The NYT – Back on My Good Side

As anybody who follows me on twitter or Facebook or gchat or AIM or MSN (or talks to me in real life, but who does that if they can just talk to me on the internets?) could probably guess by now, I’m pretty pleased with the recent article in the New York Times on my favorite up-and-coming eSports phenomenon – the Collegiate StarLeague (CSL).  The CSL, which is the brainchild of Mona “Hazel” Zhang (recent second-place winner in the SC2GG Commentator Idol), a freshman at Princeton University, recently held a showmatch between the Princeton CSL team and a StarCraft team at Qinghua University in China.  Qinghua is a pretty big name – think of it as the Yale of China to Beijing University’s Harvard.  I’m not sure how they organized the showmatch, which was broadcast semi-live off of replays by Cholera on ustream, but I’m sure Hazel has friends there or something.

Anyway, the Princeton folks took it upon themselves to make the showmatch into a spectator event – they found space in a building on campus and had a projector showing the games on a screen with commentators sitting in front of the audience MSL-style.

 

Props to Jack Gang at Princeton for the pictures.
Anyhow, a reporter from the New York Times had taken an interest in the CSL recently and attended the showmatch to get a sense for what eSports events are like.  The resulting article was a commendable piece of work and I recommend you go check it out if you haven’t already.
The interesting part to me was the reporter’s focus on the “C” of the CSL via various academically-themed references to StarCraft and gratuitous prestigious school name-dropping.

In recent months, 27 colleges — including Harvard, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ohio State, Texas, Cal-Berkeley, Johns Hopkins and Oberlin — have joined the league to play StarCraft … Ke Wan, a graduate student from China who is studying operations research, detailed each world’s character traits: Zergs are prolific and fast, Terrans are sophisticated strategists, and individual Protoss units are extremely powerful. Wan drew a geopolitical analogy. “Zerg is like China,” he said. “It depends a lot on its large population. The U.S. is Protoss because it emphasizes the value of the individual. And Terran is Russia or the former Soviet Union, a huge high-tech war machine.”

I’m not sure if I’d actually agree with Ke Wan’s analysis, but its validity is definitely arguable and it helps people who don’t know what StarCraft is relate to the game.
The article also has the requisite paragraph on South Korea’s StarCraft scene, again with references to American sports figures that give the non-gamer audience a better idea of what it’s like across the ocean.  Seems like she’s taking a page from my book, but I highly doubt anyone at the New York Times has read my editorials.
While I applaud the way the reporter captures the hopefulness and ambition of the CSL in its dream to make eSports a permanent part of the college scene, the last two sentences of the article are a little iffy to me.

“It’s definitely a very beautiful game,” Liu told the crowd, keeping up the standard between-game banter. “We’re looking to get more people off the athletic field and into the gaming room.”>

Is that really what college eSports is about?  This quotation makes it seem like eSports has to compete with traditional sports for players and fans, whereas I’ve always maintained that the two can appeal to different populations and thereby get more people involved in competitive activities on the college level.  The beauty of eSports is partly that humans everywhere have an unquenchable fascination with competition, and not just of the athletic variety, and bringing competitive gaming to the fore allows many people who never considered themselves into sports spectatorship to enjoy a kind of competition they connect with in a more satisfying way.
Regardless, between the press in the Daily Princetonian, the Harvard Crimson, and the New York Times as well as the new initiatives which WCG USA is taking on (Ultimate Gamer, the WCG Fighter Club), I say fie on those who claim American eSports is dead (also apparently MLG is bringing on a new game – wonder what that might be?).  We’re entering a new era, and it’s looking pretty bright and shiny in spite (or perhaps partly because of) the disheartening economic backdrop worldwide.

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