Want to Learn More About Sports? Play More Video Games.

Gaming incentivizes learning, which makes you a stronger fan

Connor Groel
Jun 12, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

I have something of a confession to make. Watching the Stanley Cup Finals, I can’t help but feel guilty. I know practically nothing about either team and cheer for the Blues simply because the city of Boston wins too many championships.

Now, there are a lot of people like me who watch hockey exclusively during the NHL Playoffs. Playoff hockey has a reputation for being great, and it is. But what makes me feel so guilty is that I wasn’t always like this.

There was a time when I was a big hockey fan, knew rosters up and down, and followed it just like my favorite sports.

The same is true for a number of sports. My baseball knowledge is severely lacking compared to what it once was. I don’t wake up early on Saturday mornings to watch the Premier League anymore, and I hardly ever tune in to NASCAR, when for a period I would have no problems watching drivers race for hours.

It’s normal for tastes to change over time, but all of these sports have one thing in common: when I was following them the most, I also played their corresponding video games.

For hockey, that game was NHL 11. It’s hard to be a fan of a game played on ice when you grow up around Houston, Texas, a place where it hardly ever snows. Houston doesn’t have an NHL team, and hardly anyone in the area follows the sport.

But after playing the game at a Canadian friend’s house, I became instantly hooked. Shortly thereafter, I bought NHL 11 for myself and proceeded to play it religiously, learning all the rules, familiarizing myself with the rosters, and picking up strategy.

Around the same time, I started playing FIFA, which took this even further. In just weeks, it seemed like I knew all the players on every big team around the world and could identify their strengths and weaknesses. I understood the different formations and styles teams employed and how the transfer window operates through career mode.

I became a highly competitive FIFA player over the years that followed, with each edition of the series being my #1 most played game through probably FIFA 17. Over the last few years, I haven’t played as much, and my knowledge of international soccer has dipped somewhat as a result.

After playing most sports game franchises out there, I’m convinced that video games are one of, if not the best way to become a sports fan in the modern world.

This is primarily because video games encourage the player to learn in order to succeed. To play a sports game well requires knowing the sport well. One must understand tactics and be able to adapt to the specific players they are using as well as the opposition. Better players end up being rewarded, which encourages putting more time into the game which only improves knowledge of the sport.

But it doesn’t feel like that. To the one playing the game, they’re just having fun. Madden does a great job of this by allowing the player to choose every play they run and make numerous pre-snap adjustments, allowing them to create their own game plan and scheme.

Player rating systems used in games offer highly accurate portrayals of athletes in a way that is easy to understand — numbers. At just a glance, one can evaluate a single player or an entire team.

These video games also offer a variety of different modes to suit each individual person. Play now offers the chance to quickly try out a new team or strategy, or simply have fun and experiment by messing around with sliders.

Career modes allow one the opportunity to take control of their own created player or an entire team for a more in-depth experience. Some of my best gaming memories come from taking League Two teams all the way to the Premier League in FIFA.

Online ranked games capitalize on our desire to compete against others, combining it with the addictive nature of video games to create an atmosphere where players will sink hours upon hours into climbing ranked ladders. There can be negative consequences to this, but it certainly keeps people playing and improving their knowledge.

Finally, there is Ultimate Team, which has revolutionized several sports games, particularly FIFA, in recent years. Ultimate Team is the trading card of the 21st century, giving players the thrill of opening packs, then trading players on the open market and building their dream teams.

Special cards such as improved Team of the Week versions of players are the modern autographed or holographic cards, working to both highlight which players have performed well of late in real-life and keep the game alive with rare, limited-time-only, upgraded collectibles.

In a time when rapid increases in technology use have led to declines in the TV viewership and live attendance of some sports, video games present a unique ability to spark interest in young potential fans. These gamers will be interested in following their favorite players and teams in real life.

It may seem difficult to believe, but I believe the best entry point for many sports is not the sport themselves, but the video games about them. Outside of a Stanley Cup Finals Game 7, my best shot at becoming a big hockey fan again might be to pick the controller back up.

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