To people who have not grown up in, or fully integrated the globalising elements of the information age, explaining eSports is a tough proposition.
Especially, in my experience, the lack of region-based fandom that is as much a part of eSports as the computers themselves.
Everyone understands the nature of competition to some extent ‘X plays Y to the best of their ability and vice versa for a prize’ is not a difficult concept to grasp. Because this is the core foundation of eSports, there are at least some tangential similarities that can be drawn for people to make sense from.
But, once you escape these concepts of ‘competition’, ‘prize pools’, and the basic structures that go along with it, eSports can become a daunting culture to understand – especially to those that are used to traditional sports models.
In sports, picking a favourite team can often be boiled down to city, state, or country. Obviously, there are many extenuating factors that can go into which group of players you allot your time and energy into, but, purely based on a very human, tribal, instinct to identify with people in your area, more people than not will find themselves drawn to a relationship with their home side.
There are more practical reasons for this hometown support as well. You’d obviously be more inclined to get around a team whose live games are more frequently available to you, whose fan base is already pre-existing and nearby, and whose players share your city/state/countries culture.
In eSports however, this loyalty to a region is largely missing, especially for fans that reside in places where professional gaming and tournaments have yet to take off to the extent that other places in the world have experienced.
One of the most apparent, but admittedly not major reasons for this lack of close-knit domestic support is that many teams have a mix of nationalities in their player line-up to start with.
Also, many teams that are the best at their game can all come from on country – most famously, Sweden in Counter-Strike – making nation-based support a messy situation.
Don’t get me wrong, many people will use the excuse of region to support a team, especially, if a home-team makes a deep run in a tournament on home soil. But for the large part, any on-paper problems concerning nationality and fandom feel like more of an issue for a vexillologist rather than people who have intrinsic ties to that team’s culture.
I think the majority of this disconnect can be boiled down to the online environment that eSports largely resides in, and the lifespans of the teams themselves.
Unlike in traditional sports where you can only support your team over the course of the season, and buy that Manchester United jersey, or Brisbane Broncos cap, in safe knowledge that the organisation will be around for years to come, in eSports, everything is fleeting.
Rosters can come into existence with all the hype in the world and disband entirely months later. Entire organisations can disappear due to a lack of funding or results. This is largely caused to the rabid financial environment that is eSports and also the incredible amount of time that goes into being a professional player.
The burnout of living in a house with the rest of your team 24/7 and constantly playing in-game, or simply having to sit down and play the same game on repeat for hours makes time in eSports flow much faster.
As such, the allegiance of fans can constantly change between teams just as fast. The time to build up the stories of rosters, and as a result, build up a team’s fan base is reduced when that team could not exist in its present state in a matter of weeks.
This effect is further amplified when you get down away from the top international teams and into the domestic region where lesser known players who can’t boast big salaries, if salaries at all, swap players with shocking ease.
The Australian scene is infamous for this, with rosters and organisations being swapped without warning, overnight. This aspect alone makes it difficult to understand, let alone buckle down and support a team.
What’s more, most people simply want to watch the highest level of competition possible. They want to know the stories of the best teams and players and spend their time watching the apex of a game they themselves likely play.
Whilst it might be fun to go to a local soccer game and watch people you may know in it, if there is an EPL game next door that you could watch for free, nearly everyone will choose the latter.
The domestic scenes might boast the closer-to-home stories traditional sports fans are used to, but the sheer abundance of top-level teams battling it out means that you have to make a concerted effort to go away from this elite competition to support your region’s smaller scenes – something most people aren’t willing to do.
In other words, the online environment that eSports resides in makes the lifespans of domestic teams/organisations are vastly shorter than normal sports, reducing their chances of sticking around long enough to build up a big fanbase for that roster, and it also makes supporting the elite international sides easier than the local ones.
This is a problem that has never truly faced traditional sports to my knowledge and is one that therefore can’t be solved by traditional sports models.