Overview History of Competitive Gaming III

Overview History of Competitive Gaming III

So here we are, in the third and final part of my Overview History of Competitive Gaming. I’ve taken you briefly from the very beginnings, when video arcades were still a thing and shell suits (Lightweight tracksuit) were a viable fashion choice. From that age of the Nintendo-endorsed but player-run tournaments, I then moved along through the monumental rise of the first-person shooter, not to mention the arrival of some of the first real eSports stars. I’ve also highlighted the importance of the RTS genre, a genre which has offered the biggest of platforms for individual players to shine and which, in a lot of ways, is responsible for this latest surge of eSports popularity.

If we dialed the clock back a few years from my previous entry, we’d find ourselves in the year 2003. What made this year so important for eSports today is the release of the illustrious Warcraft III mod, Defence of the Ancients (DotA).

DotA was the first real entry into the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre. There had been a number of games released prior to this that included a small number of the features we see and recognise in MOBAs today, but DotA was the first to truly compile all aspects into a single and more recognisable format.

The concept of a MOBA is a simple one. Teams of players load into a map that usually consists of a series of lanes. These players take control of a “hero” unit more powerful than the generic AI controlled minions that crash against those of the opposing team in a series of repetitive waves. Lending from RPG games, these heroes are able to level up their abilities, gaining the power to better combat the players on the opposing side. The goal is a simple one. In a push-pull battle of power, players must guide their heroes to the enemy base and destroy a number of key buildings, such as defensive towers, before attempting to claim victory by destroying the main structure in each base.

MOBAs are doing a lot for eSports right now, but that’s not to say they’re the only genre making strides in pushing gaming as not only an eSport but as a viable career for many. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is doing massive things in the world of shooters right now. There are oftenHearthstone_Logo tournaments and competitions being streamed with some of the best teams in the game playing vs. each other. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a collectible card game, has taken something that was very much in the realm of nerds and turned it into a competitive video-game, with some fairly hefty cash prizes being offered in various tournaments. It all pales in comparison, however, to one game. It’s a MOBA, and it’s the biggest of them all. Not only is it the biggest MOBA of them all but it’s also the most popular game of recent years and unquestionably the largest driving force in the world of eSports today. That game is League of Legends.

Before I go too deeply into why I think League of Legends is the biggest thing for eSports right now, let me just clarify something. I’m not here to show League of Legends as being the best game around, or the best MOBA, and I’m not here to argue its level of mechanical expertise in comparison to other games of the genre. Haters gonna hate, but it’s one of those things; you either love it or you hate it. I’m fairly certain that most DotA II (Defence of the Ancients II) fans reading this are readying the pitchforks but keep them at bay just for now. I’m not here to talk about this game being better than that game. My comments and views are based upon the popularity of League and the sheer force and drive behind its competitive eSports side.

Initially released in 2007, League of Legends is fairly standard in following the MOBA format, being based heavily upon the Defence of the Ancients mod. In the time since its release, League has gone through endless cycles of development, tweaks and balancing. In fact, it feels as though there’s a new patch or update every week or so. That’s not to say that new content is being released as often but it shows how much the game’s developers, Riot Games, are doing to make sure the game is in the pristine working order they envision for it. I’ve played it… a decent amount. I’m no expert, but a few hundred matches under my belt has let me experience some of the best and worst elements of the game itself. One thing I can say for certain, however, is that bugs and faults are few and far between and this can be attributed to the will and desire of Riot to have League as the premium eSports game of today.

To truly understand the scale and reach of League, one simply needs to look at the numbers released by Riot Games themselves. 67 million people playing every month, 27 million people playing every day with over 7.5 million people playing at the same time during each day’s peak periods. To put that into perspective that’s the population of the UK or France playing every month, the population of Texas playing each day with a little more than the entire population of Washington playing during the daily peak periods. Those numbers are massive and you can’t argue with them. The popularity of League is four times that of its closest competitors, like World of Warcraft, and if statistics are to be believed, those numbers keep on growing.

The reason why League is such an important and powerful entity in the world of eSports today is the way in which Riot Games have embraced eSports. Riot has taken the aspects of sport that we’re all familiar with and applied them to their game. Matches are broadcast regularly with the now familiar names, voices and faces of the Riot Games shout casters offering play-by-plays and recaps, filling the pivotal moments of each game with energy and entertainment. There are studio hosts, interviews with key players and coaches as well as an abundance of ways viewers can interact by way of social media. People already familiar with shout casting of games will recognise the format and regular viewers of sporting media, such as football or soccer, can also draw a great likeness to what Riot presents on a now weekly basis.

The model in which Riot has used to create a platform for the competitive side of League is brutally effective yet so simple. Teams form in-game, play in ranked matches and slowly work their way up the rankings ladder in something called the league system. Eventually, teams at the lcshighest reaches can find themselves battling for promotion into the likes of the League Challenger Series and, for teams driving even higher, the League Championship Series (LCS), the premier competition for the different regions of League of Legends. Here, in the LCS, is where you will find the real professionalism that is making eSports as massive as it has become. The people you’re watching in these leagues aren’t just players, they aren’t just video-gamers, they’re sportsmen. They’re professionals. I’m a soccer fan and have been since I was old enough to kick a ball. It’s part of the culture in my hometown. I’d watch my hometown team on TV whenever given the chance and marvel at the skills of those professionals, willing them on at every opportunity. The line between that and eSports is becoming ever thinner.

When you take the massive popularity of League of Legends, couple that with the manner in which Riot Games has embraced and sought to progress eSports aspects of it, you end up with something that is a far cry from where it all began. Gaming is no longer niche, no longer reserved for the geekiest among us. Gaming is filling stadiums. In 2014, the League of Legends World Championship was held in Seoul Stadium, South Korea. Over 40,000 fans packed the stadium to cheer on their gaming heroes. South Korea, which many refer to as the mecca of eSports, has embraced it like no other. Professional gamers are treated in higher regard than many professional athletes, Universities have begun taking on students with competitive gaming potential, recognising them in the same manner as they recognise professional athletes. People can undergo training in how to become a shout caster, someone specialising in doing the play-by-play for video games, and major networks have even taken to broadcasting live finals of eSports games. That’s almost like having a DotA II world championship showing after The Walking Dead on AMC.

What began as spotty kids in their basements munching down on chips and sipping on soda (an image as far removed from anything resembling sports as you could possibly imagine) is now sitting on the precipe of something special. Competitive gaming and its evolution into eSports is gaining in popularity with such momentum that the mind boggles when considering what the gaming landscape will look like 10 years from now. The gradual emergence of shooters as they rose with 3D gaming, the birth of the earliest gaming stars, this is no longer a past-time that parents of the world around can rightfully frown upon. No longer are gamers in the darkness of their basements. Instead they stand stage centre under the spotlights, in front of millions upon millions of viewers. A hobby that was responsible for many a person arriving late to their daily 9-to-5’s is now a viable and legitimate career choice for those with the skills to do so.

Gamers might never be sports stars like the athletes of today, but we can be eSports stars. We can be cyber athletes in the digital world, a world that is elevating the platform that we play upon into dizzying heights.

A fantastically uncertain future awaits, but it’s a future I can’t wait to see.

 


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