Constructing esports authenticity in a landscape of sameness

Research Track

10/08/20, 2:30PM - 3:00PM PT

About the Presentation

The computerised nature of esports lends the practice a placeless quality. No matter where an esports event is situated, be it in a stadium or networked across homes, the digital synthetic environments in which players’ avatars compete remain the same as objective constructs of code and graphical assets. This same quality of placelessness inherent to esports has been greatly desired in conventional sports. In the context of soccer, Bale (1998) proposes “that the football landscape ought to be one of placelessness”. For sporting achievements to be recognisable, records must be fairly comparable to each other. Several variables make records incomparable on the basis of unfair advantage; a playing field may have a slight incline which favours a particular side, for example. Following this logic, sports should therefore strive towards eliminating place as a variable that could impact sporting performance, working to achieve placelessness through sameness across sites of play.

However, Bale (1998) expresses concerns regarding the achievement of sporting placelessness. He describes a “sport landscape of sameness”, where spectators are “re-placed” from the varied viewing perspectives exclusive to each unique seating position in the stadium to a unified perspective captured and mediated by a camera. Bale draws on dystopic predictions of future sports made by Virilio (1991) which depicts the replacement of athletes by televisual images performing in a “video-stadium” directly broadcast to global audiences. Bale contemplates a future where sports discards its connection to space, implying with Virilio that this would cause sports to become debased and inauthentic. Clear parallels can be drawn between contemporary esports and Virilio’s descriptions of future sports. To spectate esports, it must be inherently mediated by a production crew, even for spectators present at the site of play. Like how Bale envisions placeless sports as detracting from sporting authenticity, does the sameness of esports delegate the spectatorship of esports as an activity that lacks authenticity?

To address this conundrum, I synthesise the findings of a series of three ethnographic studies, each designed to explore the experiences of esports spectatorship in the following sites: the home, the stadium and the bar. While spectators of conventional sports work to reclaim authenticity and place through the enactment of spectating rituals lost to the sameness of increasingly placeless sporting sites (Weed, 2008; Bale, 1998), the studies’ findings have revealed the construction of authenticity in a practice that theoretically should have none. Esports spectators hold a place-making quality. Rather than working to recreate lost authenticity, esports spectators work to authenticate spectatorship based on notions of authenticity from elsewhere, particularly conventional sports spectatorship. The experience of esports spectatorship is not defined by the act of watching alone, but rather by the sensual aspects that occupy the sites in which esports is watched. While placeless in the sense of being a computerised virtual practice, the spectatorship of esports occurs in situated environments, with spectators transforming them into authentic places of esports spectatorship. In doing so, esports spectators affirm a convention of esports authenticity which carries over into other instances of spectatorship.


Mr. David Cumming, Interaction Design Lab, School of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne