We all know that Kickboxing gets a hard deal compared other sports, but a new threat is on the horizon… and it can shoot fireballs from it’s hands.
Before I continue, I have something to confess; I live a double life (sadly not as Batman). By day I’m a leading games tester for the Xbox and by night (and any other time I get spare) I help to govern this amazing sport of ours as Secretary of the British Kickboxing Council. As a result, I have witnessed the rise of esports (that is to say, competitive playing of computer games) from both inside and outside the industry and I must admit, I’m actually more concerned than delighted.
Several months ago, the president of ESPN was quoted as saying that esports were not real sports. While I don’t necessarily disagree with him, it is hard to ignore their growing popularity around the world as both participation and spectator friendly events. While the sale of gaming based streaming service Twitch to Amazon for just shy of $1 billion (yes, you read that correctly) should tell you everything you need to know about how lucrative it has become, it was watching the following clip from my favourite nerdy website, IGN, that really set off some alarm bells in the Kickboxing side of my brain.
As you can see (unless you skipped past the video, in which case let me catch you up), the debate concerned whether Competitive Fighting Games (CFGs) are even “real esports”. Why should this concern you, the practitioner of a real life Competitive Fighting Sport (CFS…presumably)? One word: money. The winner of one event mentioned in the clip, despite the fact that few would realistically class them as an “athlete”, earned themselves $50,000 (plus a car), and yet Kickboxing here in the UK relies on competitors paying their own way just for the chance to compete for a world title with no prize. In fact, I know at least one of our top athletes travelled to a major international event where they won five sections and still didn’t cover the cost of the trip.
Now I fully appreciate that sport should not be all about the money and I am immensely proud to be a part of a sport with such incredibly dedicated individuals, but I can’t help but feel this is somewhat unfair. I’m not saying esports doesn’t deserve the money it has; far from it. They have that money because its popular enough and with good enough coverage to attract millions of viewers worldwide, bringing sponsors and all the other benefits you’d expect. I’m just saying that I personally believe our athletes, and our sport as a whole, deserve a better deal.
It is important to consider that it is not just about prize money, however. No matter how much individual athletes are earning in prize money or wages, it is always a relatively small figure compared to the overall amount available to the sport as a whole. With funding of that level available to Kickboxing there would be no limit to what we could achieve and to the improvements we could make at grass-roots level and beyond.
Esports and, a little closer to home, Mixed Martual Arts are a pair of modern phenomena. They have self legitimised through the vision, endeavour and determination of the people at the top and thanks to the thousands of people who show their support for them each and every day. However, these are exceptions to the rule and so while there is no real quick fix for our plight, I think few will argue that unity is key.
What concerns me is that the fractured nature of our sport, both internationally and to a lesser extent here in the UK means the not really “athletes” who compete in the “not real esports” part of “not really a sport” are being rewarded infinitesimally more for all their hard work than the real athletes who make up the very real elite of the definitely real sport of Kickboxing.
We can change that, but we can only do it together.
As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!