Top gamers Dota 2
This 2021, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has rolled out The Virtual Olympic Series as a pre-game series, where competitors can play in virtual versions of 5 different physical sports – motorsport, cycling, baseball, sailing, and rowing. Image Credit: Seyyed dela Llata / Gulf News

Ignore them all you want. But the next crop of the world's top leaders in business, science, politics and other fields of human endeavour will draw much of their thinking from 3D immersion and games of strategy they played as teens.

Online games are here to stay. The existence of eSports as an “industry” can no longer be denied. It’s a 21st century fact-of-life, the reality of every Generation Z or Millennial person. Every kid with a basic internet connection aspires to achieve a rich gamer’s fame, fortune and glory.

There are number of reasons why gaming is compelling: First, the multiple online battle arena games, or MOBAs, pull a huge number of players in a sort of collaborate-and-strategise kind of teamwork. Second, the digital-native kids of today stuck at home in the midst of lockdowns but have access to the most popular online games, know its value in their daily lives, keeping a spirit of competition alive while staying in touch with friends. Third, eSports — like any other sports —has been transformed into a "spectator" game, as incoherent as that may sound.

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Fans cheer for their teams during the opening ceremony of the International Dota 2 Championships in Shanghai. Image Credit: AFP

The numbers tell the story

The world has 7.8 billion people. An estimated 2 billion are gamers. In 2014, Amazon bought Twitch, an online video streaming service, which fuelled the growth of eSports. In 2015, Twitch recorded 241 billion minutes streamed. It clocked in 36 million viewers who watched the League of Legends World Championship. This number rivals — even surpasses — viewership of some of the most popular athletic events in the world.

2billion

estimated number of gamers, or 1 in 4 of the Earth's inhabitants

Today, eSports is a whole new world, with its own ethos and sub-culture. It has drawn major investor support from institutional funds. To ignore its existence is akin to denying the millions of ardent music fans. In the digital world, measuring concurrent viewers of an online game fest is just a matter of counting their IP addresses. And now, eSports has become part of the Olympics, sort of, though not fully institutionalised yet.

$175.8b

Projected earnings from the global games market in 2021

It’s a league of its own, set apart from any other known sporting event or industry. eSports has its own stars, rules, merchandise, fans. In this day and age, it's able to grab an "always-on" and much bigger audience, thanks to inexpensive, high-speed computer processors (on mobile phones), fibre-to-the-home and globe-spanning broadband links.

What's eSports?
Esports (also known as electronic sports, e-sports, or eSports) is a form of competition using video games. Esports often takes the form of organised, video game competitions, particularly between professional players, individually or as teams.
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The rapid growth of eSports has increased the financial gains at stake. In ultra-popular games such as Counter Strike or Fornite, teams role-play opposing groups on specific missions. In a game of strategy, speed and 3D immersion, teamwork is essential as contestants engage in breathtaking, time-bound missions.

'Rocket' evolution?

The industry went off to a crude, slow start in the 1940s when, at the World's Fair, Edward U. Condon designed a computer that plays the traditional game Nim — in which players try to avoid picking up the last matchstick. eSports, as it's known today, had humble origins. The games were incredibly simple: Just shoot or eat (like Pac Man) your way around, and you win.

In the last three decades, the rise of eSports has been described as a “rocket”. It just went stratospheric. And the money coming in is “insane”, according to one report.

Top earners among gamers

Top gamers
Image Credit: Seyyed dela Llata / Gulf News

Even today, the games seem deceptively simple. But when you have thousands of gamers competing with each other — ignoring time zones and age groups — it can be incredibly exciting. We’re not even talking about the world of professional, competitive video game playing.

Professional gamers: Pleasure, fortune, fame

There are dedicated web and video sites for professional gaming stars, who like football stars undergo relentless training.

$200b

estimated size of global games market in 2023.

For the top players, it means six-figure salary, in the spotlight, on the world stage. Global fame too. It’s a proper industry, with numerous online dedicated channels. For professional players — it’s a dream come true. Fortune, fame and pleasure — getting paid salaries to play video games full time for a living. It's no wonder the industry has seen double-digit growth annually.

First person: 'Gaming is like meditation'
Gaming is like meditation. It helps me unwind. Some look at yoga to unwind, but gaming helps me de-stress. Just like how I love playing the guitar for hours together, casual gaming strikes those same chords in me.

I have been gaming since I turned six and I believe that my interest in computer engineering — a course that I plan to graduate in — began when I got exposed to gaming consoles from a young age. I remember being gifted a play station very young and my interest went through the roof. Like most casual gamers out there, I was introduced into gaming through this amazing game called ‘Minecraft’ and I was hooked onto it from the word go. But as the years went by, I was drawn towards battle-driven, strategy games that are played with a group.

Many perceive gaming as a sport that alienates you from real human connections, but gaming has helped me discover a clutch of wonderful virtual friends. We have played with each other for over a decade, but we have never met in person. But that isn’t a barrier because the moment we begin gaming, we forget all about the outside world and enjoy each other’s company.

It’s a great team building sport because I play with my friends that I hang out on a daily basis too. So it’s a win-win. In the times of COVID-19 and strict social distancing, gaming has often to come to our rescue to get rid of boredom. As I wait for my college to begin in September, I find myself spending a lot more time gaming. On an average I spent around ten hours these days, but I will need to scale down once my computer engineering courses begin.

But gaming is not just therapeutic for me, it also stoked my interest towards computer engineering as a degree. I may not become a professional gamer, but I may take up a career in designing games. Technology became my friend from a young age, thanks to gaming. There are many who may feel that excessive gaming is addictive and harmful, and I don’t disagree.

But the power has always been in my hands. Whenever, I feel that I am going overboard or getting overly invested in gaming, I have learnt to scale back. You need to learn how to be your own minder when it comes to gaming. Once you hit that sweet spot, gaming is therapeutic.”

- Pranav Vivek, 18, student (as told to Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Assistant Editor-Features)
Pranav Vivek
PRANAV VIVEK, 18, GAMER: "Gaming is like meditation. It helps me unwind. Some look at yoga to unwind, but gaming helps me de-stress. Just like how I love playing the guitar for hours together, casual gaming strikes those same chords in me." Image Credit: Supplied
MMR: How are players ranked?
Competitions are arranged by professional event companies, usually backed by a host of sponsors. In gaming, players are ranked — newb (newbies)/beginner, amateur, professional, etc. eSports requires that players have a match making rating (MMR), a metric used by games to determine which tier on the “ranked” ladder a player is supposed to be.

When players perform well in matches, they raise their MMR. On the other hand, under-performance may lead to a lower MMR. Most of the time, a player’s actual MMR — and the exact means by which it is calculated — is hidden from gamers by the game publisher. This is to curb the risk of any known variables from being manipulated by cheaters, such as “account boosters”.
Types of Games 01
Image Credit: Gulf News
types of games 02
Image Credit: Gulf News

Where does the prize money come from?

The most common source of money pots are the game developers themselves. Companies hire the best players to develop their games further. That’s how developers earn more money, too. Esports events managers arrange yearly competitions to pool professional gamers, usually working as teams. The top players get accolades and even job offers (from game developers).

Gaming Estars
Esports have become a phenomenon and now rival traditional sports events in size and scale.

eSports: What are the upsides?

Believe it or not, psychologists credit gaming for boosting, among others, strategic thinking in children. Not only that, it also helps enhance the following:

  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Performance skills
  • Confidence building
  • Problem Solving Skills

Research also shows that children who play videos games have a far much better chance of navigating through complex psychological issues compared to those that do not actively participate in video games.

Academic excellence
Here’s the crazy part: Players who participate in Esports programs are found to have a higher interest in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) subjects and have strong average GPAs. Esports helps them engage with their fellow students and their schools.
top gamers country
Image Credit: Seyyed dela Llata / Gulf News / Statista

Do playing online games really improve cognitive and social development?

