In this week’s Minority Report, the LA Valiant and the LA Kings hockey team collide in a crossover for the ages.
In college, I used to watch a lot of old science fiction movies. The 1950’s were rife with them due to an otherworldly fascination with space travel and new technologies. One of my favorite ones was “When Worlds Collide,” which depicts humanity’s reaction when we discover that a rogue star is on a collision course with Earth. While I watched the inevitable frenzy that would occur in an apocalyptic situation like that, something stood out to me: the fact that people weren’t even willing to accept the situation until it was too late. The five stages of grief shone in full, global display, as the world they knew was about to be literally annihilated.
That kind of hysteria seems equally prevalent in the whole esports vs. traditional sports debate. ESPN can’t publish a single article about esports without people commenting about how “esports isn’t a real sport,” further perpetuating the long-obsolete narrative arc of “jocks vs. nerds,” without considering that the real mental, physical, and emotional stamina needed for both are similar in many respects. As a citizen of both nations, a fan of both experiences, it breaks my heart to see this kind of split – this rigid dichotomy between the two “worlds,” when it’s pretty obvious that the professionals from both sides are more than supportive of each other.
And the proof? LA Valiant PR Manager, event organizer, and hardcore Anaheim Ducks fan Jen Neale spoke to me about the Valiant’s most recent promotion. As it turns out, it was actually the LA Kings themselves that pitched the idea to the Overwatch League team, not the other way around.
LA’s Common Threads
“Immortals, the LA Valiant’s parent company, shares a common thread with the Kings in AEG,” Jen explains. “AEG owns the Kings (and LA Galaxy) and invested in Immortals. While it may sound like an obligation from the Kings, it wasn’t! They are total gamers. They came to us ahead of the start of the season and pitched Esports Night as one of their promo nights with the Valiant as special guests. We were totally on board. As the resident puck-head, I was happy to help get it set up even though I’m a die-hard Anaheim Ducks fan.”
To me, this collaboration was a good thing. An amazing thing. It was a big step forward for me and for fans like me, for one; as a black woman nerd who also happens to enjoy every kind of sport imaginable, I still get shocked comments from people who can’t believe that a tattooed amateur boxer could lose herself for twelve hours or more in Overwatch. This wasn’t unprecedented, either. I was completely grateful to the Los Angeles Valiant for collaborating with the LA Kings the same way they did for the LA Galaxy last summer. I attended that game as well, and if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have learned as much about soccer as I would have if left to my own devices. Turns out…it’s pretty fun as well.
Change is Hard
Unfortunately, not everyone was as open-minded.
I understand that change is a difficult thing for many people to embrace, especially when it causes any level of discomfort or unfamiliarity. But…this is a perfect example of it actually being beneficial. On a deeper level, it’s about understanding and accepting people from different athletic backgrounds, while also supporting each other and cheering for each other’s success. Teamwork makes the dream work, and all that.
But I would have been hard-pressed to tell that to the people behind us, who seemed to be unwilling to deal with or unaccepting of our presence there. These were HARDCORE fans, so hardcore that they dropped big money to get VIP seating…in the nosebleed section. So hardcore that they spent no less than half the game reminding us of the unwritten rules that they appeared to pull out of the thin, cold, evil-Disney-villain mist that seemed to surround them:
- No talking during the lights show.
- You are not allowed to get up during the game unless the game isn’t in play.
Every time we stood up, the Hardcores let us know. Every time people from the Valiant team came to film us, the Hardcores made sure they knew that their presence was unwanted. They were the real fans. They knew what was up. What chance did we have against their limitless knowledge? Only — oh, wait. It was all chest-puffing bullcrap that made no sense.
“You sat by shitty fans,” Jen confirms to me. “For that, I’m sorry, but that’s not representative of hockey overall. The only rule is that you’re not allowed to return to your seat while the play is ongoing.”
And she is correct. I had way too much experience attending a variety of sporting events to think of this as anything but an isolated incident. We ended up taking the belittling in stride, and meming the hell out of the game.
But, Change is Good
Yet I couldn’t help but think of all the times new people would come to us during Overwatch League games, especially parents who brought their kids and had no idea what they were getting into. I remember one particular day when I accidentally cursed in front of a child, and immediately turned around to apologize to the parent. He was fortunately very easygoing about the situation, and we ended up talking. He told me how his son loved the game, and while he couldn’t understand it himself, seeing his son so happy made him want to learn more about what was going on. I was happy to help explain the basics, and I could see in his behavior after our conversation that even his brief understanding helped him enjoy the game more with his son. That one small exchange to make sure no one felt left out at an event was what made attending games that much more fun.
Because that’s what it’s really about, isn’t it? Breaking stereotypes. Letting people know that there is more to esports than what they choose to perceive. In the end, we all just want to cheer on the professionals who spend countless hours honing their craft, and feel inspired by them to be the best people that we can be.
It also helped that during intermission, Scott “Custa” Kennedy, main support and team captain for the Los Angeles Valiant, appeared on Fox Sports and spoke about how being a professional gamer was a lucrative, viable, and ultimately fulfilling career. And, like any other sport, one that showcases the talent of the best players on the planet to millions around the world. And, while part of me wanted to really roast the interviewers for their unintentionally hilarious questions regarding esports, I was still overwhelmed by a sense of pride. Being a walking stereotype breaker, I truly appreciated yet another example of expectations being shattered being shown on a national platform.
Jen agrees. “It did what I feel is really important — begin to reverse the stereotypes of professional gamers. People saw an articulate, knowledgeable professional in Scott’s interview. Players are our best ambassadors. It’s important to realize that he and others like Indy [Halpern], Brady [Girardi], Kariv [Young-seo Park], and everyone else are critical in taking esports to a wider audience.”
I don’t know what the future holds. Even now, holding on to this little light of hope, I still feel that same sort of cynicism I’ve felt lately. I can’t help but prepare for the onslaught of sardonicism that will occur as the spotlight grows brighter on the industry. The survival instincts are kicking back in, but I hope that this won’t be another case of marginalization and apathy towards a growing field based on some outdated views of what a sport is. I hope that the Los Angeles Valiant continues to promote events like these, and I hope that other teams in Overwatch League continue to do so with similar events for their representative cities.
Because when worlds collide, it doesn’t always mean an apocalypse. It also can be the beginning of something far greater.
I can’t wait to see what that is.