen answered that mental health is not the primary concern for NIF. It does look like Norwegian eSports are going to have to mandate some level of physical activity. Notably, chess has previously been excluded from NIF on these grounds.

Secondly, NIF consists of non-profit associations for each sport. At the moment there is no national, non-profit eSports association and most organizing is done through the Telenor League, which is a commercial actor. This lack of organization is another barrier to the inclusion of eSports in NIF, but not something that cannot be changed. A grassroots organization of local clubs seems to me like a form with few downsides, but someone (actually a lot of someone’s) is going to have to do the work.

Finally, there is the question of values. NIF has some core values they wish to maintain, such as fair games, options for young age groups, gender equality and anti-violence. While match-fixing and young competitors will pose no barrier, the other two are somewhat problematic. Both games and gamers are notoriously skewed male (there is not a single woman among the top 100 eSport players by income and some 85% of viewers are male) and while other sports struggle with similar problems this is another hurdle to eSport’s inclusion in NIF.

On the issue of violence in games, it is a question of NIF’s reputation. The do not wish to see their brand next to, lets say a Counter Strike GO promotion featuring a military rifle. One option here is to segregate eSports in a similar way to martial arts. In Norway, most martial arts are included in the national martial arts federation, but MMA – deemed too violent and dangerous – operates separately. Where to draw these lines though, is a question that was not attempted answered.

Grunde foredrag - Temakveld Drammen
Grunde Almeland during the lecture Photo: Kim Hansen, Ulvespill

Grunde Almeland is a Norwegian member of parliament for the Liberal Party. His presentation focused on the political organization of eSports in Norway and how laws can be made more accommodating.

Almeland’s central thesis was this: it does not matter if eSports is a sport, the question is whether we should organize it as one. This organization, he said, should be focused on providing secure frameworks and political capital to the players and hobbyists who are interested in eSports. The special rules and support that is available to other athletes (like special athlete visas and economic support) should be available to eSports competitors as well.

He also talked about support for local, youth-focused, low-barrier-to-entry opportunities. One of the primary reasons for political investment in sports is that their organization provides social, healthy and productive opportunities to children and youth – and eSports should be such an opportunity. Similarly, schooling opportunities for people interested in eSports should be supported. Today, there are various sports-courses in secondary education aimed at keeping soccer players, skiers and long-jumpers motivated, but very few such offers for players of video games.

Obviously, the question of whether gaming is a societal problem is not very interesting to us. If you’re reading this it’s very likely you are interested in games and understand their value more deeply than “that thing my daughter spends way too many hours on”. The questions raised by these two speakers though, are about how competitive gaming should be organized in society – and that is way more interesting.

Whether Norwegian eSports choose to organize into a non-profit and join NIF or grow around existing organizations like DBK and the Telenor League, it is a growing sport and hobby and ignoring that doesn’t help anyone. Almeland’s plans of organizing around eSports in a similar way to soccer in present society are compelling and I hope eSports come to be seen as a positive organizing influence in young people’s lives regardless of its status as a “sport”.

Part two

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