Typically, when video games make the news, journalists are addressing fears and concerns over gaming.
Parents and experts often ask, how much screen time is too much screen time? They often worry about gaming addiction.
In 2018, the World Health Organization classified gaming disorder as a mental health condition. But the perception of gaming and, by extension, those who game, doesn’t always line up with reality, especially if you ask gamers.
The members of the University of Utah’s League of Legends eSports Team game more than just about anyone.
“I’ll probably spend 20, 25 hours a week just watching professional games,” said Esports coach, Michael Swisher or Swish. “The thing with eSports is, you can go forever. There are pro players that go for literally 18 hours a day.”
It’s a lot of time spent, but it’s the level of commitment needed to be the best, according to Swisher. “If you’re very serious about going professional as a player you need at least five or six games a day.”
James Chan, or Jaymes as he’s known online, was a challenger tier League of Legends player. He was among the 200 most skilled and competitive players in the world.
“When I tell people I’m good at a game. They laugh it off like it doesn’t mean anything,” said Chan. “Going pro is something I’ve been on the fence about.”
Being a player is not the only career option. Professional eSports teams also have positional coaches and analysts just like pro sports teams.
“I want to be a coach. I like taking players and changing them, making them better and making them better people,” said Swisher. “I want to do more like the overview like a head football coach.”
Both Swisher and Chan competed in traditional sports before they competed in eSports, and they draw a number of comparisons between the two.
“Esports and sports. Without the athleticism. It’s basically the same thing,” said Jaymes.
In their experience, where other people often see the value in playing football or basketball, those same people do not see the value in eSports and, frankly, don’t understand it.
“They [competitive gamers] are going to get the same values that football players do. Things like responsibility, humility, teamwork, communication. All the things that we value in regular athletes,” said Swisher.
Some common misconceptions Swisher and Chan face: they’re wasting their time. They’re obsessed with or addicted to gaming.
“Esports organizations tend to be looked down on. A lot of people may not be familiar with it or how it works. They just disrespect it. And don’t appreciate it for what it is,” said Chan.
But they put up with the misconceptions. For them, it’s worth it.
“I’m going to graduate with a computer science degree, but I’m choosing to do this because I love waking up and doing this,” said Swisher.
Dr. Ashley Brown is an assistant professor in entertainment arts and engineering at the University of Utah suggested gaming faces more scrutiny than other activities. “When we look at students that are practicing sports or dance or saxophone or whatever hobby or pastime they might turn into a profession, we would never say they’re addicted to basketball or to ballet or playing saxophone.”
That is not to say gaming can’t be addictive, but as gamers, they often feel like they’re being singled out.
The Entertainment Software Association releases statistics every year about who’s gaming. Sixty percent of Americans play video games daily.
Brown added, even if you are just playing as a hobby, not to go pro, gaming has value.
“A lot of people find it empowering. If you’re going through something difficult in your life, I think games can be a great form of escapism. And I think it’s actually a healthy form of escapism,” said Brown.
They also challenged the idea that gaming is always isolating. For them, it is a community.
“League of Legends, being the most popular game in the world… it has a huge community and there are many passionate people all around the world,” explained Chan. “It’s really great to meet all these people that share the same interests as you. It feels like the community has pretty much made me who I am today.”