By: Jolene Latimer, Editor
As the esports industry continues to grow worldwide, we’re talking to storytellers at the forefront of discovering new storylines and bringing news to light. First up, Arash Markazi, who has been active in covering esports since his days as a senior writer at ESPN. As a journalist who comes from the traditional sports world, covering events such as the World Series, Superbowl, ESPYS — and those are just to name a few — Markazi brings a unique perspective to his work in esports.
What was your first experience covering esports?
It was Evo (the Evolution Championship Series). Basically, it is an esports tournament where it’s competitive fighting games, street fighter. I think this was 2016. It was amazing because, that tournament in particular is sort of still, as esports gets more commercialized, that tournament in particular has stayed true to its core roots, core values.
What differences do you notice between covering traditional sports and esports?
The most amazing thing about esports is that it levels the playing field. My favorite player that I’ve talked to is Brolylegs. He does not have use of his arms or hands. He does not have use of his legs. He is one of the best street fighter players in the world but he plays with his mouth. He finds a way to play. In that moment, he is just as strong or tall or powerful as anyone else in the world. That’s what I really loved about covering esports, especially competitive fighting games for whatever reason. I’m not exactly sure why, but that genre speaks to me.
They have this community where no one is judged, everyone is embraced. In particular, it levels the playing field. In traditional sports, you quantify someone by how tall they are, how fast they are. In esports, that’s not the case. You go to St. Jude’s cancer hospital, you’ve got these kids who can’t go out and play with their friends outside, but once they pick up their headset or pick up their control, they’re just as normal as the rest of the kids.
When do you think we’ll see more traditional sports journalists covering esports?
I still think it’s confusing for people who follow traditional sports to understand that esports is an actual sport. The only thing I show those people, when I have a chance, I have a clip of a League of Legends tournament in Beijing. There were 50,000 people in the Bird’s Nest for League of Legends World Championships. At that moment, you realize, this is a massive sport around the world. Just because you don’t think it is, doesn’t mean it’s not.
One of the challenges with esports is that it is so hard for someone who doesn’t play or know the game to know what they’re watching. In a traditional sport it doesn’t take long to explain. It’s very simplistic. There are some esports games that are popular that it’s hard to explain the rules for. But, I think, as with a lot of new sports, journalism will continue to grow.
For storytellers who want to start focusing on esports, what should they know?
I think with all great stories, it’s about if you can humanize the subject. Whenever I try to write a story, I want that feature to hit home even with someone who’s not a fan of that particular sport.
If you think of all great sports stories for example, they’re not really about sports. Every great sports movie is really a movie about something else. That holds true here. If you are working with a player, a team, the way to pitch that story isn’t through the prism of esports but, ‘What’s his life like? What’s his dynamic like at home? What’s his relationship like with his parents and friends?’ I would think of it like that.
A lot of people don’t know esports but they know they have to at some point get involved, tell the story, dip their toe in it. The easiest way to do that is to humanize the subjects and story so you don’t have to be an expert to know what you’re talking about. It’s like traditional sports but it’s new. So they’re going through the growing pains but it’s a fun sport to cover. I can call it a sport. It sells out stadiums and arenas around the world. There’s no doubt about it.