The NY Times Knows Nothing (about eSports)

I saw this little gem of an article a few days ago (actually it was pointed out to me by several people), and I’m pretty irate about it.  Let’s go through the reasons why this is terrible reporting, shall we?  First the nitty-gritty, and then the more substantial philosophical bits.

First off, the title: “Virtual Leagues Fold, Forcing Gamers to Find Actual Jobs.”  This sounds like something out of The Onion.  “Actual jobs”?  Would they say that if the NFL folded suddenly and a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys had to work in an electronics factory to bring home the bacon?  Would they say that if the World Series of Poker folded and some mustachioed straight-faced card shark had to start selling Xerox machines for a living?  Why this implication that professional video game players create nothing of cultural or economic value when they ply their trade?  Are gamers somehow cheating the American people out of their hard-earned dollars by getting paid to do something they’re good at?

Second, the “s” at the end of “Leagues.”  As far as this article goes (and as far as the major American eSports industry goes), the only league that has folded in recent memory has been the CGS, which the reporter does take pains to point out in this piece.  The World Series of Video Games also folded … in late 2007.  So since plural nouns usually indicate that more than one instance of the entity under discussion exists, where is the other “virtual league” that would legitimize that wayward “s”?  “Major companies have pulled sponsorships and several tournaments have folded” – great, but a couple sponsorships and a few tournaments do not constitute a league.  Tournaments especially can range from your big-budget $100k affairs to a bunch of kids pitching in $5 each on Saturday afternoon in front of a TV and an Xbox.

Let’s also talk about the alt-text of the page itself: “Economy Takes the Controls from Some Video-Game Pros.”  This title all but bashes the reader over the head with the implication that the CGS (and whatever other eSports leagues have, apparently, gone bust) went under just because of the recession.  This “fact” is not supported anywhere in the article besides via Craig Levine’s very general statement on the effect of the recession with regards to eSports.  Nowhere in the article does it say that the CGS folded for economic reasons.  It does say that the league shut down unexpectedly after only two years of operation (out of a three year plan, not five), and it does say that DirecTV officials declined to comment, and so of course that means the league folded for financial reasons.  There couldn’t be any other possible reason why a large and very well-funded organization that was garnering decent TV ratings would just suddenly shut down.

It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that DirecTV, who was running the CGS, suddenly changed hands from News Corporation to Liberty Media late last year, would it?  Of course not.  Everyone knows that when corporate subsidiaries get suddenly handed over from one media giant to another, everything just keeps on trucking like nothing ever happened.  Also it makes no difference that News Corporation was even reported in the article to have started the league along with DirecTV.  Therefore, the only possible reason why an internationally acclaimed eSports league with 18 divisions worldwide would fail would be because of an economic downturn.  Of course.

And just to bring the point home, in case you netizens can’t read between the lines, let’s just stick in a poster child sob story about a guy who was making $30k a year just to play video games and is instead probably making more money at Sam’s Club now:

Until recently, Emmanuel Rodriguez worked on a stage, under bright lights, amid intense competition and before cheering fans. He was a professional video-game player, and a world champion.

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Now he works at the customer service desk of a Sam’s Club in Dallas.

Look at how unglamorous his new, “actual” job is!  He can’t win any pretty trophies and $5,000 prizes!  What a fall from grace!  Obviously a perfect parallel to the white-collar analysts on Wall Street who are now useless to society after their collective efforts introduced the term “sub-prime” into all of our vocabularies in a most unwelcome and unexpected way.

“The professional sport of gaming has nearly collapsed,” the reporter moans.  Tell that to the World Cyber Games, which has a fairly successful reality TV show on the SciFi channel right now.  Tell that to the MLG, whose CEO Matthew Bromberg boasts in the very same article that his league has “driven everybody else out of the business” (you keep thinking that about the CGS, Mr. Bromberg).  Tell that to Germany, Sweden, China, and South Korea, whose eSports scenes are still doing pretty darn well, and South Africa, where eSports is starting to gain a major foothold.  Yes, because one America-based eSports league has gone under, for reasons that are purely economic, eSports in the entire world is taking its last gasps of air.

Please forgive my heavy sarcasm, gentle readers.  It is not often that I’ll come out so strongly against mainstream media coverage of eSports.  We need as much of that as we can get.  But I strongly object to the poor quality of reporting in this article – the lack of concrete facts, the inaccuracy of reported facts, and the heavily-biased perspective the reporter takes on the issue.  It is as though the reporter went in looking for yet another story on how the recession has strangled the hopes of entire industries, and eSports just happened to wander into his sights.  Add to this fallacy the idea that being a pro gamer isn’t an “actual job,” and you have a definite recipe for getting up in Peanut’s grill.  I only ask that the New York Times and other such historically reputable news outlets take the time and effort to do their jobs – bringing accurate, unbiased (well, when it’s not political) news to the public.  Esports is enough of a black sheep in the eyes of the American mainstream: we don’t need you muddying the waters with your dire implications and stealing hope away from those who look to competitive and pro gaming to more accurately reflect the changes in the world entertainment landscape.

On the plus side, this article was in the Sports section.  Esports fighting!

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