X Games Adds Video Gaming as an Event
You can win X Games gold for playing the XBox!
Here's a question for you: When is a sport not a sport? How about when it involves sitting on a couch, staring at a screen and twiddling your thumbs?
Surely not right? Surely a sport should involve at least a bit of physical exertion? Well, not according to the organisers of the X Games who have decided to include video gaming in their program for the first time.
Yes, that's right. Starting with this summer's games in Austin, Texas, you will be able to win an X Games gold medal - the same kind they give out to the likes of skater Bob Burnquist or snowboarder Mark McMorris - for playing Call of Duty.
Apparently the top teams from the "Major League Gaming" championships (yes there's an organised Major League for this kind of thing in the US) will be invited to compete in a "three day invitational" Call of Duty competition.
Gaming gets equal billing
The teams (who have names like CompLexity, EnVyUs and OpTic Gaming) will be "awarded X Games medals and MLG’s Pro Circuit competition will be showcased with skateboard, BMX, moto X renowned musical performers and more."
Not only that, but for a mere $100 on top of the price of their X Games ticket ($89 for three days) fans "can purchase an extremely limited '3-Day Major League Gaming Premium Upgrade' to secure reserved seating in the MLG tent, a behind-the-scenes tour, meet and greets with top Call of Duty players, a gift bag including MLG merchandise, gaming gear and more."
It's a bit like including chess at the Olympics. It's not really the same as running a marathon is it?
Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy playing video games from time to time. I'm old enough to have enjoyed everything from Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Master System all the way through to the occasional Call of Duty session.
And I can appreciate that there are a lot of dudes (because according to MLG it is about 90% dudes) who are really into gaming, and that it makes sense to have a league for them.
While writing this article, I even logged onto majorleaguegaming.com to watch a bit of a 'live' match (OpTic versus EnVyUs in case you're interested) and you know what? There was a part of me that even found it pretty entertaining, specially with the excitable Englishman doing the commentary (think a turbo-nerdy version of Ed Leigh).
What's the big deal?
But despite all that, I still can't bring myself to accept that video gaming should be included in the X Games. Whatever you think of the ESPN-organised contest, it is widely recognised (by the mainstream at least) as the pinnacle of the competitive calendar for skating, BMXing and others - a twice-yearly celebration of all things action sports.
And if the organisers start including activities that aren't action sports (and let's face it, not even gaming's most strident defenders would claim it as an 'action' sport) then surely that changes the whole nature of the event?
It'd be a bit like including chess at the Olympics. Chess is a great game, but it's not really the same as running a marathon or the 100 metres is it?
Is it the money talking?
Of course there are probably commercial advantages for both ESPN and MLG in joining forces. The press release we received made a point of emphasising XBox's involvement (presumably as a sponsor) and talking up Major League Gaming in marketing speak as "the definitive property for major advertisers to reach young men."
But if it wants to maintain its privileged position at the apex of action sports competition (at least for the mainstream) we can't help feeling that X Games should feel a duty to do right by the skate, BMX and other sports' communities, rather than just chasing after new sponsors.
And although we regularly describe the insane skate big air stunts that people like Burnquist do as "video game shit", that's not the same as giving actual video gamers equal billing in the same contest. For me, that's kind of different.
What do you think - should Call of Duty be included in the X Games? Does it merit inclusion in an action sports contest? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!