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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 19, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsThe Hot Stove

The Hot Stove: Minimizing harm key for esports

This is not a column making an argument for whether or not esports are actual sports.

I think Cornell University senior Ambrielle Army, an esports Web content coordinator for Riot Games, who was quoted in last week’s story about esports, “League of Their Own,” in The Ithacan, said it best.

“Are they athletes? Who cares? They’re champions,” she said.

Whether you call it a sport or not, competitive video gaming is nothing new. From the earliest days of Atari games like “Pong” to modern day online games like “Call of Duty,” people have enjoyed competing with one another in video games.

In any game, people practice and compete at different levels and for different amounts of time either for fun or to improve their skills. I remember as a kid, I used to love playing multiple “EA Sports” and “2K” video games for fun, and I’ve gotten better over time, just like I have improved my abilities as a varsity cross-country and track runner.

However, an important thing I have always remembered over those years is that too much of anything isn’t good for you.

In a recent edition of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” correspondent Soledad O’Brien met with North American video game professional and “League of Legends” master William Li in Los Angeles. In an interview with O’Brien, he said his team of gamers has a mandated break day from video games every Saturday. But when asked about this, Li said he usually just plays more “League of Legends” during that break day, which I think is a cause for concern.

When Li became a professional gamer, he went to South Korea, which has become the world’s hub for modern-day video gaming. “PC bang,” a South Korean video game cafe, brought in about $600 million in 2010 and is likely taking in even more money four years later. But South Korea’s addiction to video games came to a head this past spring when a family’s 2-year-old son died of starvation while the parents were playing video games.

That’s my biggest concern for esports — the addicting aspect. I remember my doctor telling me as a kid that we should minimize screen time to two hours per day. While I usually go a little over on that limit, players should find a balance between the real and fantasy world instead of being locked onto a video game screen for eight to 10 hours per day.

Robert Morris University may have found that balance by offering America’s first scholarships for esports athletes.

Many of these students who win these scholarships are highly skilled in their respective video games but have come together to form a team. Though this may feed their potential addiction, allowing highly skilled players a scholarship gives them the option to go to college, receive a degree and have a career path if professional gaming is not what will pay the bills in the future. Robert Morris is the first school to offer these scholarships, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

So the argument should not be whether or not esports is a sport, because people are going to continue to play. It’s a matter of how, like other sports, we make it safer to minimize potential harm to its participants.