On October 29, my mother dropped a potential bombshell on me. Esports somehow made it into the daytime soap opera television program the Young and the Restless. I was excited and wanted to know exactly how esports made it onto such a popular show. So I watched the freely available episode on CBS.com, against my better judgment, and… came away disappointed. Turns out esports was only mentioned in passing at the very beginning of the episode when a hotel called the Grand Phoenix was said to be hosting an esports convention. I did a little more digging into spoilers for the series and found no mention of esports whatsoever in the spoilers. So this mention was just that, a mention. Nothing significant.
That said, it’s not like the popularity of esports has gone completely unnoticed by mainstream popular culture. In fact, some major television networks are looking to get in on the action with their own representations. HBO’s popular series Ballers made a sharp turn into esports territory with the premiere of its latest season. And NBC is making a completely esports-based comedy series called The Squad, which features executive producer Anthony Del Broccolo from The Big Bang Theory.
However, a topic making it into popular television doesn’t guarantee a respectful portrayal. I’m personally not a fan of how The Big Bang Theory portrayed geeks in general, so my hopes aren’t high for The Squad to be very true to its inspiration. Ballers provided a positive, if somewhat fleeting, representation of esports, as an escape for the character Vernon (played by Donovan W. Carter) from a grueling gridiron football career. However, while the featuring of esports in Ballers was more comprehensive than the aforementioned The Young and the Restless nod, it still didn’t have much to say.
One currently-running show in which esports was more than just a cameo was animated comedy favorite The Simpsons. One entire episode of The Simpsons featured Bart Simpson joining an esports team. It should be noted that the episode was partially produced by Riot Games themselves, so the episode was more like the inside of esports looking out, rather than an outside perspective of esports looking in. There really hasn’t been a complete mix of both perspectives yet, as there’s still misperceptions of esports currently circulating.
Esports sounds like a dream job to many, but at the end of the day, it is as much work as any other profession, with its own highs and lows to navigate through. A truly respectful portrayal of esports would touch on all its facets, positive and negative, and in the end, show why it’s become a cultural force. For this to happen, we genuinely need people to reach across from both sides, much like how Richard Tyler Blevins, a.k.a. Ninja in the Fortnite community collaborated with the NFL during the 2019 Super Bowl. Or how celebrities such as Shaquille O’Neal, Drake and Michael Jordan themselves invest in esports. Both sides need to keep in mind, not only the above points but also that there are real people involved in esports; it’s not just dollar signs floating around.