That’s what studies show. For example, the American Psychology Association, in a 2013 article published the following benefits as a result of computer gaming:

  • Improved hand-eye coordination.
  • Improved attention and visual acuity.
  • Improved basic visual processing and executive function.
  • Problem solving and strategy skill development.
  • 71% of parent report gaming having net positive effects for children.
  • Boosts self-confidence and player socialisation.
  • 54% of gamers say gaming helps them connect with friends
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Ryan Chapman and other students starting Staffordshire University’s esports degree course play “Counter-Strike” in the school’s new London digital studio. Image Credit: AP

The downsides of gaming?

There’s a huge body of research by psychologists on the negative effects of “gaming”:

  • The potential harm related to violence
  • Repetitive stress injuries
  • Burnout from high stress
  • Addiction
  • Depression
  • Gruelling practice rounds (for competitive gamers)

Other psychologists recognise this side of the research, but also argue that a more balanced perspective is needed — one that considers not only the possible negative effects but also the benefits of playing these games.

As money continues to pour into the industry, the pressure on these young pros —many still in their teens — high stress could lead to early burnout, repetitive stress injuries, and tough practice rounds, say experts.

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File photo shows gamers from the Vietnam team compete in the qualifying rounds of the eSports event between Malaysia and Vietnam at the SEA Games (Southeast Asian Games) in Manila

Will eSports become an official Olympic event?

Given the pandemic’s effect, eSports is the only event that has a good chance of being played unobstructed by the virus. And yes, it’s become part of the Olympics. This year, the Olympics hosted the first-ever virtual games. As a pre-game event, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rolled out the Virtual Olympic Series, held from May 13 – June 23, 2021. Competitors played in virtual versions of five different physical sports —motorsport, cycling, baseball, sailing, and rowing.

It’s a sign of the growing acceptance of eSports as a legit sport. While some industry officials believe more needs to be done, there are talks of it becoming one as early as the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Games.

Olympics
As a pre-game event, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rolled out the Virtual Olympic Series, held from May 13 – June 23, 2021. Competitors played in virtual versions of five different physical sports —motorsport, cycling, baseball, sailing, and rowing.

TIMELINE: Brief history of Gaming

1940s

For the Westinghouse display at the World's Fair, Edward U. Condon designed a computer that plays the traditional game Nim in which players try to avoid picking up the last matchstick. Tens of thousands of people play it, and the computer wins at least 90% of the games.

1950s

Claude Shannon lays out the basic guidelines for programming a chess-playing computer in an article, "Programming a Computer for Playing Chess."

1960

Computer programmer John Burgeson stays home sick from work at IBM and begins developing a computer baseball simulation.

1962

MIT student Steve Russell invents Spacewar!, the first computer-based video game.

1966

While waiting for a colleague at a New York City bus station, Ralph Baer conceives the idea of playing a video game on television.

1970

Scientific American publishes the rules for LIFE in Martin Gardner's "Mathematical Games" column.

1971

Minnesota college students Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger create Oregon Trail, a simulation of pioneers' westward trek.

1972

Pong, an arcade legend, is born.

1975

Atari introduces its home version of Pong.

1977

Atari releases the Video Computer System, more commonly known as Atari 2600.

1980

A missing slice of pizza inspires Namco’s Toru Iwatani to create the original "Pac-Man", which goes on sale in July 1980. That year a version of Pac-Man for Atari 2600 becomes the first arcade hit to appear on a home console. 

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Video games have come a long way since the first rudimentary arcade machines emerged in the 1970s with offerings such as "Pong", "Pacman" and "Space Invaders". Each generation since then has enjoyed rapid technological advancement, and the industry is now worth billions. With the release of Microsoft's Xbox X and Sony's PlayStation 5 just days away, here follows a look at the journey of video games. Image Credit: AFP

1982

  • Disney taps into the video game craze by releasing the movie Tron, a game featuring many of the contests from the movie also becomes a hit.
  • Ms. Pac-Man strikes a blow for gender equality by becoming the best-selling arcade game of all time.

