Departures Arrivals: These Guys Are Lobbying Israel to Recognize Gaming as a Sport

'We even brought the Koreans to Israel to persuade the government' to legitimize electronic sports, say Israeli delegates heading to the 'world cup' of gaming in Seoul.

A group of young people (Yael Cohen, Tal Saar, Tomer Fidel, Yoav Sochen, Ido Brosh, Or Golan, and Neta Corem) stand at the airport, posing for the camera.
Tomer Appelbaum

From left, Yael Cohen, 21, lives in Bat Yam; Tal Saar, 18, lives in village of Tzur Yigal; Tomer Fidel, 18, lives in Haifa; Yoav Sochen, 21, lives in Tel Aviv; Ido Brosh, 20, lives in Bat Yam; Or Golan, 24; and Neta Corem, 27, lives in Moshav Arugot; flying to Seoul, South Korea

Hello, can I ask where you’re all going?

Ido: Yes. We’re gamers and we’re going to the world championships for computer games of the IESF, the International E-sport Federation. 

Is this an important competition?

Yoav: Like the World Cup in soccer.

Is it your first time?

Yoav: For me, yes. I’m the media person: photography, Facebook, Twitter. I upload everything.

Ido: It’s my third time. The Israeli association for competitive gaming has been competing since 2010. Despite my age, I’m head of the delegation and deputy chairman of the association.

Do you remember your first game?

Yoav: “Dune II,” really cool, with giant worms.

Ido: Probably “Pokemon” on Nintendo.

What else does the association do?

Ido: We organize competitions in Israel and try to advance gaming – at present the Israeli government doesn’t recognize gaming as a legitimate sport.

Are there countries that do?

Ido: Sure. South Korea, Germany, Sweden, China, Malaysia, the U.S. We even brought the Koreans to Israel to try to persuade the government – it’s been a full-fledged sport there since 2000. But it didn’t help.

What’s the agenda in Korea?

Yoav: First to decide which country plays against which. There will be 40-odd countries, a week of competitions, three games, prizes of $100,000 and an audience from all over the world that comes to cheer.

Ido: Korea even has special stadiums to show games, using a giant screen. You can follow the progress of the teams from above, and there are broadcasts in Korean and English.

What games will you be playing?

Ido: First, the most popular game today: “League of Legends.” It’s a team game of five against five. Each player chooses a hero from a stock of more than 100. Yoav: You actually have to destroy the base of the other team; to destroy the members of the team is part of the strategy.

Sounds a little like Capture the Flag.

Yoav: Except that while you’re doing battle, you’re surrounded by all kinds of monsters.

What are the other two games?

Ido: One-on-one games: “StarCraft II,” which is a game of battle doctrine and game theory and is APM-based – action per minute.

Yoav: It depends on how many moves a player can make in a minute.

Ido: When our Neta plays, his fingers fly across the keyboard faster than the eye can see. 

Yoav: “Starcraft” is sometimes compared to “chess on crack.”

Ido: The third game is “Hearthstone,” an online card game in which there’s time to think.

What games will you be playing, Ido?

Ido: I play everything, but I’m not that good, which is why I’m the team leader. I hope we’ll bring home a trophy and break our record of finishing eighth. This is the team that won the “League of Legends” competition in Israel.

How long does a game last?

Ido: It depends. In “League of Legends,” it can be between two minutes and 25 minutes per round. The more progress you make in the tournament, the more rounds there are. Anyway, I hope we don’t get Korea or China in the draw. 

Why?

Ido: Because if you walk on the street in Korea and collect five people at random, they’ll win in a game. Their players are superstars and earn millions. People stop them for autographs in the street.

Yoav: We get stopped in the street, too, but not as often. (They laugh)

Doesn’t all this make you think the future of war is on the screen?

Ido: I don’t think so. I think computer games are the sports of the future – that’s the direction the world is headed.

Yoav: Many armies use computer games to test pilot candidates, because the games measure response and decision-making speed. The U.S. military has developed a game called “American Army” to find candidates.

Sounds like “Ender’s Game.”

Yoav: Don’t ruin the game for me!

Ariel Ben-Meir and Noyah Einav, a man and a woman, embrace as they pose for a photo at the airport.
Tomer Appelbaum

Ariel Ben-Meir, 39, and Noyah Einav, 43; live in Tel Aviv, arriving from Amsterdam

Hello, can I ask what you did abroad?

Noyah: Yes. We celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary.

Ariel: We decided that eight is a nice round number.

Noyah: There’s nothing rounder than eight. It’s also the first time we’ve gone abroad alone, without the girls, since the little one was born.

How long did you go for?

Noyah: We went all out and went for three days. The truth is that it was exactly three days, and not a second more.

Memories from your first meeting?

Noyah: We met in capoeira – do you know what that is?

A kind of Brazilian dance / acrobatics / martial arts thing?

Ariel: When people hear “capoeira,” they think of acrobatics, but you can be all kinds of things.

Noyah: It’s fun and strength, movement, play and music. That’s how I met Ariel. He was my capoeira teacher. I was injured in one of the classes, and I knew he also did acupuncture and Chinese medicine, so I went to him for treatment. After all, what happened was his responsibility.

Ariel: You break it, you pay for it.

And what happened?

Noyah: Nothing.

Did the treatment at least help?

Noyah: Not really. Three months went by. It turned out that he waited because of medical ethics.

Ariel: I waited to make sure she wasn’t coming back for more treatments.

Noyah: And I didn’t go back. I went on, I forgot about it. Then, one day he suddenly called and said, “It’s Ariel.” I said, “Ah, what’s doing?” I said fine, why not meet up, and we’ve been together since.

And since then you’ve also been training together?

Noyah: No, that never worked. Only now, after eight years. Before that it always ended in tears. Once he even sent me to practice with a group of beginners.

Ouch.

Noyah: But even when we didn’t train together, we talked about it all the time. Our daughters also do capoeira.

Ariel: In Israel, capoeira has a reputation of being an activity for children – and the adults come and watch. But people go to a gym twice and stop, because it’s a boring use of energy.

Noyah: Capoeira is lots more fun.

How did you come to capoeira?

Ariel: I had a partner, and she went to a lesson.

Noyah: It seems to work for him, the capoeira thing.

Ariel: But she went once and left, and I continued. In fact, since I began, I’ve gone every day. Most of my friends are also from capoeira.  

Noyah: Capoeira promotes very social behavior – you can’t survive if you don’t communicate with the group, if you’re not social. It’s not acceptable to sit on the sidelines and watch. You’ll be asked what’s happening.

How did you start doing capoeira, Noyah?

Noyah: It was in the wake of a broken heart. I was living in New York then and was in love with a teacher. Friends said, “Why don’t you go to this lesson? It’ll cheer you up.” I did, two weeks went by and I didn’t get what it was about. Then the capoeira people organized a three-month trip to Brazil and I decided to dump everything and go. That’s how I was healed and that’s how I got into it. Capoeira was a real lifesaver for me.

What did you think when you saw Ariel doing capoeira?

Noyah: You are very exposed in capoeira, even if there is no audience. At least eight people are looking at you – there are also some who play instruments – and that drives you into a place where your true character comes out. If you’re uptight, if you’re calm – it doesn’t take more than a minute and a half to see the real person.

So capoeira is good for relationships?

Ariel: You need a lot of self-defense, meaning craftiness, in relationships, too.

Noyah: In capoeira, they say that if you can sing it instead of speaking it in anger, it’s preferable. And it’s the same in relationships.

Ariel: In capoeira, they say that until you’ve fallen down, you don’t know what capoeira is. And when you live together for a long time there are also places when you have to know how to fall and get up again.

Noyah: To smile and to grit teeth and not to get upset. You were hit? Never mind, plan your counterattack, calmly. (They laugh)