Sport or sham? The rise of eSports…

The roar of a crowd of thousands of live viewers, and the knowledge of thousands more watching from the comfort of their own home, is the aspiration of many a young sportsperson. But for Virtus Pro and Astralis, this dream became a reality.

You may think those names are unusual for a typical sports team. That’s because they aren’t exactly traditional teams – they are professional CS:GO (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive) players, a first-person shooter (fps) video game for the PC.

The idea of a huge gaming tournament may sound foreign to many, but these are no joke. For these two teams were playing in what is known as a CS:GO Major, a developer-supported tournament with a $1 million dollar prize pool, and just as many viewers. And it isn’t an entirely new concept either: the first Major was in late November 2013, and the most recent one, ELEAGUE 2017, was the 10th in CS:GO history.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

CS:GO is a deceptively simple game. There are 2 teams, and 5 players on each team, who play a maximum of 30 rounds per game (plus overtime on more advanced levels). The aim is either to eliminate everyone on the other team, or to complete a basic objective. However, there’s so much more intricacy – you have to control your economy as you must buy guns at the start of each round, unless you’ve saved them from a previous round, there are hundreds of different ways to throw the 4 basic grenades, and strategies are, ultimately, what wins games and tournaments, over raw skill in most cases.

This level of intellectual play, and the aim to out-think your opponent, shows the deeper and more complex aspects of what a computer game can be. Aside from hours of individual practise, CS:GO, and indeed other eSports, are as much a team-oriented game as conventional sports, such as football or basketball.

eSports vs traditional sports

As expected, comparisons to sports such as the above have led to controversy amongst their fans. Many seem to despise gamers “daring” to call their video games a ‘sport’, because at its most basic point, eSports is essentially a bunch of people, usually young men, sitting in front of their computers and moving their mouse every few minutes.

Of course, these young men are sitting in a huge arena with thousands of dollars within their grasp, but many people push it away without fully knowing its potential or essence; many professional eSporters have told of their parent’s reluctance to them pursuing a career, later relenting when their kid comes home with a few thousand dollars from their most recent tournament win!

My point is not that eSports should be considered a sport in itself; that’s an entirely separate discussion that would result in an article several times longer than this one. My point is that eSports is not a bunch of “nerds” playing computer games all day. It is as intense, demanding and economically rewarding as “real” sports, and thus should be regarded as its admittedly less physical, equal.

The next step

astralis victory
Team Astralis victory

Esports is moving forwards, particularly since ELEAGUE became involved in the competitive CS:GO scene; that organisation alone has been sponsored, in the past and present, by Dell, Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and GFUEL, huge industry names. Tournaments are now being broadcast on American television. Prize pools are creeping up, as are viewer counts, with the most recent major breaking the Twitch record for the most concurrent viewers on a single channel, reaching over 1 million people, reporting over 1.5 million viewers through online platforms (though the number varies depending on the source) and, including television viewers, approximately 2.6 million viewers at its peak in the final.

Even if you dislike fps games, many others are reaching similar, if not greater, heights; League of Legends, for example, is a very different format and even more popular. FC Copenhagen bought out Team Dignitas’ CS:GO roster, founding North. NBA players are funding teams. Astralis announced a partnership with Audi, and their star player dev1ce featured in a Windows commercial. Esports is becoming legitimised; and more people are discovering competitive gaming and its many joys.

So where can it go next? The main thing I’d like to see is more diversity. The lack of women in eSports, or at least top-level Counter-Strike, isn’t really sexism, it’s just the unfortunate truth that less girls are interested in it, so we see less professional girl gamers and talent at the big tournaments. So if you’re reading this article and think eSports sounds cool, especially if you’re female, I urge you to give it a go!

It’s fun, it’s rewarding, and best of all, finally gives us ‘less athletic ones’ a chance to live the same dream that the young sports people share: the same dream that Astralis experienced on the 29th January, in their first ever major final appearance, when they beat Virtus Pro and walked away with the 10th Major title (plus half a million US dollars), securing their names and their team in Counter-Strike history.

Written by Beth Heale, teen blogger for LGG