Futureproof (what is sport?)

Futureproof (what is sport?)

This post was written for the European sport psychology associations, FEPSAC and ENYSSP. It’s shared here to add multimedia, lending a taste of these worlds rather than important content; just clicking through them suffices. A big thank-you to Mali Maeder from pexels.com, who provided me with a free featured image. Two other great resources I found during this writeup include Text Compare! and Ezgif.com, which made comparing between newsletter and blog versions and converting the original Twitter video into a GIF (after downloading it) extraordinarily painless.

“Yeah, so I quit smoking to raise my Beat Saber score,” my friend casually mentions as he dons his VR headset. “I’ve gotta beat the paraplegic senior and the 14-year-old kid who are top-rated in Canada.”

Okay, so he had my attention. I had played the slice ‘n dice lightsaber game once or twice myself and had certainly found the upbeat techno energizing and the block flinging and panel ducking breathtaking, sure, but owing as much to raw exertion as to adrenaline. Yet here he’s bringing in several demographics previously not traditionally associated with “sport”: smokers, the severely injured, and geeks! But then, this isn’t quite sports. This is… esports. And he’s not alone: it’s already been DIY’ed into a fitness game.

Beat Saber in all its glory… with a nod to VRWorkout because that’s just fantastic

The more traditional among us get downright giddy on late conference nights, joining that one group always hovering at the back of the venue, in the dark corner among crumpled napkins and half-filled plastic cups and hors d’oeuvres going cold, debating the exact location of that thin, grey line where sports end and… games? Activities? Exercise?—and where all these other, non-sport things begin. And it’s a great time. But then we all have to go to work in the morning, and we are all happy with whomever comes across our threshold, knowing that we can help them, whomever they may be. Ultimately, we are in the service of performance, no matter how athletic it is… or isn’t. Actors, musicians, surgeons, soldiers, students, teachers, and, of course, businesspeople; these are all clients our field is increasingly servicing in addition to the typical darts players (is that a sport?) and American football players (why aren’t they in the Olympics?) and shooters (they’re in the Olympics!?).

Me, for my part, I’ve been heavily interested in technology since I remember, so it’s no wonder that this new development has me tingling with excitement. And this is the purpose of this article: to share some interesting branches in this field where our help could definitely be used. And to leave you with some quick ways to really rile up your friends at those “what’s a sport” cocktail debates.

So far, I can see development happening across three areas in this techno-sport field. First, we have the traditional videogaming leagues and tournaments that started in the early 2010s. This is what everyone thinks when we say “esports”: teams of young men gathering in a stadium packed with more of the same, all intent on watching the Koreans and the foreigners go at it, clobbering each other in Counter-Strike or Call of Duty. Yes, you read that right: the Koreans are so good that it’s not uncommon to divide participants in this way, even if the tournament is not in Korea. I have even seen message boards where people who want to learn Korean are advised to start playing StarCraft on Korean servers to quickly pick up the language. I mean, when you think about it, this isn’t all that different from fencers starting at the “Allez!” command, or judoka, well, being called “judoka”.

A taste of “traditional” esport glory

Next, we have the burgeoning field of VR-enhanced reality. The first example includes the augmented reality shooter videogames that you can now play at most arcades. You know the ones: where you are walking around a cleared room that’s always lit by red light for some reason, a headset and headphones strapped on, with the computer calculating your position such that you walk circles around your buddies despite sharing the same confined space. Yes, there are VR treadmills out there that allow you to buckle into a hip harness while walking in place and pivoting 360° as needed, but these somehow never really took off, perhaps because the future is about disconnection as much as it is about connections. A Japanese company just recently developed a way to play such games cable- and controller-free, which naturally matured into HADO, a fireball team game that is best described as Street Fighter meets dodgeball.

