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eSports Phenomenon

For a grey-haired citizen like me, who played racquet sport most of my life, I’m getting educated on eSports. And the mind boggles! eSport athletes manipulate avatars on computer screens, whereas traditional sports compete against opponents on a court, rink or field. An avatar is the graphical cartoon representation of a user’s character.

Even the glossary terms seem like another language. A ‘shoutcaster’ is the equivalent of a sports commentator. A ‘noob’ is a new game player. eSports refers to playing competitive games on consoles, computers, or online. Players can be part of a team or a league with thousands of players, combined with millions of viewers on streaming platforms. Players can be contracted to play for organizations, akin to basketball players. Sports stadiums are for professional sport, but eSports are now filling these same stadiums with spectators. Every single eSports event will be live-streamed, even a regional qualifier.

Each competing eSports organization may have a number of teams, across numerous games. One example is Fanatic with 10 different games, including Fortnite, League of Legends, and PUGB Mobile.

Entertainment has a whole new twist when any multiplayer game can become an eSport, evolving between the developer and public support. With two crucial, basic elements the game must connect with the players and spectators as fun to play and fun to watch. If the game doesn’t resonate and becomes boring, then players and viewers alike will switch off. It has to be exciting.

Tracing its origins as far back as the 1950’s with the computer age, the first multi-player game came complete with a joystick. In the 1960’s came Spacewar – considered to be the world’s first digital computer game. Because universities had the technical capabilities, games were limited to these locations. The 1970’s saw successes with home consoles and Amusement Arcades. When in 1980 a Space Invaders Championship netted 10,000 participants, it quickly became the first time that game consoles could be plugged into the TV. Current popular game consoles are Xbox One and Playstation 4.

The next step was 1983 for the first US video game masters tournament. In the late 80’s Netrek could host up to 16 players, played mainly by computer scientists who had early access to the internet.

In the 1990’s technology made cyber sports available to the masses. Didn’t every boy play Nintendo or Sonic Hedgehog? Computer hardware and graphics became more affordable and more powerful. Private households bought PC’s and more gamers met for network sessions. Soon there were big tournaments with competing teams. Near the end of the millennium gamers played Counter-Strike, a game revolving around terrorist units. It spread rapidly and it is still successful today, along with Halo.

Into the 21st century, eSports gained serious momentum when South Korea took centre stage, adopting gaming full force. Big tournaments were held in Paris, Seoul, New York and Germany.

With 70 years of history, eSport has established itself as a real sport, with significant increases in prize money. A multi-billion market has emerged. Weekly events attract a male orientated audience with approximately 450 million viewers involved, with women viewers dramatically increasing in numbers.

2019 prize pools for both the Dota 2 International and the Fornite World Cup exceeded $30 million. With more coverage from mainstream media, the world is awakening to the phenomenon. Competitive gaming isn’t a new concept, but the idea of having well paid professional players is. Younger generations are inspired to chase a gaming career, making the market more competitive.

Sponsorship and advertising deals net half a billion dollars a year, from sponsors like Mountain Dew, Nike, Samsung and Red Bull. eSport players sell merchandise, trademarking their image with distinctive logos. They can also attract funding through online advertising and subscriptions. Prize money has meant that gamers may quit day jobs and become professional gamers, just like football players or tennis players. And just like the major sport players, their best and fastest years are under 30. Reaction times slow as they age. Commitment to the sport is huge. To hone their skills takes hours and hours of practice and study. 12-14 hours a day can be normal expectations.

Most games have playlists you can jump into. You’ll be matched with a similar level player until you reach a stage where you are consistently winning. Then you can register to join a league and search for a competitor of like ilk. Leagues can be entered for free and usually you can play when you elect to. The next step is to prove your worth as a solo player and you can step up to open qualifiers, with scheduled match times. If your skills are extremely high, there is a slight chance you will be signed to an organisation, but you have to be a top-notch performer to reach these realms.

Some A list players.

  • Soren Bjerg (Bjergsen) is a Danish gaming prodigy who recently became a co-owner of Team Solomid.
  • Kyle Giersdorf (Bugha) is only 16 years old and in 2019 won $3 million as a champion of ‘Fortnite’, making it the largest prize pool for a solo player in the history of eSports.
  • Lee Sang-Hyeok (Faker) is considered to be the Michael Jordan of gaming and the very best.
  • Patrik Lindberg (f0rest) is the best Counter-Strike player in the world.
  • Daigo Umehara (Daigo) is the greatest Street Fighter of all time.
  • Lee Young-Ho (Flash) has notched up a huge amount of tournament wins.

The dark side of gaming is the same as the dark side of sports. Drugs and doping. Uppers and downers. The drug of choice is amphetamines, such as Adderall and Ritalin, which permits players to stay alert for a lot longer. It also gives a player amplified match focus and stamina. The World Anti-Doping Agency is moving towards introducing regulations and testing into the tournaments, but where there is big money to be made, people will go to any lengths to achieve the relevant stardom. While eSports are still fragmented parts of an association, as opposed to sports which are heavily monitored by parent organisations, then doping will continue to be abused as players seek advantages.

But combining an extreme level of brain activity, with no body movement is setting up the younger generation for a possible health crisis. Parents have actively campaigned against rugby type sports due to the level of concussion and brain injury cases, only to have them replaced with kids using drugs to game for 14 hours straight.

One would expect that the eSports parent body would be making moves within the association to protect the young players, before government legislates and hinders the phenomenon.

If it seems like you are perpetually shouting at the kids to get off the X-box, then keep doing so. As parents, we remain the main protection of our children.

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