ESPN announced earlier today that the organization would have a special surprise for video game fans during The 2019 ESPYS—a brand new esports award category, the "Best E-Sports Moment." Ignoring the fact that ESPN has decided to spell esports like they typed it, slowly, with one finger, it's a breakthrough moment for the scene in general and will play host to a lot of speculation on the future of esports. With ESPN acknowledging it on its biggest stage, will it begin to factor more heavily into the sports outlet's coverage? Will there be fighting tournaments side-by-side broadcasts covering the latest to happen in the NBA?
Probably not. At least, not right now. There's still a long way to go for esports to become as legitimate as its traditional sports brethren—mostly when it comes to investments, which still aren't seeing the kinds of returns that would suggest the esports scene is in a stable place at the moment. That being said, however, The 2019 ESPYS suddenly became must-watch television for fans of esports, especially because the six nominations for "Best E-Sports Moment" are so fun to debate. Here they are for reference:
- SonicFox winning EVO after switching sides
- Team Liquid upsets defending world champ Invictus Gaming at MSI
- Cloud9 wins CS:GO Boston Major
- Astralis winning Katowice
- Invictus League of Legends World Championship
- Spitfire win inaugural Overwatch League championship
Fans will be able to vote for nominees at the official ESPYS website until the award show begins on ABC on Wednesday, July 10, at 8pm ET. The show will be broadcast from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, the same location that played host to Microsoft's electric E3 2019 presentation that saw the announcement of the Xbox Scarlett alongside some other glimpses into exclusives like Halo Infinite. It's a fitting place for The 2019 ESPYS to crown its first "Best E-Sports Moment" winner, and fans will get to have a say. There's only one really good choice, though, alongside a slew of teams winning tournaments.
Dominique "SonicFox" McLean should win an ESPY this year. Here's why:
It's not that the other choices aren't great themselves. Team Liquid's upset will go down in the history books as one of the biggest underdog stories told thus far in esports, and it rightfully deserves recognition at the award show. Despite this, only one of these moments really transcended esports and became something much more—a cultural, social, and emotional event that made a statement about belonging in communities. SonicFox is by no means a traditional athlete, regardless of whether that's a discussion about physical sports or esports. He's openly gay, wears a fursuit while playing, and is black. SonicFox is a combination of some of the least represented demographics in esports currently, and he also happens to be one of the best fighting game players on the planet.
SonicFox existing would be enough to give hope to a lot of video game fans who wouldn't see themselves in any of their favorite players otherwise. Yet SonicFox winning EVO this year after having the Grand Final bracket reset by his rival GO1 is this stuff of legends. SonicFox, true to form, made a controversial decision: he requested that he switch sides on stage and on screen, in compliance with EVO tournament rules. To some, it was disrespectful, blaming a minor and irrelevant thing for his back suddenly being against the wall in a tight series with GO1. What it was, though, was SonicFox using the rules to help him reset his mentality, playing the game—which extends to tournament rules, much like traditional sports—to perfection.
Fans know the rest. SonicFox utterly thrashed GO1 3-0 to win an incredible 4th EVO championship, winning the Dragon Ball FighterZ tournament. That section of EVO was also the most signed up for tournament at the event, meaning SonicFox had the most competition to wade through to claim the crown.
Beyond that, though, it was the kind of cultural moment that might be looked back on decades from now as a serious turning point for gamer representation everywhere. SonicFox has fully embraced his role as a beacon of hope for many, and instead of letting that pressure—which he didn't really have a choice in shouldering—get to him, he wears it as a badge of honor. He has an attitude of acceptance and carefree play, a pedigree of multiple major EVO wins, and he even gave the most memorable acceptance speech at The Game Awards 2018, shouting out the communities he represents and further proving how lucky the fighting game community is to have him. He also won ESPN Esports' Player of the Year 2018, setting the precedent for what should be another breakthrough moment later this year.
This year, The 2019 ESPYS will include esports in its showcase. There would be no better statement of the promise of the scene and its future than fully embracing SonicFox's EVO victory as the best moment of the year.