Oh say can you see…
Allons enfants de la Patrie…
Ouviram do Ipiranga as margens plácidas..
Almost every young athlete dreams of hearing his national anthem sung while wearing his national team’s colors. As a child of the 1980s, there was nothing I wanted more than to go up against the world with Magic, Jordan, and the rest of the Dream Team. Adorned in the Stars and Stripes, these basketball gods made every young American boy work on his jump shot or crossover in the summer of ‘92.
In countries like France where football (soccer) is the sport of choice, players like Zidane and Henry inspire millions of youngsters to try to become one of Les Bleus. Brazilians idolize Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, and if you’re in the country on match day, take your sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sea of yellow.
There’s a pride in playing for one’s country or even being called up and asked. It’s a lifelong goal for many athletes in traditional sports. So, why doesn’t it seem to be that big of a deal in esports?
We’ll take a look at three factors, from an American point-of-view, which are contributing to national teams lagging so far behind clubs: 1. the international nature of gaming 2. the lack of a global governing body 3. most controversially, young Americans are becoming less patriotic toward national symbols revered by older generations.
Unlike traditional sports, gaming is international from the very beginning. You can hop on a server and have five players from five different countries on your team. There’s no travel required or fundraising needed to travel abroad to face competition from other countries. It’s so common, in fact, that countless memes have popped up in the community, including this beauty:
When a person plays with and against international competition all the time, events that pit nation against nation may not generate the same feelings as in sports that only have those kinds of events once every four years, like the Olympics or World Cup.
Another important factor to consider when reflecting on why country vs. country formats have been slow to gain the traction that club-level competitions enjoy is the lack of a governing body. It’s true that there isn’t one for clubs either, but competitions between national teams have typically fared much better with a global organization overseeing all of the infrastructure.
The Olympics have the IOC, while football is overseen by FIFA. These organizations, with all of their flaws, provide some sense of stability, accountability, structure, and many other critical institutions for global tournaments. Nothing like that currently exists in esports.
The closest thing to a real organized Olympic Games or World Cup in esports is the WESG, created by AliSports. While the tournament boasts the largest prize pool in CS:GO every year, the format is so bizarre that it’s hard to take seriously. Club teams, with all their players from the same nation, are allowed to compete under their club’s name. Just this year, MIBR and fnatic were invited to take part in the tournament. Not only do these teams have a massive advantage over the rest of the competition, due to them playing together all the time, but they aren’t truly representative of their country.
Not only is there no governing body at the international level, in most countries there are several organizations trying to gain control over the esports scene within their borders. Many players are turned off by the fact that these organizations seem to be just hopping on the bandwagon and are so transparently motivated by the vast amount of money flowing into competitive gaming at the moment.
The third, and most controversial factor is that younger people are less patriotic than the older generation. The New York Times published an article saying “Millennials, it seems, are a different breed. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, millennials are ‘detached from institutions’.
Americans typically think of themselves as patriotic more than people from other countries do. So, if young Americans are less likely to attach themselves to patriotic symbols, like the flag, it stands to reason that that trend is relatively global.
And, as we all know, esports is a young man’s game. Players and, more importantly, executives running the organizations involved in the industry are millennials. With decision makers identifying as less patriotic than their parents, there may not be the desire or push to wear the national team’s colors.
There may come a time in the near future where all of these issues are resolved and fans cheer on their countries with the same fervor as the Brazilians supporting the Seleção. We may have another chance to be annoyed to tears by youngsters blowing their vuvuzelas incessantly as their country lifts the CS:GO equivalent of the World Cup. But, for now, the goosebumps on our skin as the national anthem plays just isn’t a reality in esports, and who knows when that will change.