Growing up, sports were always something that people bonded over, but I was never truly interested in those sorts of things. I was the “chubby kid” growing up (and still am now!), and because of that, sports and I never truly got along. I was close to the last pick for every type of sport in school growing up. Kickball, soccer, basketball, if it was played on the playground, I wasn’t going to be the star player of any team.
Instead, I found my stride in games that had less of a physical focus: board games like checkers, chess, and Stratego; trading card games like Yu-gi-oh!, Pokemon, and Magic the Gathering. I found a deep love for strategy games because of the lack of a physical requirement needed to play traditional sports well. This love of strategy games followed me from my youth to my adolescence, and I found myself ostracized by my peers in middle school because of this. I wasn’t following popular sports teams or movie stars or whatever was trending at that time. I spent my days in the chess club, looking up new innovative strategies for the games I was playing, and practicing techniques in whatever video game I was looking to get better at.
Fast forward to high school. Technology has advanced dramatically since the time I was a 4th grader playing Stratego in the classroom during recess. The times were changing and so were the games that I had once played. I have always been following the growth of competitive video gaming, but in the early 2010’s the trend exploded in a way that few could have seen coming.
Electronic Sports, or esports, seemed to have become a worldwide phenomenon overnight. With the rise of streaming sites like Twitch.tv and the ease of access to video games, esports began to flourish. The culture and feel of esports had shifted entirely. Before, I had felt as though I had few people to communicate with about esports, but now it seemed that the community around esports had grown tremendously. I had felt that had come to a head when I watched the League of Legends Season 3 World Championships firsthand at the Staple Center in Los Angeles. The same place where the Lakers would play, I was able to watch my favorite North American team Cloud 9 try and claim glory for North America in an international competition. That was the moment that I understood sports fans. I was a sports fan, an esports fan.
Following that year, I tried to take my own plunge into the esports world and advance from just being a fan. I started by entering Super Smash Brothers tournaments, where I found a new community. People who I would never have spoken to or interacted with were suddenly a part of my life because of a video game. I expanded past just one game, playing in numerous games: Street Fighter, Smash Brothers, League of Legends, Tekken, Pokemon, and so many more. I’ve traveled to different states to participate in the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, and more than the competition, the friends, experiences, and memories are what compel me to continue. I’ve won a few local tournaments, but the moments that are most memorable to me are those spent with friends, watching a tournament together on a couch, driving together to Vegas, staying up till 6 a.m. and then having a deep conversation afterwards.
I continue to participate in esports events, but now I find myself more interested in teaching and fostering communities. One of my proudest moments didn’t involve me as a participant, but rather a friend who I had helped train. Watching him play and win his first match at Evo for Super Smash Brothers Ultimate made me so proud that I screamed. I ran over and I hugged him because I had seen all the hard work that he had put in, and it paid off.
Esports have given me so many memories, friends, and even a job at this point. For those who are looking to get into it, I recommend looking into these options: