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The Rise of the Professional Gamer

Justin Hebels, an architecture student at the University of Oregon, is an avid gamer who frequently watches professional gaming streams and live online tournaments. Hebels believes that, “Moving forward into a more tech-oriented world, more kids, teenagers and young adults are using videogames as forms of entertainment for themselves.” Hebels continues, “It’s really easy to seek out and watch the games you find to be entertaining, but played at a professional level.”

 Growing up playing videogames usually meant trading studying for recreational time. Many parents often thought of videogames as a vortex to distract kids from finding careers, often asking their children if gaming could pay the bills. Until recently, the only way to earn money from videogames was by making them. Now, a growing number of young adults have lucrative careers pressing buttons. Those fortunate and skilled enough to make money playing games have become part of the growing scene of professional gaming.

Hebels describes Electronic Sports, or eSports, as “the term used for videogames being played in an entertainment setting where one would view them as normal sports such as football.” While eSports is steadily growing in the US, the concept isn’t foreign to many countries in Asia, where population density and technical appreciation of videogames provides the perfect breeding ground for both fans and players alike.

 Recreational viewership of competitive sports has always been a part of human culture and storytelling. From the simple sports played by our ancestors, to the gladiatorial battles waged on official tournament grounds, people love watching sports almost as much as playing them.

 Until now, most sports have taken place within a physical realm, usually requiring peak physical and mental conditioning. However, with the invention of virtual worlds and the Internet, sports have transcended into a digitized battle arena where anyone with a computer and Internet access can wage war.

   Traditional sports rely heavily on factors which vary greatly depending on the athlete, such as endurance and body type. While these traits are accepted and celebrated in traditional sports, in the realm of eSports, these elements are eliminated due to the nature of virtual games.

 While some may criticize the lack of physical training, professional gamers must exceed at a highly technical level. This results in high skill and teamwork being the spectacle, which can be seen and understood as many of the viewers play the same game.

   Most professional gamers start out playing a particular game for fun, but find themselves so engrossed in the game, they end up at the top tiers of skill. For professional League of Legends player George Liu aka “Zekent” of Team 4Not, becoming a professional gamer was “a slow transition that I didn’t pay attention to.” Liu continues, “It didn’t really hit me until people started asking me for lessons and I started getting spammed by friend requests.”

   Players at the highest levels begin to understand the game as second nature, resulting in the concept of metagaming, or meta. Meta is used to describe a trickle-down of strategies, gameplay styles, and various other techniques developed during top tier play. The meta quickly changes as professional players always find new ways to outperform and push different strategies into new areas.

 While the meta is created and unfolds during professional tournament play, millions of viewers are watching, learning, and eventually copying the same tactics used by the pros. This results in an interesting combination of studying and spectatorship which takes place every time someone tunes into a pro live stream.

The key differentiating factor between eSports and traditional sports is how fans and the community interact with the professional gaming scene. Because eSports exist online, many of the communities are found on websites such as reddit.com and various other online forums.

    Many of the professional players are longtime members of these online communities, meaning that interaction with average skilled players and fans occurs regularly. This results in almost total transparency between those who play for money, and those who play for fun.

    On reddit.com’s LoL community, many professional players comment on their experiences and openly answer questions in an ‘AMA’ or ‘Ask Me Anything.’ This level of professional and recreational user interaction doesn’t quite exist in many other sports, giving a sense of ‘reality’ entertainment for those who wish to tune in to the personal lives of professional players.

    When not playing at official tournaments, many pros are streaming their daily gameplay through websites such as twitch.tv and own3d.tv, creating a steady income through advertising, and giving viewers more to watch.

    With streaming becoming easier to manage and watch, there are always matches for people to tune into and take part in the community. The never ending spectatorship allows for huge userbase growth, which has dramatic effects on the eSports industry, and many of the games themselves.

    League of Legends is a free-to-play game, meaning that one only needs to create an account, and download the game to begin playing. By keeping the game free, Riot Games, the creators of League of Legends, has amassed huge amounts of viewers and sponsors.

    In 2011 Riot Games put forth $100,000 for the Season 1 Championship, which occurred over a three day period. During those three days, Riot Games drew a total of 1.69 million unique viewers.   In 2012, Riot Games has increased the prize pool to $3 million, the largest prize in the history of eSports.

    With Riot Games pushing the envelope for eSports, multimedia organizations such as Major League Gaming (MLG), Intel Extreme Masters (IEM), and World Cyber Games (WCG) must also step up and provide a streamlined viewing experience. During MLG’s 2011 Pro Circuit, viewership surpassed cable networks such as MTV, FX, Comedy Central, and TBS. With over 15 million hours of video watched throughout the 2011 Pro Circuit Season, MLG is setting itself up to be a media powerhouse for professional videogaming.

    With eSports media steadily on the rise, the infrastructure to allow eSports as a career is slowly unfolding. While this is hugely important from a technical perspective, a cultural shift must also take place if professional gamers are to be seen as digital athletes.

Similar to the media-heavy treatment of current sports, eSports will open new doors for multimedia companies to begin sponsoring and covering live events. With the journalistic landscape shifting, the eSports industry seems to be providing an exciting opportunity for those willing to make the jump.

Students like Justin Hebels now have an opportunity to take part in the gaming community by providing discourse, a multimedia experience, and online interaction. Being able to create a website and effectively report on the quickly changing eSports scene may come to be known as eSports journalism, an exciting concept for the academics who can’t seem to stop watching videogames.

    While many gaming enthusiasts may never play as a career, those who do have created a whole new sector of entertainment. A new industry is steadily building itself as human culture becomes more acceptable of professional gaming. With huge international appeal and the largely competitive nature of eSports, people from across the globe have been given the opportunity to step into the same playing field and prove their worth.

    For young adults who are willing to pour their hearts and minds into playing games professionally, the opportunity to be happy and successful while mashing buttons is still a new concept. Future generations of eSports enthusiasts will owe it to the digital

Notes:

Kim, Ryan. “League Beginning for Video Gamers.” SFGate. San Francisco Chronicle, 11 June 2007. Web. 12 July 2012. <http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/League-beginning-for-video-gamers-2587547.php>.
Scimeca, Dennis C. “The Challenge of Popularizing ESports.” The Escapist. EscapistMagazine.com, 1 May 2012. Web. 12 July 2012. <http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/firstperson/9585-The-Challenge-of-Popularizing-eSports>.
“Zekent’s Experiences.” /r/leagueoflegends. Reddit.com, 17 July 2012. Web. 17 July 2012. <http://www.reddit.com/r/leagueoflegends/comments/wo2l2/dear_pro_players_im_a_journalism_college_student/c5f5iyq>.
Sanicky, Joseph. “Understanding The Metagame.” RTSGuru. Rtsguru.com, 17 May 2012. Web. 18 July 2012. <http://www.rtsguru.com/game/435/article/3022/Understanding-The-Metagame-What-Is-It-In-LoL-and-Beyond.html>.
Reddit.com. “Gaming Subreddits.” Gaming Subreddits. Reddit.com, n.d. Web. 17 July 2012. <http://www.reddit.com/r/gaming/faq>.
Dyrus. “Dyrus after IPL AMA.” /r/leagueoflegends. Reddit.com, 10 Apr. 2012. Web. 17 July 2012. <http://www.reddit.com/comments/s2a7y/dyrus_after_ipl_ama/?sort=top>.
Funk, John. “League of Legends Championship Draws 1.69 Million Viewers.” The Escapist. Escapistmagazine.com, 23 June 2011. Web. 17 July 2012. <http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/111254-League-of-Legends-Championship-Draws-1-69-Million-Viewers>.
Funk, John. “$3 Million Up For Grabs In League of Legends Finals.” The Escapist. Escapistmagazine.com, 2 May 2012. Web. 17 July 2012. <http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/117041-3-Million-Up-for-Grabs-In-League-of-Legends-Finals>.
MLG, Lish. “MLG Delivers the Largest Season in ESports History.” Major League Gaming. Major League Gaming, 6 Dec. 2011. Web. 20 July 2012. <http://www.majorleaguegaming.com/news/mlg-delivers-the-largest-season-in-esports-history>.

Into The Depths

Ocean waves break upon the jagged rocks of the Oregon Coast rhythmically as the Earth sighs. The sun, barely poking above the distant watery horizon, beckons on a new world: the night sky. When our own star, Sol, makes it’s journey across the other half of Earth, the Universe is painted upon the black canvas that is the night. Behind the veil of speckled constellations is a vastness that stretches so far, our human minds cannot begin to truly comprehend it. As the darkness creeps into every nook and cranny of the coast, I stand upon a cliff side, the waves of light cast from stars billions of lightyears away washes over me.

I consider myself to be an atheist agnostic. I don’t believe in souls or spirits. I’m scientifically minded, and don’t ever recall ever really having a religious experience. However, each time I step out under the night sky, I feel a sense of connectedness that I think religious people mean when they say they feel the divine spirit. Each blip of light in the sky seems to be calling out to me. Whether it is a distant star, a nearby planet, or our own space stations whizzing by, I feel a powerful connection to not only the universe we live in, but each and every human that came to exist in this world.

It wasn’t always like this for me. There was a time for me when the night sky was just a reminder to wind down and go to bed. It almost seems like a different life — A life before 13.7 billion light years had meaning and before I understood the periodic table of elements. A life before Maxwell and Faraday’s laws of electromagnetism resonated inside me. Through my education, a scientific baptism if you will, my world transformed from my hometown into a 93 billion light-year observable expanse counting in at just under 14 billion years old.
I was never good at math. I understand the importance of math in everyday life and it’s application in complex scenarios. What took me years to realize is that math is the language of the Universe. Making the connection, I felt the world around me peeling away, exposing the inner workings. Heat became a physical phenomenon rather than a feeling. In my mind, I see the uncountable number of vibrating molecules. Simple notions of our world became beautifully complex in ways I have yet to understand. With so many questions swirling throughout my mind, I could feel the Universe around me growing. It’s vast uncaring chasms spanning billions of lightyears screamed at me, waking me up.
It changed me.

Looking up at the night sky has become a religious practice in some sense for me, as if to remind myself of the painfully beautiful world we live in. Like original sin from Judeo-Christian religions, humans came to exist with a burden that is carried in each and every one of us. But for me, the burden isn’t sin but time and the mind. The night sky has become, for me, the active realization that I will not be here forever, and I will not have the pleasure of knowing what is to come. The light sprinkling over me on that Oregon cliffside has travelled for billions of years, only to fizzle away upon my brief and seemingly insignificant existence. The simple act of looking at a distant star is an existential reminder that I am mortal, and I will never have the satisfaction of completely understanding our beautiful universe. This morbid reality becomes the cornerstone of my life.
The night sky gives me the answer to the question, “Why am I here?”

And somewhere deep, beyond the veil of galaxies and stardust, as if calling out and making a statement, it answers.

Nothing.

But then I think harder, and I see the question itself doesn’t even matter. Chemistry has taught us that the elements in our universe have come from the deaths of stars. My life, my being, my physical body, is the result of a star exploding billions upon billions of years ago. Suddenly, being alive nearly answers the question. In a universe so large, and so filled with lifeless mass, being alive is enough.

With the Universe still screaming at me, I understand why I should be so honored to even hear it. I am the universe experiencing itself. My physical body is not special. The chemicals needed to create my body are commonplace. However from what we know, the cognitive abstraction which my body sustains is uncommon to the entire Universe. The screams, while ghastly and infinite, become an inspirational tune reminding me of my complex origins and the precious gift of thought.

With no light pollution, and a clear sky, the night on the Oregon coast brought forth a beautifully bright night sky where millions of stars shined, unhindered. Bathing in the billion year old light, I think how magnificent it is that I can actually look up at the Universe and attempt to appreciate it’s complexity. Life is a continuous search for more answers. However, the night sky shows me why each and every human is truly amazing, and why being alive is an absolute privilege. While the night sky continues to be decoded by brilliant scientists, I will at least one day be able to point up at the night sky and say to my child, “Look honey, that’s us. Just slightly rearranged.”

The Gateways of Smoke

Inches beyond the gates of the University of Oregon campus, students mingle, enjoying a smoke break during their off time. The puffs of smoke create ripples through the sun’s rays on the warm June summer afternoon. The flicker of lighters occasionally crackles through the chatter of socializing students. The smoke, filled with chemicals such as nicotine and carbon monoxide, creates a pungent wall which surrounds the University of Oregon.

The hazy borders of campus arose after the university adopted campuswide smoke-free policies on September 1st, 2012. Inside the brick gates of 13th and Kincaid, smokers are no longer welcome to light up or use any tobacco products on campus premises.

With the emergence of new health studies done on the effects of tobacco over the past 50 years, public perception of tobacco has dramatically shifted. From it’s height as the sidekick of Marlboro men during the second half of the 20th century, smoking is now seen as more addictive than heroin.

With an increase in public health concern, cigarette and tobacco use has steadily been on the decline since the 1990’s as people become more aware of the dangers of smoking. During this time, the United States has seen smoking banned from restaurant and business premises, as well as public parks.
As research on second hand smoke becomes prevalent, organizations such as the Americans for Nonsmokers Rights are insisting various organizations nationwide adopt smoke-free initiatives as public health policy.

A 2007 report by the Surgeon General indicates that over 250 cancer causing chemicals are found in secondhand smoke, as well as other toxic metals and gases. According to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), the chemical cotinine is created during the processing of nicotine during smoking and is used to measure the effects of secondhand smoke in non-smokers.
From 1988-1991, 87.9% of nonsmokers had measurable levels of cotinine. During the years of 1999-2000, levels of measurable cotinine in nonsmokers had dropped to 52.5%, while in 2007-2008 it was found to be at 40.1%. The CDC cites the decrease in cotinine levels among nonsmokers is due to the growing number of laws that ban smoking in workplaces and public places.

As of April, the Americans for Nonsmokers Rights (ANR) reported at least 1,159 university or college campuses have gone 100% smoke-free, of which 783 have gone 100% tobacco free as well. Some campuses allow the use of smokeless tobacco products such as chew or electronic cigarettes, however many universities are seeking to convince students to give up tobacco use altogether.
Paula Staight, Director of Health Promotion at the University of Oregon’s Health Center, spends most of her time planning out the best route to a healthy campus. While Staight began working at the University of Oregon’s Health Center in 2001, it was in 2004 when her department first took steps to reduce tobacco use among students by pushing to prohibit the sale of tobacco products on campus. Since then, Staight has lead the way in introducing smoke free policies to the University of Oregon.

Staight suggests the past ten years have fostered a growing discussion amongst college campuses to go smoke-free. Staight says national health conferences as well as “studies we participated in [from 2003-2007] got the conversation started in our region.”

Staight worked with several smoke-free universities across the nation to determine best practices for the University of Oregon, including Boise State University and the University of Kentucky. “It really is a huge trend. It’s kind of that tipping point theory, and that we’ve tipped.”
“Now that the University of Oregon has gone [smoke-free], the UO is looked up to. People took notice when we announced that we were going smoke free.” says Staight. “We have agreed to be a mentor campus, so anybody that is interested in getting any help can contact me and I’ll give them whatever information I have.” she said.
One of the central challenges of introducing smoke-free policies is not only the enforcement of those policies, but determining how enforcement is carried out to violators on campus. “This year is an educational year, so it’s just a reminder.” says Staight. “If I see someone, I’ll say ‘Hey, did you know this University is a smoke-free campus?’ and most people say they didn’t know, say sorry, and put their cigarette out.” she said.

Kelly McIver, University of Oregon Police Department Communications Director and Public Information Officer, indicates that UOPD’s involvement is based “much more around compliance and awareness than enforcement. Our function is not to be the smoking police on campus.” McIver says it would be difficult for officers to hold violators accountable, as students would have to essentially be caught in the act.

“It’s not the kind of thing that somebody could make a report of after the fact and then you could reliably go and cite someone,” he said. The University has taken extra steps to ensure that proper care is taken when dealing with smoke-free policy violators. Faculty and UOPD officers have been instructed to politely inquire as to whether smoke-free policy violators are aware of the ban, opting for raising awareness rather than incrimination.

Jennifer Summers, Director of Substance Abuse Prevention and Student Success at the University of Oregon is engaged in her third smoke-free university campaign. Previously at University of Idaho and Boise State University, Summers coordinates with various University of Oregon staff to determine the UO’s best path to a smoke-free campus. Summers says, “It’s really about understanding that it’s for the health and safety of our campus community, and that the smoker’s on campus are really a smaller percentage.”
For Summers, a big part of moving the University of Oregon forward was communicating with the student body on when the policy changes would take effect. With some involvement from Nike Inc. and outside organizations, the campaign to announce campus going smoke-free came about during UO’s 2011 football season.

On October 6th, 2011, approximately 4,000 green t-shirts emblazoned with “STFU Smoke & Tobacco Free University Fall 2012” were passed out to students at Autzen Stadium free of charge. While STFU stands for Smoke & Tobacco Free University, the internet derived acronym is more recognizable as a rude way of telling others to be quiet (Shut The F*ck Up). According to Summers, Nike hoped to create a powerful brand concept for colleges across the nation to utilize. Nike saw “a huge opportunity of more schools going smoke and tobacco free” Summers said, and decided to create a package of sorts.

