Killshots and keyboard skills: this is eSports

  • Pictured is the MLG Columbus 2016 CS:GO tournament held in Columbus, Ohio. This was the first North American CS:GO Major Championship.
  • The 2016 Telkom Digital Gaming League Masters event at rAge in Cape Town. Image credit: Telkom DGL
  • The 2016 Global StarCraft II League held in Korea. Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Spacewar! running on a PDP-1. This computer was the first in a series created by the Digital Equipment Corporation. This image was taken at the Computer History Museum in Mountview, California. Image credit: Joi Ito from Inbamura, Japan
Date:20 February 2017 Author: Nikky Knijf Tags:, ,

It’s estimated that the gaming industry will earn almost R400 billion this year – making it the world’s fastest-growing entertainment segment. The international experts in statistics reporting, Statista, reckon the South African games market is currently worth R2,9 billion and forecasts year-on-year growth of at least 6,1 per cent. The result of this industry’s fast upward growth has resulted in the local eSports industry seeing gains in popularity, game support, sponsorship and prize pools. As well as coverage on mainstream sports TV networks. Much of this can be attributed to investment from large companies in the local gaming industry more than ever before.

Case in point: Enzo Scarcella, Telkom’s chief marketing officer, says that the company’s long-term business goal of increased connectivity in households across the country relies on partnerships with key players in various industries, gaming being one of those industries. Telkom’s Digital Gaming League has sponsored a prize pool of R1 million for its Masters tournament at rAge in October. That is the most money ever for a local gaming tournament.

Gigabyte last year launched a tournament at Gauteng malls, involving teams pre-qualifying online. The final event at Cradlestone Mall promises a prize pool of R150 000.

What is competitive gaming?

Professional and semi-professional competitive gaming is more correctly known as eSports. This is an umbrella term for digital games that have a competitive angle.

Although eSports has seen massive growth locally and internationally, it still finds itself a “niche” observer sport that is largely followed only by gamers and gaming enthusiasts. But what sets it apart from traditional sports is its electronic facilitation.

Not all games translate well into eSports. Johann von Backström, from the DGL management company, says that for a title to be added to the DGL there has to be a community of local players that is large enough to support a sustainable competition, as well as adequate developer support and a means for gamers to play competitively.

The competition type is dictated by the genre under which a game falls. What’s needed to win can range from strategic team management to efficient asset movement or well-rehearsed combat structure. Internationally, there are five main gaming genres with gaming capabilities that lend themselves to eSports, as well as a handful of stand-alone titles that fall outside of these genres.

The five main genres

Fighting games: Typically one on one. Focus on
close-combat with an opponent. Fighting games were some of the first to organise tournaments for players to compete in.

First-person shooters (FPS): Played from the perspective of the character, FPS games involve strategic combat using weapons.

Real-time strategy games (RTS): Games in this genre require players to conquer enemies by strategically managing resources, buildings and soldiers (called units).

Sports games: These games simulate team sports like soccer, American football and ice hockey.

Multiplayer online battle arena games (MOBA): Each member in a team controls a single character from a third-person perspective. The objective of these games is to destroy the opposing team’s main structure.

Ten popular competitive games:

Full title: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Genre: FPS

Full title: League of Legends
Genre: MOBA

Starcraft II
Genre: RTS

Full title: Defense of the Ancients 2
Genre: MOBA

Full title: FIFA Football/Soccer
Genre: Sports

Full title: Hearthstone, Heroes of Warcraft
Genre: Collectible Card Game

Genre: FPS

Mortal Kombat
Genre: Fighting game

Battlefield 4
Genre: FPS

Black Ops 3
Full title: Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Genre: FPS

he 2016 Global StarCraft II League held in Korea.

What makes eSports… well, sports?

It is fair to say that anything can be competitive if more than one party is involved, especially considering that sports such as extreme ironing and Quidditch exist. But eSports requires more than just willing players to be considered suitable for tournaments.
Gaming teams are constructed with the best possible players to compete in various tournaments, says Alwyn Venter, owner of local gaming organisation White Rabbit. He ex-plains that eSports, as with any sport, requires individual skill, rigorous training, good strategy and a team with perfect synergy, which all contribute to a team’s success.
What’s fiercely debated, though, is this: does success come down to individual skill – or team synergy? Venter firmly believes a balance is what carries the team. “Team synergy is knowing that person is going to be there when the situation gets hot.”

How teams work

In the case of most MOBAs and FPSes, the teams are generally made up of five players, excluding the substitutes. Some titles allow for teams with more or fewer than five players.
Each player has a specific role to fulfill in the game, Venter explains: “You might be a scout, a damage dealer, a support player or pretty much any role your team requires. And you’ll see whenever you look at specific titles the roles – for instance in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) – are very different to the roles of the five players in Dota 2 (Defence of the Ancients 2) or League of Legends.”

Some games, like game developer Blizzard Entertainment’s collectible card game Hearthstone, are single-player. However, players do need organisations for access to coaching and sponsorship.

Playing professionally in South Africa

Both Venter and Von Backström agree local eSports players are years away from making a living off of gaming like international players.

“We know that players make an income mainly from the tournaments that they play,” says Venter. “This varies in terms of prize pools that are generally awarded to only your top three teams, your first, second and third place winners. But apart from this they also have to pay entry fees for most of the tournaments and if they do not place then it’s essentially money wasted. So you might pay R1 000 entry to a tournament that pays only R4 000 prize money and what you then take home is actually not much.”

But that shouldn’t stop gamers from trying. Von Backström says that the road to competitive gaming is easy if you stay on top of it. He advises gamers to participate in events, watch and study other players and to join a league. “Joining a league is the best way to practise and learn,” he says. After that, competition isn’t very far off.

When did eSports begin?

It’s commonly believed the first organised game tournament event took place at Stanford University in 1972.

Following the creation of the space combat multiplayer game Spacewar! in 1962 as a demonstration program for the PDP-1 minicomputer, students copied the game and distributed it to other universities and institutions that owned PDP-1 computers.

A decade later a flyer was posted on bulletin boards, inviting players to the first annual “Intergalactic spacewar olympics” tournament.

Spacewar! running on a PDP-1

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