Despite some of the controversies surrounding the latest NUS conference, one group of people will be very happy with the outcome. With e-gaming becoming declared as a ‘real’ sport, alongside ‘traditional’ sports, universities will now have to provide facilities for gamers, just as the hockey team are given a pitch. This could be anything from designated PC labs to upgrading the university’s technology to be powerful enough to handle the required servers.
Northumbrian student David Spoors, who is a support player for the university’s League of Legends team - a game that is now officially a sport, put the motion forward. With e-sports’ increasing popularity, it is becoming something almost unbelievable. With prize funds larger than the Super Bowl and the Cricket World Cup, games such as Dota 2 are starting to become incredulously lucrative. Following the motion, gamers will be hoping that e-sports continue their exponential rise to the top of the sporting world.
Building upon on the lore established in the Warcraft series of games, Blizzard has created a successful free-to-pay online collectible card video game, with more than fifty million players as of this month. In an unanticipated turn of events, not originally intended by Blizzard, Hearthstone has become known for its competitive scene. In fact it is one of the fastest-growing eSports in the world, with a large number of gamers with channels on Twitch streaming the game; now one of the top five most viewed games that are streamed on the service. Not bad for a game that was only released just over two years ago, in that it now has a similar viewership to heavyweights League of Legends and DOTA 2.
Of course while the game was intended for casual players who make up the majority of the game base, in terms of competitive play there are the “Ladder” and the tournaments. “Ladder” is a term for ranked play, wherein players aim to reach Legend rank before challenging for the number one spot. This is also the most common form of play of Hearthstone, in which a number of famous players, including Trump, StrifeCro and Kolento alongside many others stream regularly. With the new expansion Whisper of the Old Gods, this mode has been split into Standard and Wild. The former (which is known as the Year of the Kraken) means that only cards from Adventures and Expansions in the last two years can be played. This is the format used for competitive play. In Wild, all cards released can be played.
"a number of famous players, including Trump, StrifeCro and Kolento... stream regularly"
Players can obtain points through their performance in ranked play, with one point for reaching Legend and up to fifteen points in a search for a place in the 2016 Hearthstone Championship Tour. This is the official tournament, in which four players from each region (Asia, China, the Americas and Europe) gain a place. three of these are winners of each of the 128-player seasonal championships, gathered from points collected each season. The other player from each region comes from an Invitational, in which eight players fight for a place in the finals. There a number of allowed formats, such as Conquest, 4 Hero 1 Ban Conquest, Last Hero Standing and Blind-Pick Best-of-five that are allowed in the other point-building tournaments. As well as this, there of a course a number of other disassociated small competitions, some of which be formal cash prize events while others may be for fun. So with such a huge variety of formats in a unique game, it’s not surprising to see Hearthstone become an increasingly popular eSport.
To the uninformed viewer, sporting events are always a strange thing. Huge nWumbers of people get wildly excited about the actions of a few, all of which is commentated in real time and broadcast across cities, countries or even the whole world. A stranger thing than that is DOTA 2’s annual ‘Internationals’, in which the competitors don’t actually appear to be doing much at all.
"The truth is a little more complicated than that, of course"
The truth is a little more complicated than that, of course. DOTA 2 (and its cult-classic prequel, based on a mod of a different game) is, at its core, a team-based game with straightforward objectives, complicated by the opposition of other players – just like football, basketball, rugby, etc. In DOTA 2 you and four other players must advance down ‘lanes’, destroying the enemy’s defences and ultimately the ‘Ancient’ sitting at the heart of their base. Your characters level up as the match progresses, and items and other elements can be acquired to give you an edge. The mechanics are reasonably simple once you become accustomed to them, but like all good sports offer enough room for creativity and cunning to give the savvy player an advantage.
So what’s all the fuss about? On the surface, DOTA 2 is nothing special; there are a dozen games like it, and that’s even before we consider its bizarre status as a spectator sport. However, DOTA 2 is among the most popular simply because it does what it does exceptionally well. The system is simple enough for anyone to pick up, yet complicated enough to allow for very advanced play, and once you learn to follow what’s happening watching teams of moba (‘multiplayer online battle arena’, the game genre into which DOTA falls) veterans pull off particularly tense plays that can be extremely thrilling. To assist the spectacle, the Internationals’ various venues tend to feature a dynamic stage, the game world displayed on giant displays with the room’s lighting and sound effects corresponding with the action on-screen. The crowd truly does go wild for a particularly close escape, or a ‘team wipe’ (killing the entire enemy team all at once, a fairly rare occurrence in high-skill matches). Sponsorships, merchandise and virtual items for DOTA fans to buy in their own games all feed into the Internationals’ prize pool, which dwarfs not only that of other eSports but of many mainstream sports too.
"veterans pull off particularly tense plays that can be extremely thrilling"
It’s fair to say that DOTA’s enormous popularity is strange, but it’s not unprecedented. There’s a big market for virtual sports, which steadily rises every year, its key players earning celebrity status amongst the community. Best of all, DOTA 2 is completely free to play, so if you think you’re up for a shot at the Internationals a year or two down the line, then you’d better get learning.
Ever since the early days of gaming, fighting games have been a backbone of the industry and the favourites of millions of gamers worldwide. Household names such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Tekken all started their lives as coin-guzzling arcade machines in the late eighties and early nineties. Despite the fact that people have been mashing joypads and throwing up quarter-circles for nearly four decades, it is only recently that fighting game tournaments have reached the mainstream spotlight. What started out life as people crowding around arcade machines or the Playstation at a mate’s house has rapidly grown into a multi-national sport. Last year the Evolution Championship Series (the largest fighting game tournament in the world, playing host a huge variety of tournaments) received a total number of near nineteen million views over three days; with much-hyped individual fights drawing as many viewers as Champions League matches. This was a sixty-six percent increase over the 2014 tournament and the train shows no sign of stopping. Skilled player now flock to tournaments in their thousands. Many have become celebrities in their circles, widely-renowned for their skills. High-profile sponsorship deals are common and prize winnings can be in the hundreds of thousands.
"Household names such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Tekken all started their lives as coin-guzzling arcade machines"
So what caused the change? With the rise of the internet, like-minded players established message boards. What started out as incredibly insular and obscure tournaments suddenly became far more widely known. Players now had access to a much better way of meeting, sharing notes and mutually improving. In 2000, shoryuken.com was born. Shoryuken very quickly became the go-to forum for competitive Street Fighter players; becoming the ‘face’ of the Fighting Game Community. From this point on, fans of many different games began to gel together to create the tournaments that would later go on to attract millions of viewers.
"Following the release of Street Fighter IV in 2009... the FGC’s popularity exploded overnight"
Following the release of Street Fighter IV in 2009 (the first new title in the series in over a decade) the FGC’s popularity exploded overnight. The community rolled with this newfound momentum and new tournaments sprung up overnight. The advent of live-streaming sites such as Twitch gave fans a new way to watch along live, with professional commentators explaining the matches. Many developers now make games with the FGC in mind, such as the latest entire of Street Fighter and Super Smash Brothers. Tournaments can breathe new life into old games (such as the fifteen year-old Super Smash Brothers Melee) and their experience is consulted by many developers in the creation of new fighting games. The Fighting Game Community may not be as popular as the ginormous League of Legends or Starcraft, but scene continues to grow day by day and there’s no sign of slowing any time soon.