Feb 012015

I want to start off by saying emphatically that I don’t hate sports. I’ll go golfing, or play football or baseball with friends. But sitting in front of a TV and watching others play is something that I do not find exciting or interesting at all. Other people do, as evidenced by the immense global popularity of things like FIFA and the NFL, and that’s fine. What people do in their own free time is their business.

But the Monday morning routine of discussing in detail (usually often louder than necessary) the bad calls, touchdowns, thrown flags, and stats of the various games that were played the weekend prior is mind-boggling to me. Once the conversation starts in the cubicle next to me, I can’t reach for my headphones quickly enough.

So, in an attempt to understand this obsessive behavior (and, yes, I do classify it as “obsessive”), I decided to apply sports fanaticism to video games. To be honest, the results sound just as idiotic as do the typical Monday morning sports discussions.

Let’s look first at the video game equivalent of the NFL Draft.

Bob: Hey, are you ready for the Developer Draft? Ubisoft got first pick.
Dave: Yeah, I really hope they get Mike Zoobadoo, the freelance art director, for first pick.
Bob: Nah, they’d do better getting that one sound designer that just graduated from whatever college.
Dave: Are you kidding? He’d do much better over on Gearbox’s team.
Bob: No, he wouldn’t. Look at his track record of sound effects completed, seconds of audio generated, and the number of successful surround mixes. Gearbox is already good there, so he’d be on the bench most of the time!
Dave: I heard that the one Oculus Rift developer is a top pick.
Bob: Epic Games. No question.
Dave: Oh, please. He’s going to Infinity Ward.
Bob: What? Not a chance!
Dave: Well, whatever. Are you coming over to my house so that we can watch it live?
Bob: Absolutely! I cancelled my wedding anniversary plans with the wife just for this, so I’m not missing out!

Realistically speaking, the NFL draft is nothing more than the Human Resources department of each team doing their job by hiring those who they think are the best candidates. This is a very normal, mundane thing that happens every day in businesses all around the world. For some reason, however, the NFL hiring new employees is of significant importance to the sportball fan.

I also will never understand the sportsball fan’s need to know intricate details and histories about the players. For example, I can’t imagine the following conversation ever taking place:

Dave: That game was horrible. I hated the ending and there was absolutely no character arc. That lead writer hasn’t been the same since he got hit with carpal tunnel when he was writing the story for “Über Platformer 7” back in 2009. He should probably just retire at this point.
Bill: Yeah. It didn’t help that he wrote the most stories back in 2011, but none of them were completed. They all got intercepted right in the middle of writing them.
Dave: Don’t forget that he came really close to having the most story completions in 2005, but that’s when he got sacked.
Bill: He had way too many story turnovers last year, too. He had a really tough time getting the outlines to the receivers over in the character design and animation departments.
Dave: True, but at least he’s not doing as badly as Joe McWriter with TeamyDreamyDevs back in 2007. That guy just couldn’t get a break.
Bob: Yeah, or Bobby McBobbins over at SwedenGameDev way back in 1995.
Dave: Oh, right! I forgot about him! So much potential, but he just couldn’t come up with the right game story.
Bob: And we ended up with “Duck Hunter V” as a result.
Dave: Dear God, that game was horrible…

And where is the video game version of Fantasy Football? Why do we not have this sort of compulsive gambling for video game supporters? I can’t even think about how such a thing would work, to be honest; but I guess it would be something like this:

Mike: Man, I got killed in Fantasy Developer this week.
Joe: Yeah, your dev team announced that their DLC was going to be pushed back. Sucks to be you.
Mike: At least it’s not as bad as Matt’s. The developers he picked announced a new fix because of five newly-found bugs that made it into the released game!
Joe: That’s going to really hurt his numbers, especially the one bug that deletes game save files. Ouch.
Mike: On the plus side, My Little Pony Simulator sold more than they expected this week, so that helped my numbers.
Joe: Not much, though. My gamble that the lead programmer of Sports Game 2015 would go over to the Yet Another Sports Game 2015 developer really paid off!
Mike: Yeah, that’s going to put you into the lead this week! Jerk.
Joe: Ha! Now we just need to see how Logitech’s numbers turn out when their monthly sales numbers are released.
Mike: Razer’s going to crush them.
Joe: Not a chance.
Mike: They’re coming out with their new multi-colored, backlit, coffee-making, Mountain-Dew-dispensing keyboard with caffeine vaporizer! It’ll sell like crazy!
Joe: No, it won’t. Not initially. People will wait for a Steam sale.
Mike: lolwut?

