Do Sports Really Need To Be Fair?
The football world cup is on and millions (if not billions) of people who usually don’t care much about sports in general and football in particular are watching it and cheering for their respective teams. I am one of those people, finding myself highly entertained not only by my team’s matches but also by other matches as well. What I’m noticing though is that this huge phenomenon isn’t actually built on fair conditions – even though that is what many fans of e-sports are demanding.
I myself am usually a big defender of the idea that competitive games should be as balanced as humanly possibly in order to make for good sport, but maybe that’s the wrong way too look at things. Football teams already start the games from vastly different starting positions and oftentimes one can determine the likely victor way ahead of the actual match taking place. Argentinia vs Mexico was simply not a fair fight at all in terms of soccer resources. One team has the better players, the bigger country, more experience, and more money going into the game. This is exactly what many proponents of balance in e-sports are complaining about in games like Global Agenda or World of Warcraft arena matches. Vertical advancement supposedly destroys meaningful competition.
Yet, Argentinia vs Mexico was a fun game to watch in which the Mexicans actually stood a fighting chance. It makes the sport vastly more interesting to have an underdog to root for and to see superstars like Lionel Messi brought down to earth. On the other hand it is also very enjoyable to watch someone like Messi working his magic through the defensive lines of the inferior team. I would argue that football is as popular a sport as it is not only despite the imbalances inherent in the system but because of them. Yes, it might be frustrating to go up against a team that has so much more handed to them than your team but it is also way more rewarding to beat that team.
Another angle at which football is hardly fair was shown to us yesterday in both the Germany-England and the Argentinia-Mexico matches. England, being behind by two goals relatively early in the game, managed to shoot two goals in rapid succession, giving the team a fighting chance again. Except they didn’t get that chance because the referee failed to see that the ball actually hit the inside of the goal the second time around. Many people are up in arms about this (Not that I think it would have changed anything about Germany’s decive victory. Go Germany!), demanding the use of modern technology to stop these kinds of mistakes.
Famous German football player and now commentator Günter Netzer commented however that introducing video evidence or similar technology would hurt the spirit of the game. He claimed that football lives on the emotions, even the ones caused by bad decisions and bad luck. I think he has a point, even though I’m not going to argue against technology just yet. This second goal by England has been called “revenge for Wembley” over here, referring to a goal that made England win against Germany in the world cup finals of 1966. The thing about the Wembley goal is that it wasn’t actually a goal. The referee made a mistake which gave England the title – immortalizing the game in the memory of many a soccer fan in both countries. Without such mistakes, the football lore would be much less interesting.
What this means for gaming is that maybe a successful e-sport does not need o be 100% fair and devoid of random elements. I know that in my time of playing Magic the Gathering competitively the best stories were about random events and about being outclassed – whether these events were positive or negative didn’t matter much, they made the story far more interesting either way. A game of close calls and accumulating minor advantages might be the best test of skill, but it is far more interesting to see someone make a huge comeback from a hopeless position due to thing going just right for once. Professional sports do it that way, why not e-sports as well?