The Utility of E-Sports as Mechanisms for Personal Growth

By Darien Chetram

Video games are often viewed by those who do not play them as time dumps. Useless engagement in an activity that will serve no purpose at furthering careers or facilitating personal growth. And they are partly right.

Video games won’t get you a job. You can’t put your CS:GO rank on a resume, or the fact you can beat all your friends in 2K on a LinkedIn profile. However, this critique should be placed on any recreational activity, from sports to arts etc.

But it isn’t.

The reason you can put something like being part of the dance club, or captain of a varsity basketball team on a college application or resume(when you’re younger), is not because of the skill in a given domain of competence. A university doesn’t care about your 3 point percentage, or your ability to breakdance when deciding who gets accepted(unless you’re trying to get a scholarship). It about what that ability represents.

What these institutions are looking for, and impressed by, is the implied growth and life lessons gained from engaging, and progressing up the ladder of competence in these fields. People understand the road to excellence comes with a number of valuable lessons. Learning to deal with failure, performing under pressure, working with others towards a defined goal, commitment etc. These are what institutions value about a individual being competent in a given domain, not the actual skill.

This is at the crux of why gaming is unfairly dismissed, as the lessons learned gaining proficiency and ability in competitive gaming domains run parallel to the majority of other “respected” recreational activities. The biggest setback to video games and gaming in the context of this discussion, is that ability within a respected esports title is not externally recognized and accepted by the public.

The combination of popularity and game mechanics in League of Legends, Counter Strike Global Offensive, DOTA 2, Hearthstone etc. provide a landscape of fierce competition that can only be traversed and ascended through the understanding and absorption of those same ideals that one would in any other recreational domain. Put simply, becoming good at gaming requires one to embody the same ideals as an individual engaging in any other sport or activity, because the competitive landscape in e-sport titles are congruent to most sports and activities.

CS:GO averages roughly 450,000 concurrent players, DOTA 2 averages roughly the same and League of Legends averages 7.5 million concurrent players. This is an important statistic to highlight, emphasizing that it is hard to excel at these games, due to a large talent pool who are all in competition. Because these games are meticulous developed, luck and randomness have a marginal effect on the outcome of a given situation, providing the impetus for practice and subsequently skill to give players a higher probability of winning. Anyone who has faced an incredible AWPer in CS, or played against a talented jungler in LoL can attest to the fundamental utility of skill in these games.

The other factor that should be considered is the majority of these competitive e-sport titles possess detailed ranking systems, indicating to players explicitly where they fall relative to the competition. This provides a tangible cue for growth, and an indication of a player becoming better or worse at a game, giving them motivation to continue to practice and play.

This illustrates the unfair dismissal of gaming in the context of its utility in society. Some individuals are not inclined to engage in more traditional forms of recreation, due to physical limitations, social aversion and in some instances monetary hardships. Gaming provides an outlet for those who maybe don’t fit into, or really care about societal norms or ideals.

The apprehension of acceptance towards the potential of gaming in a broader societal context has a few possible explanations. Firstly, it would be ignorant to ignore the generational technological fluency gap. A 50 year old person today was 18 in 1986. This was an era where computers had a single megabyte of ram, and Legend of Zelda was first released on the original NES. It is challenging to put into words how far technology and gaming has advanced since then.

Many individuals may have a inaccurate notion of what gaming is if they have not been exposed to it’s more nuanced and dynamic offspring. It’s hard to provide a statistic to illustrate this fact however,  most young men and women have experience helping their parents with some technological activity which to them may have seemed like an extraordinarily complex task(setting up a Facebook account, connecting to a WiFi network), but to those who use tech everyday was relatively mundane.

Secondly, the caricature of gamers in popular culture is not a flattering one. In most media distribution platforms, individuals who play video games are stereotyped as awkward, unattractive boys/men, basement dwellers who are a stain on society. This connotation makes them an easy target of criticism, reinforcing social norms and providing a certain degree of superiority to those lambasting. This superiority complex drives the negative, binary view of gaming, and subsequently suppresses its potential for growth. 

The biggest critique of gaming is that it is not as healthy(physiologically) of an option to engage in for long periods of time as something like soccer or football would. But this “mitigating factor” can be easily remedied by living a rational, balanced existence and not having your life revolve around gaming.

In summation,because gaming is outside of societal norms it is disregarded. Because it is disregarded its inherent value to society is dismissed, and the individuals who excel within these extremely difficult fields are not given the credit they deserve.

What gaming can provide to society is a productive, engaging, and challenging tool for personal growth for individuals who are goal driven, hard working and looking for competitive, feedback based activity. The skills developed through climbing the ladder of competence in competitive video games is exactly the same as those in any other recreational activity, and thus should be respected the same way.