Appleton: X Games adds professional gaming tournament

The Fresno BeeMay 2, 2014 

A "Call of Duty" invitational tournament will be part of ESPN's X Games Austin festival in June.


Professional gaming took a giant step toward legitimacy when Major League Gaming — a top electronic sports league — announced Monday that a "Call of Duty: Ghosts" invitational tournament will be part of ESPN's X Games Austin festival in June.

The three-day event will feature eight professional Call of Duty teams battling it out on the Xbox One for X Game medals.

MLG's various streaming networks will allow millions of fans to watch the matches live on their smartphones, tablets, computers and Xbox consoles. However, the games will only be highlighted during ESPN and ABC's regular X Games telecasts. Matches will not be shown in their entirety live on TV.

It would be nice to see a full-length gaming telecast on a major family of networks, but the inclusion in the X Games is still a major undertaking. If the tournament goes smoothly and attracts enough fans, it would be a no-brainer to package it alongside the more marquee extreme sports, such as skateboarding and motocross, for next year's X Games.

I love the partnership. The X Games are an established alternative sports brand with 20 years of experience. Major League Gaming is one of the oldest and largest professional gaming groups. They both cater to the same core audience, and I suspect many of the X Games athletes are video game players.

I am excited for the future of gaming, but I am also worried.

I don't think organizations like MLG and the various professional League of Legends groups are ready to be true professional sports. Many of the same problems that plagued the early histories of our major sports are starting to repeat themselves in these professional gaming leagues, and I would hate to see a generation of gamers laid low by exploitative and unfair business practices.

Financial security is my first concern. There is prize money, sponsorships and endorsements, but most professional gamers don't have a safety net. If players underperform, they can be jettisoned from teams and lose their only source of income without any sort of contract buyout, pension plan or severance pay.

Teams can make hundreds of thousands of dollars off the work of teenagers and then simply cut them without taking any sort of financial loss.

I'd love to see a players' union in place by the time professional gaming goes mainstream. Major League Baseball owners made millions in the early 20th century while their players often had to take on a second job in the off season to support their families.

I don't know if this type of exploitation is taking place or will take place in American professional gaming, but it seems possible.

In South Korea — where professional gaming is as popular as the NFL is in America — the government had to step in to help protect players' rights and stop widespread illegal gambling.

I also worry about child labor issues. Most professional gamers are in their late teens to early 20s, but the potential is there for the exploitation of minors.

If you have ever seen the McDonalds All-American high school basketball game, you know there are teenagers in America who could play in the NBA. However, rules are in place that force these kids to finish high school and go to college or play overseas before entering the league. There are a variety of reasons for this, most of which are put in place to protect the young athlete.

There isn't a system like this in place for professional gaming yet. It is safe to assume that a few kids have dropped out of high school to be professional gamers, which is a real shame.

When professional gaming evolves into a legitimate professional sports league, there will have to be a minimum age limit. Young players should be allowed to compete in highly competitive but unpaid leagues, similar to AAU basketball or traveling softball teams. They can play the game at a high level and be groomed for a future as a professional athlete, but they have to finish high school first.

These are only two of the issues that all professional sports have had to deal with at some point.

My generation is poised to unleash a new sport on the world, and I would hate to see us repeat the mistakes of the past.


Rory Appleton is a journalism major at Fresno State and a freelance gaming journalist. He can be reached at (559) 441-6015, or on Twitter at @RoryDoesPhonics.

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