By their very nature video games have been a competitive medium ever since the very first pixel sparked to life on the screens of the not so distant past. They have spawned numerous living room contests, bragging battles, achievement hunts and speed runs. Video games have brought people together and divided them, and as we have played the games, the industry itself has evolved many times.
You may be familiar with the phenomenon that has been emerging rather rapidly in the last few years: esports. Quite literally electronic sports, esports is the pinnacle of competitive gaming, which pits the best teams of certain games, against each other, for glory, for prizes and most of all, for the right to brag!
Esports have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, in a sudden burst fashion which has seen more and more multiplayer games try and enter the industry, with varying degrees of success. Games that do gain prominence as an esport do so because they are incredibly popular and have a dedicated competitive crowd, as well as having an avenue to compete. However, as esports veteran Paul Chaloner believes, an esport has to be easy to get into but hard to master. It will have something that drives players forward and which rewards those players for their dedication and skill at the game.
The emerging popularity of esports will change the video game world, whether it is for good or ill is unknowable at this point, but it will change. But I think it is for the better. More games will eventually emerge onto the esports scene trying to garner the popularity that has been seen in the past from titles such as Starcraft, League of Legends, Smite and Paladins. It will give competitive players an outlet and a goal to strive towards. They can showcase their skill to the world and win awesome prizes while doing so.
Not only that but since esports by definition is a very public event, similar to sporting tournaments and chess tournaments, it may place gaming in a more positive light and try to dissuade the negativity surrounding the activity. I am sure many of you have heard people say that gaming is a waste of time and that it would get you nowhere. Not true. Not in the slightest. In fact, one of my favourite English teachers in high school used to say, “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time”, which I have taken to heart.
Jace Hall, the head of Echo Fox put out an amazing video which essentially discusses how people perceive video games as an activity and how esports is leading the charge to change the perception of the activity. People make assumptions through what they see and how they associate it with negative attributes. Sitting down and watching a tv screen is seen to be unproductive and lazy and all the other fun negative stuff that revolves around not moving for long periods of time. But as Hall says in the video, that same negativity is not attributed to a game such as chess due to the perception of a higher intelligence.
Enter esports, showing the world the high levels of skill and the dedication that these players put into it. Not only that but it is an avenue for money making and a passion for taking them higher into the industry. As gamers, we all know that video games bring us joy and we are all passionate about it in one way or another and esports is a large channel for the promotion of that passion.
But there are a few downsides to the continued popularity of e-sports, the most important of which is the designing of a game solely to be an e-sport. This is not a huge problem in the gaming world, but it is a potential problem nonetheless. Let me preface this by saying that there will always be the amazing single-player games or those with single-player campaigns that are created for the sole purpose of enjoyment (like Prey -Finally finished that. 10/10 would Mimic again). Games that are designed to be an esport would no doubt be fun to play and would have a lot of interesting mechanics, but also could suffer from a reduced ‘life’.
In a way, it is very similar to how memes or viral videos function. You post a video or a picture online and one day you find out it has gone viral. It just happens and you cannot force it. The same principle can be applied to esports – a great game is created, fans rally around it and play it relentlessly and competitively and it morphs into something awesome. It takes a special kind of magic and a fair bit of luck in order to create a successful esport but this magic, it seems, is getting captured again and again in the recent years which is seeing these intense competitions become one of the forefronts of the video gaming industry. It seems the natural progression of gaming phenomena – singleplayer dominated a fair while ago, which then morphed into intense multiplayer games and now we are moving, in a big way, into esports. This will not only change video gaming as an industry but also how it is viewed by non-gamers.
I said at the beginning of this article that esports are changing the very face of video games which is true in a big way. The competitive scene is no longer isolated to living rooms and bedrooms around the world, it is emerging in a spectacular fashion rewarding those players who have put in their time and their effort and become great players in their games. As Jace Hall said in the above video;
“The truth is this person who is spending that could become interested in Graphic Design, Sound Design, Management, Game Design..”
Basically what I am saying is that esports is a branch of opportunity and a public forum for this amazing hobby of ours that we commit to and spend our time trying to master. While there may be drawbacks to the popularity of esports, I think it will do mostly good things for the evolution of gaming and will be a memorable part of video game history.