Game On - By Ian Greenland
In late August, history was made as OG stormed The International, defeating Team Liquid 3-1 at Dota 2 to scoop the Valve Corporation's “Aegis of Champions”.....???! If none of the bits in italics make the slightest bit of sense to you, like me, you're probably not much of a (video) gamer. As such, the bit coming up in bold will really twist your melon. To clarify, OG are a team of players who recently won the Dota 2 video game tournament held in Shanghai....For that they scooped $15.6 MILLION in prize money from a $34 million crowd-funded purse.
The Aegis of Champions, icing on an already outrageous cake is a shield-like trophy reminiscent of a Lord of The Rings battle prop, lending a mythical glamour to the achievements of these young men that no amount of heckles of “Nerds” or “Geeks” or “Virgins” or, or... “Big, geeky nerd-virgins!!” could diminish.
Among the gaming and “spectating” community, they are none of those things. Aside from newly-minted millionaires, they're superstars and it probably won't be long before their like become household names.
an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. (SOURCE: google)
an online activity involving physical exertion generally limited to the thumbs in which an individual or team competes against another or others for the entertainment of some and utter bewilderment of the rest. (SOURCE: me)
The birth of e-sports appears to be Stanford University in 1972 where the first known video game competition took place. Several weeks before the debut of Pong blew the public's minds with the possibilities of gaming on computers, Stanford's high-powered AI lab hosted a low profile event, inviting the school's best players to compete at Spacewar! The prize - slightly less than $15.6 million - a subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine.
Eight years later, Atari hosted the Space Invaders Championships to more than 10,000 duelling participants. Competitive gaming had well and truly arrived.
As technologies advanced, so did the sophistication of games and their popularity. Despite ongoing controversies surrounding addiction, social development and links between digital and real world aggression, the industry continues expanding apace. Last year saw the global games market top $134 billion dollars, with over 2.3 billion active gamers (Everyone “working” on their phone on the tube and then some...)
What helped push gaming into the stratosphere was of course the rise of the internet. An often solitary pursuit took on a wider social aspect as the web allowed increased human interaction and competition on demand. Webcams and microphones enhanced the experience, removing geographical and cultural barriers between players in the pursuit of common objectives. Where you once shook your Gameboy with impotent rage for defeating you at Tetris, it's now possible to see the look on a real nine year old Japanese boy's face when you call him a prick for torching you in Fornite. For many people happy to shout abuse at children, online gaming affords a degree of social interaction they might struggle with in real life.
Video games allow a level of escapism film and TV rarely match. You're not just watching a story unfold, you're actively contributing to and experiencing its outcome. They provide a welcome distraction from the overwhelming, lonely or mundane world around us. Our gaming avatars have muscles in places we didn't know you could have muscles. They run, climb, jump and fly, save the world and get the girl whilst we get fat, staring dumbly and spilling Wotsit dust on mum's sofa.
Some games even help prop up our fragile egos, though escapism frequently flirts with addiction. The phenomenal success of mobile apps such as Candy Crush, which alone generated £1.5 billion in 2018 is attributed in no small part to their design psychology. Constant in-game messages of validation such as “well done”, “great work” and “you rock” aim to fill the bottomless existential void we feel when the facebook likes trickle to nothing for our latest selfie.
Where games have become undeniably, in some cases mind-bogglingly complex and impressive in their design and execution, it's possible, even for non-gamers such as myself to appreciate the appeal. Everyone needs to check out or release from time to time and, when practised responsibly, gaming provides a fun, interactive, often visually stunning means. Further cognitive benefits include increased concentration, coordination and problem-solving skills, improved memory and learning.
What's got many people scratching their heads is the relatively recent boom in people watching other people playing. Last year, YouTube viewers devoured over 50 billion hours of gaming content, with half of viewers claiming they watch games being played more than they play themselves. The poster-site for video game live streams, Twitch was bought by Amazon in 2014 for $1 billion. Might sound a lot but a twitch in Jeff Bezos' leg and he probably drops that in loose change...
For a non-gamer, this further level of remove from reality – not just staring into a screen, but watching as someone else stares into a screen - is a confounding waste of time, but for those involved, it's no different to following your favourite tennis player or football team. Viewers gravitate towards “playthroughs” by expert gamers, especially those able to provide a charismatic commentary. They learn skills which they can apply to their own gaming or simply tap into a stream of content they can then discuss with their peers. High-end games are sometimes prohibitively expensive for young people, but by keeping abreast of the popular gamers, they can avoid falling out of the loop (Yes they should be out climbing trees but this is the world we live in!)
Older gamers who find they lack the time needed to excel at some of the more expansive titles cite playthroughs as a more practical means of entertainment. You can still cook, do the ironing or even work whilst streaming content.
Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg just became YouTube's biggest individual channel-holder, reaching 100 million subscribers with his mix of comedic skits and gaming commentary. For many viewers, the familiarity of these gaming personalities and their relative accessibility though social media and message boards is akin to friendship, providing the connections and shared experiences they may lack offline.
Some individuals attest to watching others gaming as a more acceptable release for their own desire to game, confined by stigma placed upon them by friends and family. Despite the faintly ridiculous idea of a person “in the closet” about their gaming, it highlights just how augmented many people's lives have become by the digital world – how desperate many of us are for connections, releases, escape routes.
It's not just millennials – A recent census of retirees showed 34% between the ages of 65 and 74 now play online games at least weekly, with one in ten also owning a console... which they probably hide behind their skateboard when the grandkids come to visit. Expert analysis has proven a positive correlation between playing social or multi-player games and social connections amongst older people. With loneliness and lack of mental stimulation particularly huge problems in that demographic, gaming could viably offer a solution.
For so long seen as a solitary or antisocial activity, the exploding popularity of e-sports is now bringing people together like never before. Alongside the 60 million online spectators, 2017's League of Legends World Final in Beijing's national stadium saw some 40,000 game fans in attendance to watch 144 professionals competing from 28 nations. Alongside a huge prize fund, they raised over 2 million USD for charities spearheading mental illness support, education and learning equality.
Perhaps it's time we re-evaluate some of those old stereotypes about gamers...
40,000 in one place??!
..... I mean, surely some of those nerds got laid.
Ian Greenland hasn't played video games since the early 90's when he peaked by finding all 96 levels on Super Mario World. His bestie mate James Hale could only find 95 and was adamant there was a fault with his copy. BULLSHIT James Hale! www.iangreenland.uk