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The rise of competitive video gaming

by Alexander Cole February 2, 2016
The rise of competitive video gaming

A look at eSports and their place among mainstream athletics

Since the 1970s, video games have been a huge source of entertainment for people all around the world.

Graphic by Florence Yee.

Graphic by Florence Yee.

Whether it be through Atari, the very first Nintendo or even newer consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4, there are people who have experienced hundreds of hours of entertainment because of video gaming.

The invention of multiplayer games began a new era in video gaming—an era where competitiveness and beating your friends was what video games were all about. Games like Super Smash Brothers and Quake were just the beginning when it came to this new video game genre. When the next generation of consoles came out and multiplayer services such as Steam and Xbox Live hit the market, competitive gaming exploded.

Today, leagues like the Halo World Championship and Electronic Sports League are home to competitive gaming, or eSports. According to Sitting Eagle, an eSports gaming clan, the most popular eSports video games are League of Legends, DOTA 2 and Counterstrike: Global Offensive.

In a report published on eurogamer.net, it was revealed that in 2014 there were 89 million eSports enthusiasts around the world. These numbers are significant when considering that across the globe, there are 94 million people who watch hockey. According to the same study, by 2017, it is projected that there will be 145 million people who watch eSports, which is just 6 million shy of those who watch American football. Between 2012 and 2014, the popularity of eSports almost doubled.

This past year, eSports gained even more mainstream attention as RDS dedicated a whole week in December to League of Legends and Starcraft 2 matches. Also, in the month of January, ESPN launched a dedicated eSports section on its website that features highlights and news from the world of competitive gaming.

Students at Concordia University have embraced the culture of eSports, with the formation of the Concordia eSports Association (CESA). The group currently has over 1,000 likes on Facebook and was formed during the Fall semester of 2012. Its members compete regularly against schools in the United States such as New York University, California Tech and the University of Georgia. The group plays games such as Counterstrike, League of Legends and Hearthstone.

Vice president of finance for CESA Dimitri Kontogiannos said the group has become quite popular among students.

“The Concordia eSports Association gets a lot of interest from students who have a general passion for games,” Kontogiannos said. “While there are varying degrees of competitiveness and different fan bases for different games, it gives a lot of students the opportunity to exchange ideas, discuss and play with others who share their interests.”

Those who compete on eSports teams are treated and considered as athletes. According to a report by Sports Illustrated, Robert Morris University Illinois has their own League of Legends team that offers partial athletic scholarships. The same report by Sports Illustrated revealed that some eSports athletes retire due to chronic wrist and hand pain. Furthermore, teams even work with physical trainers in order to maintain good posture during matches.

It takes many hours of practice to get really good at these games, according to Kontagiannos.

“It’s quite frequent for an average League of Legends player to log over 2,000 hours a year playing [League of Legends] on top of their already charged practice schedule and competitive matches,” said Kontagiannos.

Kontagiannos said some gamers like to frequent the gym in order to strengthen their minds for repetitive tasks, ultimately furthering the notion of athleticism amongst gamers.

While many who participate in the sport consider and treat themselves as athletes, some people aren’t convinced that video gaming can be considered as a real sport.

“They’re not real sports, they are games,” Concordia journalism student Theo Kyres said. “There is no physical activity involved except for moving your fingers. I think there is no denying the competition aspect. So many people watch it but I can’t call it a sport.”

In an interview with redbull.com, former NFL punter Chris Kluwe came out as an advocate for eSports and its competitors.

“I think [eSports are] just as much a sport as football and baseball,” Kluwe said. “You have to dedicate a large portion of your life to becoming good at it. You need to have reflexes, you need to have hand-eye coordination. You have to be able to react quickly to a changing situation.”

Despite being a part of the culture, Kontagiannos isn’t convinced that eSports and sports are of the same breed.

“Competitive games have a similar structure and infrastructure to sports but are a sort of a genre [in themselves],” said Kontagiannos. “While elite players spend thousands of hours practicing, they do not require the physical prowess of an athlete.”

However, Kontagiannos said competitive gamers still have to demonstrate athletic ability such as quick reaction time and quick decision making in order to be successful.

On Feb. 20, CESA will be hosting a tournament that will feature schools such as McGill University and Université de Montréal. Any Concordia student is allowed to compete or just come watch and experience what eSports are all about.

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