A new age: the links between traditional and eSports

eSportsGraphic-01You’re watching a game on your laptop with two teams with completely skill sets battling it out. Your watching the championship — the end of a long season — and you’re so invested that you dedicated your entire day to watching. You’re not watching the Super Bowl, though. You’re watching the League of Legends World Championship — along with an audience of 27 million.

There are different sides to the conversation, but there are many similarities between eSports and traditional sports that can’t be ignored. 

eSports is a newer genre of entertainment that has taken hold in the digital age in which teams are formed to compete in video games on a professional level.

Competitive gaming has broken onto the international scene and is continuing to grow in prominence as games continue changing. Three of the most popular games on the competitive scene are Counter Strike, a first-person shooter, League of Legends and DOTA 2, which are classified as MOBAs, or multiplayer online battle arena strategy games. Players are now making names for themselves by being good at video games.

Computer science senior Nguyen Doan, computer science juniors Zachary Fradette and Brishen Thompson and supply chain and logistics technology junior Jimmy Chan are all a part of the UH eSports Club. Doan and Thompson compete for the UH Counter Strike: Global Offensive team and Fradette and Chan are the casters, or commentators, for the events.

The eSports world is growing to have a fan base similar to those of traditional sports. In 2014, only one sporting event surpassed the viewership of the League of Legends World Championship: the Super Bowl. That year, the 40,000-seat World Cup Stadium in Seoul, South Korea sold out and was accompanied by an online audience of 27 million, according to ESPN.

“In terms of revenue and viewership, eSports are definitely on the way up,” Thompson said. “Although they might not be up there with traditional sports just yet due to the lack of time that they have been available to everyone, I definitely feel that it will be there soon.”

But besides just the monetary aspect of eSports, the competitive gaming scene does have a handful of important similarities with traditional sports.

It takes a certain degree of skill to be good at anything, but it is especially important to have a high level of mental focus in sports. Most competitive gaming focuses on objective-based game modes that require players to develop a strategy, including win conditions, that compare to an athlete’s goals when competing in their sport.

“Once you actually get involved in a game, you can appreciate the strategy behind it,” Fradette said. “Watching basketball, I got a lot more involved in it from knowing about eSports, because I’m like, ‘That’s impressive that it’s up to those five people on the floor to come up with a strategy, know who needs to run where and what needs to be done to win.’”

There’s still arguments against how much skill it takes to play video games, but gamers have their own special set of abilities they need to be the best of the best in their own world.

“There’s no physical aspects to it like traditional sports, but there are mental aspects and reflexes that put it kind of close to it,” Doan said.

As an eSports player is looking to make their next move, they are reacting to their teammate making a mistake or an enemy advancing, whereas a defensive end on the football field is watching the opposing quarterback’s eyes to see where he’s throwing the ball. Both athletes then make split-second decisions on how to make the most of the situation and intercept the enemy or the ball.

The most important similarity is that both eSports and traditional sports are competitive. There are playoffs, tournaments and other operations. There are regular seasons and contracts that propel each individual’s run at the championship while associating them with a team and fan base. Teams have coaches and analysts that provide insight into strategies and training regimens that allow the players to compete at the professional level.

Despite the similarities, how eSports are viewed often comes down to who’s asked.

“Right now, if you ask people at the age of 40, they probably wouldn’t recognize professional gamers as athletes,” Chan said. “But if you ask a 13-year-old who’s on Twitch 24/7, they’ll probably say, ‘Yeah, that’s an athlete.’”

But there is a level of training in the professional gaming world that matches, if not surpasses, that of a physical athlete in some aspects.

“Before school gets in the way, we have two days set aside to play and practice as a team. For Koreans, playing individually and as a team, they can spend 12 or 13 hours training a day,” Chan said. “Taking basketball for example, Kobe Bryant probably doesn’t spend 12 hours on the court and in the weight room because his body needs to rest.”

League of Legends teams have drawn serious attention from professionals, as basketball’s Rick Fox purchased a team spot in the League Championship Series last year. NRG, a professional League of Legends team, is supported by investments from Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, as well as baseball legends Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins.

“It can definitely help eSports,” Chan said. “I mean, even ESPN making a segment casting basketball like League, it was kind of weird, but it can definitely bring attention to the eSports world, so it’s a good thing.”

The statistics and similarities are apparent, but many cannot get past the idea that sports must be physical and athletes must be, well, athletic. But that’s okay, because some gamers want to stay gamers.

“I would prefer them stay separate,” Fradette said. “I think that it’s two different things. In the end it’s all about entertainment…but I don’t really think there’s a need to put the two together. It’s definitely something that’s here to stay, and I think that it’s kind of what our generation is going to go forward with.”

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