What are eSports?
Yes, competitive gaming where people play video games professionally in tournaments for fame and money. Consisting mostly of organised multiplayer video games, the most common genres associated with eSports are first-person shooters (FPS), real-time strategy, and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA).
There has been some controversy around classifying professional gaming as a ‘sport’ with some claiming it would be more accurate to label it a ‘competition’, instead. One thing is certain: the rapid rise in popularity of eSports means it is fast-reaching the same status and popularity as traditional sports.
Okay, how did we get here?
We could go back to Pong in the ‘70s if we wanted to be thorough, or even cite Atari-run tournaments of Space Invaders in 1980. But really, once high-speed internet took off, games began to champion their best players and develop ranking systems. As early as 2000, South Korea was broadcasting games of StarCraft (released 1998) on TV as part of a professional sports league!
Over the last 15 years, technology has continued to improve and the player-base for individual games has continued to expand. Now, we have services like Twitch (an online streaming platform run almost exclusively for video games) which was purchased by Amazon for almost $1bn USD in 2014, making access to eSports nearly universal. And there’s no sign of things slowing down anytime soon with projections that eSports will be a billion-dollar industry by 2020.
So, what games do eSport athletes play?
Check out some of the top games of 2017 based on professional players and total prize pools. It’s important to note that these games are completely different to one another – like rugby to water polo – and draw different players, spectators and communities.
Dota 2 (927 professional players)
Total prize pool in 2017: $38,009,710.28 USD
The game: A free-to-play MOBA, Dota 2 pits two teams of five players against one another with each side defending their own base. Each player’s ‘hero’ has unique powers and different playing styles to battle the opposition and destroy the other team’s base and ‘ancient’.
Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) (4754 professional players)
Total prize pool in 2017: $19,222,958.44 USD
The game: A multiplayer FPS, CS:GO has ‘terrorists’ play against ‘counter-terrorists’ with both sides attempting to complete objectives and, of course, eliminate the enemy.
League of Legends (LoL) (1597 professional players)
Total prize pool in 2017: $12,016,606.24
The game: A MOBA, inspired by WarCraft III and Dota, each player summons a ‘champion’ to do battle against other players with the goal of destroying the oposong team’s ‘nexus’.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (298 professional players)
Total prize pool in 2017: $4,027,526.40
The game: A FPS in a long series of Call of Duty games, this version boasts campaign, multiplayer and ‘zombie’ playing modes.
Hearthstone: Heroes of WarCraft (632 professional players)
Total prize pool in 2017: $3,421,071.28
The game: A free-to-play online collectible card game that builds on the existing world and lore of WarCraft, Hearthstone has players duke it out one-on-one with thirty-card decks and a unique ‘hero’.
Overwatch (1468 professional players)
Total prize pool in 2017: $3,382,137.85
The game: A multiplayer online FPS, Overwatch assigns players to two teams of six where players select a pre-made ‘hero’ archetype to play against the opposing team. Teammates work together to complete objectives like defending control points or escorting payloads.
Starcraft II (348 professional players)
Total prize pool in 2017: $3,378,739.46
The game: A real-time strategy game and sequel to StarCraft, players control one of three species (the Terrans, the Zerg, or the Protoss) in an effort to dominate the map first.
Wow – and people watch this?
Oh, yes! A lot of people watch this!
In 2017, more people tuned in to watch the League of Legends playoffs than the NBA Finals. The Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2017 in Poland was the most watched eSports event ever with a record-smashing 43 million unique views.
Producer of Gfinity eSports tournaments Chris Trout has been quoted saying, "If you've been to a major sporting event, you'll feel exactly the same atmosphere at an eSports tournament."
Fans support teams in much the same way as traditional sports, with fans buying merchandise, paying monthly subscription fees to view games live, and even getting tattoos!
Some tertiary institutions in the USA have announced collegiate varsity eSports programs, there are prospects and drafts for up-and-coming players (and the games themselves), as well as expanding eSports coaching and analyst services!
So, how will this change sports?
The popularity and reach of eSports make it difficult to fully understand how exactly this will change the sports landscape. ESports is successfully drawing crowds (in person and online) to unmissable live events that capture much of the atmosphere that traditional TV is losing, and with that merchandise and advertising deals are becoming more and more lucrative. The International Olympic Committee and other eSport organisations are currently in talks with the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics Committee to consider eSports for the event.
With subjects like Sport Business, led by sports management expert Associate Professor Daryl Adair, UTS is aiming to empower students to understand the theories, knowledge and skills needed to adapt in such an agile and commercialised environment.
Could it affect other things?
ESports provide an enormous amount of data that researchers like Dr Job Fransen and PhD student Matthew Pluss of the UTS Human Performance Research Centre (HPRC) can examine to understand how expertise is developed.
These researchers have teamed up with Australia’s first ESports High Performance Centre to work with some of Australia’s most elite eSport athletes to better understand the future of human-computer interaction.
Says Job, “eSports is the only sport in the world where everything is logged, you can review every single second of every single game if you wanted to. All of this information is available online.”
The impact of this research extends far beyond the online world, with applications not only in traditional sports but in other fields like medicine and military. In a world where surgeons make micro-incisions using computers and air forces use flight simulation to train pilots, there is a much higher need for research on interaction with computers beyond traditional keyboard and mouse input.
Role playing game – a game in which players are given the role of a character and interact with the world of the game via this character. Fallout, Mass Effect, and The Witcher are popular examples of computer-based RPGs.
Massive Multiplayer Online game – one step up from an RPG, these games are held online (as opposed to on an individual console) where players can interact with each other and constant developments are rolled out by the creators.
Real-time strategy game – like a game of chess, these games have the user control and build units to defend a base or destroy an enemy, often with time-limits. Starcraft and Warhammer are popular RTS games.
Multiplayer online battle arena – these games are similar to RTS games but thanks to a number of blockbuster games like Dota and League of Legends, MOBAs dominate the eSport world.
First person shooter – this combat genre of game requires the player to use an array of weapons to defeat enemies with the camera at the eyeline of the in-game character. Popular games include Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty and Overwatch.
Online collectible card game – much like traditional offline card games, these games are all about collecting cards to play against others. Hearthstone and Magic Online are among the most popular OCCGs.
Triple-A games are the blockbusters of the games world. A game reaches triple-A status if it has a high profile and enormous financial backing.
Player vs player – when two players duke it out for victory, as opposed to PVE (player vs. environments). When you play against your friend in FIFA, you’re playing PVP, but when you’re on your own and playing against the computer, you’re playing PVE.
Cooperative gameplay – a style of play that lets gamers play alongside each other against other people or computers.
Free to play – games that are mostly open to players without the need for payment or subscription, however, these games usually do require payment after a certain point!
Banner image by Vinh Nguyen, shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.