Picture this: It’s 2007, I’m 17 years old and wide awake at 4 a.m., excavating the depths of South Korean Google. I’m dredging forums with more malware than words I understand, failing to find the object of my search: a restream of the OnGameNet StarLeague Season 3 finals. It’s saviOr vs. NaDa, about as high-profile a match as you can hope for in mid-aughts StarCraft: Brood War, and I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to miss it. Well, I miss it. Goddamn. That restream is nowhere to be found, and all I have to show for my efforts are dark bags below bloodshot eyes in chemistry the next morning. It’s all very pitiful, and I’ll have to wait at least a day before a video of the match wanders its way stateside.
(saviOr wins 3-1, by the way, but the championship is later stripped from him for matchfixing.)
But that was then. This weekend—I’m writing this on Sunday, July 17, 2016—discerning visitors to Twitch.tv were presented with a cornucopia of esports: DreamHack Valencia (StarCraft 2 and CounterStrike: Global Offensive), The Summit 5 (Dota 2), League Championship Series (League of Legends), EVO 2016 (Street Fighter V, Melee, and many other fighting games), and that’s not even close to an exhaustive list. There are also competitions in Hearthstone, Overwatch, and probably some crazy shit I haven’t even heard of. Did you know there’s a (small) competitive Civilization V scene? Or Splatoon? And an Indie Olympics?
A veritable cornucopia of esports
Depending on what research group you ask, almost 200 million people watched esports last year; the global market for esports is now valued at just under $1 billion. By 2018, that’ll be pushing $2 billion. Esports isn’t the next big thing; it already is… isn’t it? Should we really trust the accreditation of esports solely to these (admittedly impressive) figures? Is there another way to step back and take stock of esports, what it is, where it came from, and where it’s going?
Sheathe, for the moment, those numbers and let me tell you a bit about The Meta.
I know what you’re saying: “Another esports site? Don’t we have enough of those already?” It’s true. Mea culpa. There are a lot of esports sites out there. But we see ourselves as different. Or, at least, we’re after something different. I’ll try to say it straight: The Meta is a site about how esports and “culture” affect each other. That doesn’t mean we don’t report the news, but we’re mainly interested in looking at why the news is meaningful. We want to discover and tell the deeply human stories that animate esports.
Games are a reflection of our world, not an escape from it
Maybe that’s too abstract; would an example help? Did you know that StarCraft: Brood War in South Korea would have been unthinkable without the 1997 East Asian Financial Crisis, which led to huge public investment in the internet infrastructure that made ubiquitous the PC Bang, where competitive Brood War first blossomed? The long tradition of esports in South Korea is intimately related to South Korean history and identity, and too often, these kinds of stories—about history, about culture, about identity—get sidelined when we’re talking about esports. But they’re crucial for understanding why esports is the way it is. Games are a reflection of our world, not an escape from it. Like it or not, esports is an inherently international culture, and we see ourselves as divorced from the politics of our world at our own peril.
It’s not that we’re the first to think about these questions. We aren’t. But The Meta is the first site dedicated to the idea that esports culture is just as interesting a topic as the games themselves. If you’re skeptical, consider that vibrant cultures—be they of playing, of listening, or watching—don’t just come into being on their own. Rock ‘n roll had Rolling Stone, and the internet had Wired. But Rolling Stone wasn’t just a magazine about music; it was a magazine about music culture, and it imagined rock ‘n roll as part of something bigger than itself, informed by the world, but also capable of changing it. And over time, that helped produce smarter, more knowledgeable fans, and, yes, better music. Simply put, we want to do that for esports.
Vibrant cultures don’t just come into being on their own
Maybe you don’t think any of this should be the purpose of esports writing. Maybe you think we should just stick to reporting scores and leave it at that. If so, let’s agree to disagree, and we hope you’ll come by The Meta every once in awhile for a different perspective, because we—like you—love esports, and we can’t wait to see where it goes. And from where I’m standing, here’s the capital-T truth: at a moment in which dating means online dating, commerce means e-commerce, and digital culture (whatever that is) is so wrapped up in everything else that it might as well be everything else, I’m starting to wonder whether that little “e” in “esports” means anything at all. What about you?
Header image courtesy Evil Geniuses