The campaign was “cutting edge and a little risky.” said Summers, “But students loved it. I thought it was great.”
For smokers however, seeing the acronym STFU could understood as an offensive statement. “I guess it would seem indignant for me, but I guess it was more comical.” says Dillon Scott, Senior at the University of Oregon. Scott, who considers himself a daily smoker, smokes between 5-15 cigarettes per day. Starting at the age of 16, Scott’s first cigarette came from his group of friends. “Freshman year of high school, I would bet a friend of mine at games of Starcraft with cigarettes.” says Scott. “I would always beat him, so I smoked a lot of cigarettes.”
For smokers like Scott, abiding by smoke-free policies have become an acceptable nuisance. “Yeah, I think that it’s a legitimate concern if somebody doesn’t want to take in secondhand smoke. To me though, that doesn’t entail moralizing the issue where smokers have to defend themselves.” says Scott.
“I don’t smoke that often, so campus going smoke free doesn’t bother me that much.” says Travis Stewart, University of Oregon Senior. “ I do think that it’s messed up though. They didn’t really put it up for a vote, and kind of snuck it in last school year.”

While Scott and Stewart follow the new policies, they believe the perception of smokers by non-smokers is moving in an uneasy direction. “Previously, people just smoked, and that’s it. But now, because of the whole practical consideration of it, it’s a moralized issue where the smoker has to defend themselves on a moral level why it’s okay for them to smoke.” says Scott. “If somebody comes up to you and asks ‘why do you smoke?’ Why do I have to defend myself from that position?”

“It’s a moralizing of the issue saying that smoking is bad, you are bad for smoking, and you can’t do it here.” says Scott. “It’s one thing to be standing in a crowd of people, smoking a cigarette walking to class. It’s another thing to be sitting in an open field, nobody’s around, and you’re smoking.”

While he understands the concern of non-smokers and secondhand smoke, Scott believes the University of Oregon could’ve handled it differently. “In a way it’s almost worse. Before I could sit under a tree, it’s a large campus, with nobody around, no problem.” says Scott. “Now because I can’t smoke anywhere on campus, and neither can anyone else, they all flock to the nearest exit of campus. And as soon as you come in campus, you get bombarded with smoke. Every time you go through there, someone is going to be smoking.”

With the borders of campus now housing smokers at every corner, the next step for Staight, Summers, and the UOPD is to work with city government and the local community. With businesses like Caspian’s and Starbucks prohibiting smoking within 25 ft of their entrances, students may see smokers pushed even further away from campus. While ASUO is currently voting to reinstate smoking stations on the edges of campus, only time will show the University of Oregon’s success, and how they can share that success with the growing number of campuses transitioning to smoke-free environments.

Works Cited:

B, Kellie. “Oregon Commentator » Blog Archive » STFU: Really?” Oregon Commentator. Oregon Commentator, 17th Oct. 2011. Web. 11 June 2013. <http://oregoncommentator.com/2011/10/17/stfu-really/>.

“Chemicals in Tobacco Smoke.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Mar. 2011. Web. 11 June 2013. <http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/2010/consumer_booklet/chemicals_smoke/>.

“The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.” Surgeon General. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2013. <http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/secondhandsmoke/factsheet9.html>.

Polis, Carey. “Starbucks Bans Smoking Within 25 Feet Of Stores.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 31 May 2013. Web. 11 June 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/31/starbucks-bans-smoking-june-1_n_3365544.html>.

“Secondhand Smoke (SHS) Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 June 2013. Web. 11 June 2013. <http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/general_facts/index.htm>.

“State Smoke-Free Laws for Worksites, Restaurants, and Bars — United States, 2000–2010.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Apr. 2011. Web. 12 June 2013. <http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6015a2.htm>.

“Tobacco.” Tobacco. University of Oregon, n.d. Web. 11 June 2013. <http://healthyoregon.uoregon.edu/Tobacco.aspx?q=TobaccoFree>.

“Tobacco-Free Colleges and Universities in the United States.” No-Smoke.org. American’s For Nonsmokers Rights, 5th Apr. 2013. Web. 11 June 2013. <http://www.no-smoke.org/pdf/smokefreecollegesuniversities.pdf>.

“Trends in Current Cigarette Smoking Among High School Students and Adults, United States, 1965–2011.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 07 Dec. 2012. Web. 11 June 2013. <http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/tables/trends/cig_smoking/index.htm>.

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