HADO takes it to a whole new level

But now you’re wondering, what’s the second example? I can’t imagine anything other than a shooting game with VR… maybe racing somehow? And you’d be right – drone racing, to be precise. A league was already founded in the USA just five years ago and watching the resulting video clips truly is exhilarating (especially if via a VR headset). Notably more so when you factor in the high cost of crashing. This is not a simple case of eating an extra mushroom to power up, no. Here if you crash, you crash. And it costs several hundreds of dollars and who knows how many hours to get back on track. And the neatest thing? Thousands of lit-up, mini-drones – reminiscent of schools of deep-sea fish – can create both the obstacles as well as the moving, glowing, firework-like displays celebrating winners.

Motion sickness warning: imagine this was what your brain was dealing with

This technology certainly poses very tough ethical questions where gamers are ultimately recruited as soldiers, with dystopic thoughts like Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (1985), Federico Heller’s great 2015 sci-fi short, Uncanny Valley, or even Matt Nelson’s particularly despairing Slaughterbots drone-skeptic advocacy video (2017) floating ominously in the background. But the bottom line is it’s creating a whole new class of performers whose performance is even more cerebral than most athletes we are used to working with.

Lastly is a field to which I’ve already devoted the previous post, but it’s so fantastic it merits an outline (and so futuristic it seems to have bypassed the sport arena entirely and moved right into practical transportation and military applications). I’m talking, of course, about bona fide hoverboards. Originating in Hollywood’s flying car promises decades old, only in the past few years have we started to see a huge surge in this field. Builders including hobby garage engineers, professional drone photographers, and world-class watersport athletes have merged with technology including lighter batteries, advanced materials science, and the lightning fast, interconnected information sharing that the internet facilitates, resulting in Franky Zapata flying across the English Channel in 20 minutes just this past August… hitting a max speed of 160 km/h! Yes, you read that right. To quote the flyer: “Over the water, I have already fallen many times at over 85, 90 kilometres per hour when doing my testing. So I know you can fall at about that speed without too much injury.” He travels on a device reminiscent of the Green Goblin’s glider, powered by just backpack full of kerosene. Harry Potter fans must be salivating right now, especially those playing Quidditch on campus (yes, this is very much a thing).

I can’t talk about this without crowning the king

I absolutely love discovering new sports, from Myanmar’s non-competitive, Hacky Sack-like, “keep-up” national sport of caneball, where you cooperate with your team to deliver a beautiful, coordinated performance, to Québec’s three-team dodgeball variant, Kin-Ball, where whom you target is just as strategic as whom you don’t. But these tech-sports, these present a whole new level of possibility. They remind me of exercises we used for elite athletes during my practicum — things like Mindball, HRV biofeedback, and brainwave entrainment. And this brings us to more niche corners of the domain: the Microsoft Office world championships! The competition is in its 19th year and is seeing 750,000+ entrants representing over 50 countries. Yes, yes, it’s more a game, like chess or bridge… both of which are disciplines at the Universiade. Wait, what?

More sports from off the beaten path

These more obscure activities aside, no one can deny the steady rise in popularity of more extreme, “popular” sports. From mixed martial arts to kiteboarding and wingsuiting, to the French Fencing Federation’s official recognition of lightsaber duelling as a fourth discipline behind the traditional foil, épée, and saber (starting in 2013/14, and quadrupling membership over the past two years alone), to anything featured in the X Games or sponsored by Red Bull, it seems the world certainly is moving “citius, altius, fortius”. And the Olympics are right on par with change, regularly trimming their program of less viewed events (wrestling was recently almost dropped citing a lack of global relevance) and adding more of what the people want: Tokyo will see surfing, skateboarding, and rock climbing, for instance. We’re still a ways away from witnessing the return of motorboating and gliding at the Games (featured in 1908 London and 1936 Berlin, respectively), but I mean, if Pierre de Coubertin can win a gold in literature (1912 Stockholm, seriously), with the discipline featured alongside architecture, music, painting, and sculpture in all the summer games from 1912-48 (again: seriously)… then who’s really to say what “sport” really is?

The future has been here all along

The bottom line is to keep an ear to the ground regarding technology and sport over the coming years. You never know when an acrophobic hoverboarder or a Jedi with control issues may come knocking. Until then, please enjoy the great time you’ll have infuriating your colleagues at that next finger food debate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

^ Translate