Common misconceptions about playing video games as a career
By Davie Wong, Sports Reporter
eSports are a growing phenomenon within the entertainment industry. But what exactly is this trending genre of entertainment, which is on the cusp of becoming its own industry?
The first question that many ask is, “What are eSports? Are they actually a type of sport?” The term eSports is a short term for “Electronic Sports,” and is used as an umbrella term for all games played at professional level. The use of “sports,” in the moniker refers to the competitive nature of these games at the professional level.
But what does the term professional level refer to? Almost every game that is considered an eSport has an established system that separates and organizes players based on a complicated algorithm that determines players’ skill levels. This system guarantees that players are matched with other players of similar skill to ensure a fair, competitive environment. Many early eSports games used the chess Elo ranking system as a foundation for their systems, but have since advanced to create their own specialized methods of categorizing players.
Players at the top of these ranking systems are often considered best at their games. These players almost always represent the top 0.1 per cent of people that play the game.
Every successful industry has a startup story and eSports are no different. The popularity of eSports really began in the late 90s and early 2000s, with the rise of Blizzard’s strategic sci-fi game, StarCraft. In the beginning, top players would organize friendly competitions with each other to prove who was better. Winners of these competitions were often given small prizes, and video footage of the contests was uploaded to video-sharing sites. In those days, the scene was so small that 200 views on a competition video was considered a major success.
Eventually, their popularity grew as amateur players watched the top players duke it out with each other, drawing discussion from much of the community, ranging from strategy to personalities of these “professional” players. These discussions mimicked the manner of discussions among fans of conventional sports.
It didn’t take long for the competitive scene to explode, nearly doubling or tripling seemingly overnight. South Korea was very much the focal point of the beginning of eSports, resulting in the creation of the Korean eSports Association (KeSPA). Its goal was to make eSports an official sporting event and solidify its economic position. It was the first of its kind, and set the foundation for future ventures. Its dedication to the growth of e-Sports in South Korea resulted in a massive boom in viewership, and even led to the launch of television channels purely dedicated to the viewing of eSports.
Shortly after the formation of KeSPA, large companies in Korea such as Samsung and SK Telecom began sponsoring certain players and forming teams, molding the best of the best together under one flag—all for the sake of advertisement, of course.
The formation of teams was in correlation to another phenomenon in the eSports scene—the rise of popularity of DotA and the creation of the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre. DotA, or Defence of the Ancients, was a fan-created custom game modification in StarCraft’s sister game, Warcraft 3, which was also developed by Blizzard. The idea of five versus five team play instantly caught the interest of casual gamers, as it allowed friends to play with each other.
Although DotA was a hugely popular game, it, didn’t blow up as much as StarCraft had, due to the fact that it wasn’t officially supported by Blizzard. Instead, it wasn’t until a group of “modders”—the slang name given to those who made modifications to base games—from the DotA scene branched away from the game and created their own that MOBAs really blew up. Their game was League of Legends (LoL).
In a very different genre, modders also kick-started the growth of another very large competitive scene with the creation of Counter-Strike, a scenario based shooter that was borderline controversial due to its content.
These four games—StarCraft, DotA, LoL, and Counter-Strike—form the basis of the present day colossus of the eSports industry. Despite the initial boom of interest at the start of the industry, there was a lull in growth from 2005–2010. It was only after the release and sudden increase in popularity of LoL that the industry received a much needed shot of energy.
The popularity of the game amongst North Americans gave eSports the final push it really needed to be a global enterprise. Before its release, there were very few North American eSports players viewed as high level professionals because travelling to competitions in Europe and South Korea was expensive and playing from North America on a Korean server often was problematic due to connection issues.
With League of Legends, all the servers were located in North America and the game originally prioritized North American players. The free-to-play aspect of the game also appealed to the youth who could not afford games such as Counter-Strike, StarCraft, and Warcraft 3.
As the game grew more popular, the number of local tournaments made a huge leap. Similar to the growth of eSports in South Korea, American companies began sponsoring these tournaments in exchange for advertisement.
