Is eSports becoming a cult??

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I read an interesting paper this morning published by a university student named Pierce Boucher. The paper touches on the topic of eSports as a religion. Naturally taking the four notable aspects that make something a religion and applying them to eSports.

One of his citations in the paper talks about the “six dimensions of religion” of which eSports has four: Rituals, mythology, ethics and social components. I’ll extract excerpts from the paper to show his points, and discuss whether this explosion of eSports is better compared as religion or cult.

The eSports religion

Rituals

“eSports is ritualistic. On a daily scale, teams practice and play games against other teams constantly. There is no break – it is a team members full time job to keep up with the skill of other players and constantly improve. On the side of the community, the fans watch livestreamed matches of their favorite team(s), bet on games, and play themselves daily. Monthly, there are tournaments for the different games”

Like going to church, or saying your daily prayer, many gamers do live a ritualistic life when it comes to eSports. I know I do.

Mythology

“eSports also showcases its religious elements in its mythology. Mythology is considered to be the stories about something’s origin. The first ever video game tournament was held by gaming company Atari for the game Space Invaders in 1980; this “attracted more than ten thousand participants” (Edwards). This tournament is considered the birth of competitive gaming. In the 1990s, the world saw the rise of PC gaming as a competitive sport.”

The origin of eSports has sparked wide debate among historians. Many feel the above mentioned occasion was the birth of eSports, but others maintain that it was in the 90s with Quake, or even in the early 00s with Starcraft. This sounds oddly familiar when comparing eSports to Religion as many religious folk will argue the origin stories. I somewhat disagree with this aspect. The origins of eSports are not a myth. Many of the above mentioned origin stories are well documented, they’re not folk lore or tales passed down through the elders of eSports.

Ethics

“Part of what gives eSports the religiosity it has is the code of ethics many players follow and that the tournament organizers enforce. Whether it be rules against cheating, or other ethical issues like match-fixing, gaming organizations are very serious about the rules being followed.“

It’s difficult throwing words like “ethics” and “religion” in the 21st century. Not to start a religious debate, but he’s correct in saying both eSports and religion have a strict moral code. Perhaps at the most competitive levels these ethical comparisons will hold, but when we look at the millions of gamers in ever gaming community you will notice these ethics somewhat fall away. Again, this is comparable to religion and is an interesting observation.

Social

“The final dimension of religion that makes eSports religious is the social aspect of it all. Popular social network Reddit is home to many official and unofficial groups that post constant updates and chat boards about their favorite games and professional teams.”

This is probably the most relatable comparison when looking at eSports as a religion. It is extremely social, and looking at the above mentioned aspects is only half the puzzle. There’s also the social aspect of playing with friends, and how gaming can bring people together.

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eSports as a cult

After reading his paper I did some research of my own. I felt calling eSports a religion might be a better word, since cult has many negative connotations, but if you really want to look at the big picture, you’ll realize it is more of a cult.

According to Dictionary.com, the definition of a cult has several variations of its meaning. All of these are way more comparable to eSports. Cults can be both religious (having a person or thing of worship) or not. In the past cults have been destructive which does give the negative connotation, however as per definition and after consideration you’ll see it fits the comparison with eSports.

Both of these topics deserve further research if you’re interested, but the comparison alone is one worth considering as we move forward in eSports. It’s an interesting observation when looking at the aforementioned aspects of eSports, which inevitably make it what it is today.

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Last Updated: May 6, 2016

Kyle Wolmarans

Critical Hit's esports guy. I talk about esports and drink whiskey. I also write and cast for elsewhere - but my work here is independent of that.

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