Why I Changed My Mind & Believe eSports Is A Sport, Part 2: The Games
As promised, Part 2 & Part 3 in this series outline facts about eSports and the community across the globe. There is a lot of information I could relay here, but I will break it up into two parts to ease you into this side of the debate. eSports is more than what meets the eye. A particular type of game demonstrates that, as you will see below:
What is eSports?
In general terms, eSports is competitive video gaming. There are single-player games in addition to multiplayer games, there are teams for the multiplayer games, and there are different game consoles players can use (e.g., Xbox, desktop computer). Players and viewers come from both genders, though the ratio is terribly lopsided. Most notably, the variety of game structures can be categorized into a few genres so that players know what to expect from the game and can master a particular type of game:
- Fighting Games (e.g., Street Fighter, Super Smash Bros.)
- First-Person Shooters (e.g., Quake, Halo, Call of Duty, Overwatch, Counter-Strike series)
- Real-Time Strategy (e.g., StarCraft: Brood War, StarCraft II, Warcraft III)
- Sports Games (e.g., NBA 2K - which Take-Two just partnered with the NBA & every team to produce a professional league for this next season, FIFA, Madden, Rocket League)
- Racing (e.g., iRacing - which hosts with NASCAR an annual competition since 2010, Project CARS)
- Multiplayer Online Battle Arena Games (e.g., League of Legends, DOTA 2, Smite, Heroes of the Storm)
- Miscellaneous (e.g., World of Warcraft, Pokemon, Tetris - yes, this was like eSports at infancy)
Many people do not think of many of the above games as being part of eSports. Growing up, I played Halo and Super Smash Bros., but never would I ever have placed it on the same plane as StarCraft or DOTA before I learned about the eSports' evolution. If you have ever read past blog posts, listened to my podcast, or talked with me, you will hear me reiterate that sports & sports concepts evolve overtime. Whenever a new game comes into the picture, it takes time for it to attract players and a fan base, and while it does so, it changes formats and rules until it becomes something that sticks. Even after it sticks, sports undergo continuous change. So, let's get a brief overview of how eSports began and evolved into what we associate it as today.
A Brief History & Evolution
In all honesty, there is not a whole lot of history relative to other games that society considers sports without giving them a second thought. That is how quickly eSports has grown.
Around 1980, arcade games such as Atari & Tetris emerged as really the earliest video games. Players competed against each other for the highest scores on each machine or medium. So, structured organized competition has always been ingrained into the fabrics, but Atari took it a step further and hosted the first video game competition in 1980, the Space Invaders Tournament. Fast-forward to the 1990s where console games like Nintendo come into the picture and follow the trend arcade games started, holding tournaments and, additionally, sponsoring world championships.
Arcade games and console games laid the groundwork so that once PCs were invented, eSports could really be a thing. Quake, a first-person shooter game, held its first competition in 1997. That tournament was so popular that major gaming leagues began to form, making it possible for a larger organized business to cultivate.
We have seen a huge expansion in the genres of video games offered in the past decade, and this is where the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena Games ("MOBAs") emerged. In fact, the MOBA format began as a player-created map in a real-time strategy game. I repeat: The MOBA genre, the genre people most closely associate with eSports, was NOT initially created by a video game developer but by a player as a subgenre of real-time strategy games. Warcraft III allowed players to also create their own maps that the community could use in their own games. One player, Eul, created a map called "Defense of the Ancients" (aka "DotA"... see where I am going with this?) that received widespread love from users. How do we know it received the love? A couple other "modders" (i.e., players who made custom maps via game editing tools) took this idea to spawn DotA: Allstars, which used the DotA map but combined the best characters/heroes from the different games, to create complex changes and innovative game play. With its popularity came developers who wanted to capitalize on it themselves. Thus, League of Legends, DOTA 2, Heroes of the Storm, Smite, and other MOBAs arrived and show no sign of leaving anytime soon.
So, when I say the eSports is more complex than the surface shows, this is the kind of thing to which I am referring. eSports is a religion for its fans, like how football is down in Texas or soccer is in Europe. For purposes of my argument, I'll be focusing on the MOBA format because it is the most popular genre for both players and viewers.
Components of a MOBA
Let's get down to the bare bones of what makes up a MOBA & list a few characteristics that can be relevant in classifying eSports as a "sport":
- It is a team-based arena battle with two bases and three lanes. There are two teams, and each player on each team controls one character often called a hero.
- The objective is to destroy the other team's base structure first. To do so, a team must get ahead (i.e., level up) to get to the other team's base.
- To get to that main base structure, teams must destroy other structures that help the team defend its ground (e.g., towers) along the three lanes - top, middle, & bottom. Some towers are meant to be destroyed completely while others can be taken over.
- Players also collect coins so they can level up or power up. This can make abilities stronger and allow heroes to respawn more quickly when they die. There is no limit on the amount of times a player can be killed, but as the number of times a player is killed increases, the respawning time takes longer, which cuts into that player's ability to help the team.
- Before each game, there is a draft where players take turns in a snake-like fashion selecting a hero that would suit their position well and, as a team, collectively banning heroes from getting selected by either team. Who they select or ban depends on the match-up and what they perceive as their best strategy to battle.
- Most teams are comprised of five players who each take on a role with a distinct position with a distinct strategy and select a hero with abilities that make them dominate that strategy. Sometimes the terminology changes between games, but in general, these are the positions and a bit of what they do for the team:
- Solo Lane/Top Lane - It varies by league, but this position acts alone in the "Top Lane" and sustains its ability and gains levels more quickly.
- Jungle - This is the most flexible position because they roam around in the green "Jungle" area and "gank" (i.e., surprise) enemy players in the lanes to clear camps, knowing when they need to come back.
- Mid Lane - This position is a high burst damage character who does a crap-ton of damage in one spot & chills for the most part the remainder of the time.
- ADC (Attack-Damage-Carry) - Early on, the character in this position is weak, though it gets strong late in the game. Its primary focus is doing high-consistent damage, especially late in the game, to get the win.
- Support - This position is either a "tanky" character or a "healer" whose job is to keep other teammates alive. Usually, this is a low damage, high crowd control position.
Now y'all know some of the basic facts of eSports games! Part 3 will dive into the MOBA league structure and overall business structure. That way, you may be able to understand many of the parallels eSports has with traditional sports. In the meantime, I encourage you to view an eSports match to see what your newfound knowledge looks like in action. May I present to you a match between two of the best teams North America has to offer: