The dilemma in the rise of e-sports
BANGKOK — The continuing boom in the popularity of e-sports is giving authorities and parents everywhere headaches. Should youngsters be encouraged to play games and, if so, how much? What kinds of games should they be playing? How best to spot gaming talent and how long to let that talent germinate? What is the true nature of game “addiction”?
As yet, no one has all the answers. What we do know is that e-sports are on the rise, to the point where they’re likely to soon become an Olympic event. Guidelines have been drawn up to that effect, even as the debate continues over their suitability among traditional athletics.
Here at home, agencies and people, including psychiatrists, have asked the seemingly enthusiastic Sports Authority of Thailand to hold off on promoting and supporting computer games as a possible Olympics attraction. The main concern centers on the addictive nature of gaming. Kids have of course loved electronic games since the original Pong appeared, but now the chance of earning fame and fortune – and perhaps even Olympic glory – gives them genuinely valid reasons to beg their parents for a Playstation and stay up late “practicing”.
Here as elsewhere, e-sports events have become bigger, wealthier, more frequent and more prestigious. There have been scientific studies that nudge their popularity along with claims that young players grow up smarter and more efficient. This builds on the widely accepted belief that regular use of a gaming joystick improves hand-eye coordination.
Bangkok last weekend hosted a tournament devoted to a popular football e-game, a global event that has never stopped expanding. Videos of the showdowns are posted on YouTube and competitors have their own armies of admirers. E-sports not only bring in hefty money, but also international fame.
The big question for everyone concerned is how to separate normal players from genuine talents. There’s a fine line between them – extraordinary talent comes from frequent play – which makes development of e-sport talent tricky.
If your children are intensely keen on games and also good at them, do you back them to the hilt or rein them in? Obviously, if they seem to be getting anywhere, it’s better to steer them towards conventional sports. If a child likes to swim, it doesn’t matter if he can’t get on the school swim team because at least he’ll be doing something healthy. If a child locks herself in her room playing games all night and on weekends, she could end up with the opposite – poor health and perhaps even mental issues.
The situation brings to mind the debate over whether gambling should be legalized, but at least gambling involves mainly adults. Games directly involve kids, and kids often don’t know when to stop. And the people balking at the promotion of e-sports are right to compare them to gambling in terms of the proportion of success stories to painful outcomes.
The e-sport phenomenon cannot be halted, but it has “handle with care” all over it. The Sports Authority and others must think carefully whether it promotes gaming or sets out safeguards. There are technical, scientific and organisational challenges to consider, but most importantly, there is the social factor.
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