1983

Multiplayer play takes a huge step forward with Dan Bunten's M.U.L.E

1984

Russian mathematician Alexey Pajitnov creates Tetris, a simple but addictive puzzle game.

1986

The emerging educational software market leaps ahead with the introduction of The Learning Company's Reader Rabbit program.  

1988

John Madden Football introduces gridiron realism to computer games, making this game—and its many console sequels—perennial best-sellers.

1990

Microsoft bundles a video game version of the classic card game solitaire with Windows 3.0.

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The 12 finalists for induction this year into The Strong museum’s World Video Game Hall of Fame are pictured at the museum in Rochester, New York. The finalists, from left, are: top row, “Microsoft Windows Solitaire,” “Myst,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Donkey Kong,’’ center, “Final Fantasy VII,’’ “Street Fighter II,” bottom row, ‘‘Halo: Combat Evolved,’’ “Resident Evil,” “Portal,” “Pokemon Red and Green,” “Wii Sports” and “Tomb Raider.” Image Credit: AP

1991

Sega needs an iconic hero for its Genesis (known as Mega Drive in Japan) system and finds it in Sonic the Hedgehog.

1992

Wolfenstein 3D released. It is widely known as the 3D game within the first-person shooter (FPS) genre. Also, Westwood Studios' Dune II establishes the popularity of real-time strategy games.

1994

Blizzard releases Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, a real-time strategy game

1995

Sony releases PlayStation, selling for $100 less than Sega Saturn.

1996

Lara Croft debuts as the star of Eidos's adventure game Tomb Raider.

1997

  • Dennis “Thresh” Fong won Quake developer John Carmac’s red Ferrari 328.
  • Machine triumphs over man as IBM's supercomputer chess program Deep Blue defeats world champion Gary Kasparov in a match
  • GoldenEye 007 released. It’s a first-person shooter for home consoles.

1998

  • Half-Life released and a first person shooter multiplayer game.
  • Release of Aeon of Strife, a fan-made custom map for Blizzard's real-time strategy game StarCraft.

1999

Sony Online Entertainment's Everquest leads hundreds of thousands of users to join guilds, fight monsters, and level up in the multiplayer online world of Norrath.

2000

Will Wright's The Sims models real life.

2001

Microsoft enters the video game market with Xbox and hit games like Halo: Combat Evolved.

2002

The U.S. Army releases America's Army video game to help recruit and communicate with a new generation of electronic gamers

2006

Johan “Toxjq” Quick won a Rolex from the WSVG Quake 4 championship.

2010

The indie game movement comes of age with the tremendous popularity of Minecraft, the addictive brick-building game from Swedish developer Markus Persson.

Microsoft's Minecraft
Image Credit: Twitter

2013

Gone Home, The Last of Us, and Papers, Please usher in a new wave of mature video game stories

2014

  • “Free-to-play” becomes a dominant business model as blockbusters such as CrossFire, Clash of Clans, World of Tanks, and even Kim Kardashian: Hollywood achieve sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars — through “micro-transaction” payments for in-game items and premium content.
  • Dota (Defense of the Ancients) 2 tournament hits the front-page of New York Times

2015

One year after being acquired by Amazon, online video streaming service Twitch fuels the growth of eSports. Thirty-six million viewers watch the League of Legends World Championship, rivalling and surpassing viewership of some of the most popular athletic events in the world.

2018

eSports were included as a demonstration sport at the Asian Games.

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In 2019, at The International world championship in Shanghai where players compete in Dota 2, there was a record prize pot of $33.7 million. Members of team Alliance (behind glass) compete against team RNG during the International Dota 2 Championships.

2020

A global pandemic fuels the growth of the video game industry. Millions of people turn to games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Among Us, and Fall Guys to play/connect with friends/strangers through the safety of their mobile phones, computers, and consoles.

2021

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) rolls out The Virtual Olympic Series as a pre-game series, where competitors can play in virtual versions of 5 different physical sports – motorsport, cycling, baseball, sailing, and rowing.