How Esports is Changing the Field of Play
Competitive computer gaming has a long history, almost as long as the history of video games themselves. While traditional sports have long held the spotlight as the pinnacle of sporting ability, Esports is now redefining the arena and what it means to be a 'star athlete'.
Typically played on PC or gaming consoles, Esports can range from first person shooter games to multiplayer battle arena games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends.
Some question whether Esports is a 'real sport'. The players are real, they train for hours and the prize pools for some international tournaments are massive.
The rise of streaming has helped Esports explode globally. In 2016, 36 million people watched the final between Koo Tigers and SK Telecom, exceeding the NBA finals of the same year (which still broke broadcasting records).
“It’s the same thing as going to the local football match or anything like that where essentially the best of the best players are there, and they have such a strong pull on audiences, and they have so many fans that they can sell out a stadium,” Darren Kwan, President of the Australian Esports Association, told PickStar's Off-Field podcast.
The players are highly skilled, you won’t find an average Joe in the chair at a world championship. There are rigorous selection processes, much like traditional sports. Players work their way up through divisions to make the big league, aiming for international level teams.
Some of these players walk away with mega bucks for taking out a tournament. As of 2016, 23 players walked away with over a million dollars each in winnings from Dota 2 tournaments.
“There is $35 million on the line in the international tournament (for Dota 2), with over a thousand teams across the world playing for that, with the winning team walking away with something like seven million dollars.”
German Dota 2 player Kuro “KuroKy” Takhasomi has the highest recorded earnings in the world of Esports.
At just twenty four years old he has made over $US3.3 million dollars from 75 tournaments so far, he also holds the world number one ranking in Dota 2.
Australian player Damien “kpii” Chok sits at number 27 in the world and number 1 in Australia for Dota 2, taking away $1.3 million from 26 tournaments.
Esports players are subject to strict rules and regulations for their respective games. Anti-doping regulations apply along with zero tolerance to match fixing and the use of software cheats.
In 2010, eleven Star Craft: Brood war players were found guilty of fixing matches and were permanently banned from professional competition.
Esports face the same difficulties that traditional sports have faced, but are still not quite accepted in the same way. They have the international pull on their audiences and top players have fan bases larger than some football clubs.
With growing success comes greater pressure on players, and much like traditional sports player welfare must also be considered.
"If I look at it from the game developers perspective, they want their players playing 24/7, they're like a battery, 'lets just get them in the game', because inside the game environment it's highly monetised and it reflects well on them if the players still interested and engaged.
"So there's a traditional incentive for players to play more and more and more and there's also a thought-base from the competitive players themselves to say 'I need to put in 12 hours a day to be better than the other guy' and there hasn't been a movement or a voice out there to say 'lets calm down, lets turn those 12 hours into four hours and make them as effective as the 12 hours, how do we do that, how do we apply the sport science?'
"We think it will be critical going forward for the player base to widely adopt and its something the Australian Esports Association are pushing as a major thing, player rights need to be acknowledged and there needs to be education on both sides of how do we turn this into something that's sustainable and healthy."
With such a globally accessible platform, Esports is taking over with traditional sporting leagues taking notice. Football clubs such as Manchester City have already signed FIFA virtual gamers to their team, while locally AFL club Adelaide Crows has bought an Esports team.
By jumping on the Esports bandwagon, leagues and clubs from traditional sports are ensuring they reach the next generation of fans as well as a global audience.
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