Prize pools for the original tournaments began as very small, ranging from free merchandise from the sponsors of the tournament to small amount of prize money. It wasn’t until a prize pool of $1 million was announced for the League of Legends World Championship that serious teams were established in North America. With this development, the globalization of eSports to major sectors of the world was complete.
The Other Press spoke with Conrad Janzen, the former player manager for Cloud9’s DotA 2 team, who gave an inside perspective to the complicated world of eSports, and helped breakdown some of the common stereotypes that people have about professional gamers.
One very common stereotype about professional gamers is in regard to the amount of money they make. This stereotype comes from the common concern of parents with the amount of time their children spend playing video games. “You can’t make a living off playing video games,” they say to their children for spending an entire day playing games. That argument is getting harder to make as more people are proving that one can indeed, make a living playing video games.
Janzen, when asked about how much players can be expected to be paid, said: “Wage is dependent on a variety of factors, from the value of a player, the success of the team, the popularity of a player, and even the game. It could be anywhere from $1,000 a month, which is on the very low end, to possibly up $5,000 to $6,000 a month. This doesn’t include sponsorship deals, potential external revenue, and prize money. The highest recorded earners have made slightly less than $2 million, in prize money alone.
Depending on the company, players make a certain percentage of the prize pool. Many organizations take a small percentage of the prize to compensate for services, and the remaining prize money is then divided equally between the players.
Another common stereotype about professional gamers is that all players are kids. According to Janzen, the stereotype isn’t far off from reality. “Most players are within either mid-teen or mid-twenties with some reaching on the edge of thirty.”
This is more than likely due to the belief that younger players have faster reaction times than older players, which in games such as League of Legends and DotA 2, is crucial for success. The older players in the eSports scene are predominately Counter-Strike and StarCraft players, where less emphasis is put on reaction speed and more stress is placed upon experience and strategy.
The average age is expected to rise overall in both areas as games begin getting older and flow of fresh talent begins slowing down.
However, it is not all fun and games for players. The job of a professional gamer is one of self-sacrifice. Many professional players find their lives are solely dedicated to the game they play and they no longer have time for anything besides practicing. While this sounds negative, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Players who find themselves in the position to go pro are truly within the 0.001 per cent of all players. For example, LoL has a player count of 24 million—only 200 of them are considered professionals.
This only slightly makes up for the fact that playing eSports as a career is in itself, is a huge risk. When asked about job security in the eSports industry as a player, Janzen said, “There’s no regulations on most teams, in most eSports even… Suddenly you’re not good enough. ‘Sorry, you’re off the team’… That’s it. That’s the brutality of it… I would personally never recommend anybody do this (be a pro player) unless you already are a top player.”
Nevertheless, the craze of eSports has infatuated much of the civilized world to date. Game on.
Douglas College has an e-Sports club as well!
The club is split into two areas of play: casual and competitive. The casual side of the club focuses on getting people out to events to have fun. The club often puts together social events and encourages players of all skill levels to come and play with each other. The goal is to introduce students to other students who share the same interest in them by offering a friendly environment.
The competitive side of the club runs much differently. Members must maintain a certain GPA, be full-time students, and be competitive in nature. The goal is to find events and tournaments for students who wish to represent Douglas College competitively. Team based games that garner more interest than spaces available are subject to tryout, much like any other sports team.
Teams practice three times a week, usually in the evening, or whenever it is best for everyone. All spots on teams are refreshed every semester, offering fair opportunities to those who are interested while also keeping current players on their toes.
Past events that the club has sent teams to are: North American Collegiate Championships (NACC) (League of Legends); Heroes of the Dorm (Heroes of the Storm); Hearthstone Collegiate Championships (Hearthstone).
Future competitive teams and events where Douglas will participate: The NACC (open to applications & c0mpetitive); Hearthstone tournaments (always open & competitive); fighting games (casual/semi-competitive events); Rocket League (casual).
If you wish to join a team, come out to events hosted by the Douglas eSports Club, or simply find their Facebook page at facebook.com/dsue-Sports and contact them.