We then have to look to the granddaddy of sports here in North America: The Super Bowl! It’s that one game where people go totally crazy with parties, team jerseys, lots of food, and jumping off the couch when their team wins as though they somehow just won the lottery. The rationale behind this completely escapes me, so what better way to try to figure it out than by having the Video Games Super Bowl!

Of course, we have to have play-offs first. To do that, we need to get 32 teams from four different leagues with the top 8 video games from each group: the PlayStation East League, the XBox West League, the PC Master Race Consortium (sponsored by Steam), and the Mobile and Tablet Conference. Using a weighted scoring system for fairness, the games play off in each bracket by averaging the high scores of each team’s 16 gamers. The game with the highest average, weighted score progresses to the next bracket until finally we reach the last two teams and the big game!

Guest announcers for this year’s Video Games Super Bowl include Gabe Newell, Adam Sessler, and Yahtzee Croshaw. The more hard core gamers will be upset that the halftime show isn’t being performed by Jonathan Coulton or the Doubleclicks, but this year’s halftime show is being performed by none other than GLaDOS and the Testers!

Finally, the big game comes and the fans all get together with the t-shirts from their favorite game developers that they got from either PAX or GamesCon. Lots of food and Mountain Dew are over on the table next to their gaming consoles with banners for their favorite console/PC maker strewn around the room as the eager gamers get ready to see the final battle! But this time the winner is determined by the number of trophies/achievements that each team can unlock in a series of four thirty-minute quarters. (To be more sensitive to the behaviors of global gamers, the supporters for the winning team will then go out and loot their local GameStop while burning the cars in front of Best Buy, because for some reason that’s how you celebrate winning a major sports event in other parts of the world.)

The following day will be loaded with the fan base making commentaries and asking questions around the coffee machine and the cubicles of those who don’t like video games. Some will question whether or not the trophy/achievement trigger mechanism was working properly because player #25 absolutely found all of the gold feathers for the Mother Plucker trophy/achievement within the two hours but never got credit for it. Others will state how they could have easily unlocked more trophies/achievements faster than anyone else if they were actually part of the team. The rest will be made up of those who are either smiling because “their team” won or those who act like their dog died because “their team” lost. We’ll ignore the fact that no one actually has any ownership or personal stake in the teams that played, but yet it was “their team” because – lo! – their emotional investment was great!

That scenario is one of the most ridiculous things I could think of and I’d be shaking my head if fellow gamers ever got to that point. However, sportsball supporters act that way just about every week, and it’s normal to them. In fact, many can’t understand why you would not want to act that way! I mean, come on! It’s sports! What’s wrong with you, man? Well, fine, in that case, come on! It’s Assassin’s Creed! What’s wrong with you, man?

And what is it with sports fans that they claim possession of the team? Why it is that when their preferred team wins, their chant (and discussions the following day) turns into “We won!” or “We played a really good defense!” We? No, those guys on the field won. Jumping off the sofa and yelling at the screen had absolutely no affect on the game. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard a gamer say anything like “Yes! We finally released Sports Game 2015XXXLL!” because we know that we as the consumers had nothing to do with the release of the game.

In fairness, gamers and sportsball fans do have some things in common. Each camp has cultists who for completely arbitrary reasons have come to the conclusion that their team (read: gaming platform) is superior to all others. The fanaticism for their team defies all logic (although when it comes to sports I’ll give some leniency to support for a home team or college alma mater); yet they get all defensive and sometimes verbally abusive if you even hint that another team might be better! And of course the reaction to any proof of technical superiority is that of anger, denial, and even threats.

Speaking of threats, another sad commonality between the two is that each has groups that advocate or at least tolerate violence based on their “love for the game”: GamerGate and soccer/football hooligans. There’s not much more to say there.

That’s not to say that the gaming fanbase doesn’t have its own group of obsessive crazies either. I’m looking specifically at DOTA and League of Legends fans here. Some Pokémon fans can fit into this category as well. I don’t understand their level of addiction either, but at least their addiction comes from actually playing the game. They’re usually talking about strategizing and improving their skills and how their own actions can affect the team as a whole. Compare this to the sportsball fans whose addiction usually results in a three-hour complaint about a bad referee call.

Still, I have nothing against sports fans. Anyone who knows me is well aware that any “complaint” against sports fans is meant to be part tongue-in-cheek, part troll. We all have our love for certain things that can’t generally be explained, like my wife’s love of The Hallmark Channel. {shudder} But sports fans – and some DOTA, LoL, and Pokémon fans – take it to an extreme that my brain can’t process. Frankly, I’m glad for that.