"I tagged out at Harry Potter," said ESPN's Colin Cowherd, sounding exasperated. "I tolerated Donkey Kong, OK? I'll tell you what that was the equivalent of there ... Of me putting a gun to my mouth and having to listen to that," he said, referring the audio clips of the Heroes of the Storm play-by-play commentary that he was sampling throughout the segment.
A lot of people were confused when the finals for a Heroes of the Storm tournament aired on ESPN 2. Video games on a sports channel? What sort of sorcery is this? (Not the same sorcery behind Arthas Menethil's sword Frostmourne ... Probably.) But while many people took it in stride (and some even ended up enjoying the show despite themselves), Colin Cowherd isn't happy. In fact, he said on his ESPN Radio show The Herd on Monday, "If I am ever forced to cover guys playing video games, I will retire and move to a rural fishing village and sell bait."
OK. On one hand, that's fine. He doesn't have any interest in covering eSports, so why should he stay at his current job if they forced him to do something he didn't want to do? I'd probably retire from GuideLive if I were forced to write about nothing but Justin Bieber's love life. We all have our likes and dislikes.
But Cowherd's comments quickly descended from "I'm not a fan of this" to comments that are better left to school yard bullies from the '90s.
"Somebody lock the basement door at mom's house and don't let 'em out," said Cowherd, who couldn't even bother to get the name of the game correct upon first reference (he initially called it League of Legends, which is a similar but altogether very different game). "I will quit this network if I'm ever forced to cover that."
What Cowherd fails to acknowledge or comprehend is ... well, OK, there are a lot of things. But one of them is that mocking people for playing video games isn't "cool" anymore. Video games are mainstream enough that all-star athletes are enthusiastic about the likes of Call of Duty -- and while that may be one of the more "jock-friendly" games on the market, it's still a video game.
Even your run-of-the-mill school yard bullies these days know that liking video games isn't enough to make fun of somebody anymore, because even most bullies will play Madden or maybe Halo. Video games are a multi-billion dollar industry containing players of all ages, shapes, sizes and backgrounds. And yes, some of those players treat games like a sport, playing competitively for fame and fortune if possible. Why is that a bad thing?
"You know what the funny thing is?" Cowherd asks. "Listen to how intense they are. These guys are totally into it." Yeah, dude. They are into it. They're enjoying a game -- something that is hurting absolutely nobody. Forgive them for apparently having fun incorrectly. We're not all as wise as you think you are.
But as a good piece on SBNation put it: "Here's the secret: eSports doesn't need you to care about it. This is a thing that will continue to grow, with your validation or not." Coverage of the eSports scene may still be in its infancy. It may have a lot of growing pains ahead of it. But it's not going away anytime soon.
If someone wants to have an academic discussion about whether or not eSports should be classified as "sports" the same way football or hockey are, fine. We can get into semantics about what level of physical exertion is required to make you an "athlete."
But to rail on ESPN for showing a video game competition? Is Cowherd forgetting that ESPN also airs the National Spelling Bee finals? Or the World Series of Poker? But I guess the hours I spend playing video games is a more worthy of mockery than the hours many ESPN viewers spend playing fantasy football.
Whether people like Cowherd like it or not, the Heroes of the Storm team from Cal Berkeley won a major gaming event and walked away with a lot of scholarship money. Before long, this year's International, a huge Dota 2 tournament, will draw even bigger crowds (last year's prize pool was more than $10 million, and it was watched by more than 20 million people live).
At this rate, Cowherd might want to start looking into another line of work if he wants to avoid video games entirely. That, or he could just grow up and stop imitating elementary school bullies, because that's not a good look for anybody.