The Other Side of Gaming: Electronic Sports (eSports)
I press my fingers together and wiggle them back and forth, loosening them before I take to my keyboard. I run my hand over my keyboard and mouse, both a gaming brand called Razer. I have to make sure they work properly. I don’t want any malfunctions when I play. They work fine and glide effortlessly underneath my active touch. I boot up the application, continuing to spam clicks across the screen. I eventually make my way through several menus and am faced with the last loading screen, a calm before a strategic storm. The spamming of clicks has increased dramatically, as my mind eagerly awaits the organization of my Protoss army.
I jump into gameplay, setting up hotkeys quickly and in routine. Everything goes well, I build efficiently and click accurately. Whatever is happening in the background is nothing. My mind is focused and my body and mind are reacting to millions of variables within the game, making sure every move in flawless. My millions of chess pieces move across the virtual board in a thirty minute battle against my Zerg enemy. It comes down to a large battle in the center of the map, both of us agreeing that the game must end now. We’ve both played optimally, making little to no mistakes. My clicks are more frantic now, my heart pounds fervently, making my hands stress under the weight of nervousness. I engage my enemy and the battle looks even. I move units strategically throughout the battle, making small mistakes as the intensity rises. I start to realize his Broodlord/Corrupter/Infestor army is too strong. I try and retreat, hoping I can get a lucky vortex later on. My army gets ‘fungal growthed’ and I despairingly watch as my units dissipate. I let out a groan and type in a half assed “gg”.
My frustration is visible, as victory seemed so close. My journey throughout masters league is plagued by such close enterprises. I am about to start another game, when I get a text message from a buddy of mine. “The game is about to start.” I quickly exit out of the application and go to teamliquid.net, eager to watch the mlg finals. I boot up the stream and am immediately exposed to two of the most popular commentators. Day9 and Husky are passionately explaining the events of the semi-final game, expressing their excitement for the two non-american finalists. I go on skype to talk to my friend while we watch the games. I grab a bag of chips and a beer, eagerly awaiting a battle between two of the worlds best players: Leenock and Naniwa. I sit by attentively as the games progress, a notepad at my side to write down the build orders of the always clever Naniwa. Me and my friend make predictions of the games to come, each rooting for our own race. I see a build I particularly like and get a sudden urge to play a game. I tell my friend to hop on his account and we both prepare for battle. I quickly set up the build order in front of me: Pylon at 9 supply, Gateway at 12…. I type in GL HF to my compatriot and begin the game.
This is Starcraft 2…… This is eSports.
A History Lesson
ESports dawned in 1980 when Atari held the first competitive video gaming event with its hit game Space Invaders. A surprising ten thousand participants showed up to flaunt their arcade gaming prowess. A decade passed with very little noise from the eSports community. However, on December 10th 1993, Doom was released for the PC and online competitive gaming took shape. Doom 2 and Quake proved to be the most popular competitive games of the decade, as they revolutionized the first person shooter genre. Later on in the 90’s and in the beginning of the new millenium, global tournaments began to be held. The Cyberathlete Professional League started in 1997 and the much more popular World Cyber Games was held for the first time in 2000. Starcraft became the main game showcased at the World Cyber Games, as players traveled from all over the world to compete.
The World Cyber Games marked a revolution in competitive gaming, as players began to get more recognition for their talents(Particularly in countries such as South Korea where professional gamers are considered celebrities). Since then gaming competitions have arisen all over the world and have grown immensely in North America(Major League Gaming is the premier North American competition). Recently, gaming tournaments have been increasing in viewership and production value, as the organizers of such events take their jobs very seriously. Currently, Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty is the most successful game in eSports (although it has its fierce competitors as of late: League of Legends), as it has an immense worldwide fan base and a community that makes the game feel like an actual sport.
What does eSports mean to gaming?
It’s obvious that games have evolved rapidly over the past decade. Gaming is no longer restricted to the “nerds” of the planet, as games seem to be resembling literature and film more every year with their emphasis on creating emotion-evoking stories. That is not to say the stigma of being a “nerd” has dissipated. But it has certainly gotten to a point where a great percentage of the population owns a gaming system. ESports is partially to blame (The rest of the blame is on Call of Duty and Wii Fit ). Franchises like Starcraft have made gaming less of a thing that you do in the confines of your parent’s basement and more of a thing that you experience with a community of gamers just like yourself. For those of you who aren’t a part of an eSport I will outline some of the things that make up an eSport community.
You have the players, who are being paid a good amount of money at the top level (The best Starcraft players make around 100k a year). The players have a fanbase, the size of which is dependant on the player’s personality and skill at the game. Its not uncommon for the more outspoken and rowdy players to have a larger fan following. The players are almost always on a team, which consists of many other players who oftentimes live in the same house and practice together hours every day. Teams hire coaches and fill administrative positions in order to increase the success of the players and the team. Players go to large tournaments and are treated like celebrities throughout the competition. These competitions, the larger of them attended by hundreds of spectators, are sponsored by well known companies. Commentators make a living through the commentating of games. Usually performed in duos, the commentators are figureheads of the community and are known for their vibrant and passionate personalities. When they are not commentating live games, the commentators usually cast games from their personal website or a website like “YouTube”. Websites like Teamliquid.net serve as a meeting ground for anyone in the Starcraft community. Forums are utilized to complain and discuss and games are streamed constantly.
The point I am trying to get across is simple: eSports has gotten huge. Competitive gaming is creeping to the point where it is beginning to mirror sports like Football and Basketball. One player, Team Evil Genuis’ captain InControl, even got injured this week and had to go to the hospital for sitting at his computer too long. It may sound like a joke, but it shows the progress that eSports has made and continues to make. This is good for the gaming community, as it creates a different side to playing video games. That is not to say that gaming should be solely about eSports. On the contrary I believe that the beauty of games is through their duality. Gaming provides all the beauty of interacting with an amazing story while being able to provide something like eSports, which creates a competitive community where gamers can feel like athletes. I am lucky enough to be exposed to both sides of gaming and I find that I enjoy both for different reasons. If you are not into an eSport, I suggest picking a game and trying it out. Games like Starcraft 2, League of Legends, and Dota are the most popular games in eSports. Getting enveloped in a community as close and developed as the Starcraft community is truly an exciting experience and will make you even more proud to be a gamer.
I’m going to post a link to an amazing video from Dreamhack Open: Stockholm, which is the largest tournament in Europe. Enjoy the nerd chills. ;)